Day 6: Stereotypes Shouldn’t Taint Election Issues

There are a lot of individual issues being raised in this election by many First Nations and Metis people.  Just today, I wrote to Steve Clarke (Liberal – Simcoe North) advocating for improved safety and enhanced transportation options for Beausoleil First Nation.  Yesterday, I had a chance to speak with Karen Mock (Liberal – Thornhill), and I raised the issue of child poverty in First Nations. 

For First Nations, individual issues are not individual at all.  As a direct result of our culture, we often do what’s in the best interests of the collective.

Unfortunately, there are many nasty, stinging stereotypes I call “contemporary stereotypes”.  They are all based in jealousy, ignorance, in some cases racism, and generally, a vicious contempt for First Nations people.

No matter what issue is being addressed during the election, or what “ask” is being brought forward to the next government, these kind of contemporary stereotypes shouldn’t taint the needs and desires of First Nations people.

Myth:  First Nations only do things for their personal benefit

Reality:  First Nations are truly socialist societies.  Everything that is done is done for the benefit of everyone.  Decisions made are decided upon by consensus.  The most vulnerable citizens are always thought of before the citizens who are well off.  Unfortunately, the reality is not always the case.

Myth:  Band Councils are corrupt

Reality:  First Nations are the among the most accountable organizations.  Each and every First Nations are required to submit fully-audited financial statements for every dollar they receive from government.  Former Auditor-General Sheila Fraser once reported that First Nations are generally overburdened by their redundant and overwhelming reporting requirements.  Yet, the reports to government continue.

Myth:  Chiefs and First Nations Officials make extraordinary salaries

Reality:  Media reports continue to illustrate the few First Nations Chiefs (less than 1 percent) that make extraordinary salaries.  The reality is that compensation for elected officials and First Nations civil servants are not competitive at all.  Public-sector and private-sector salaries are much more lucrative.  Benefit packages are far more competitive.  As a result, it is difficult to attract the necessary talent to fill skilled positions in First Nations.  But if you take the two or three Chiefs that make a quarter of a million dollars, compare their salary to the Premier of a province – you’ve got a compelling story.  But how come they never do stories on the part-time Chiefs or the hundreds of Chiefs that make less than $40,000?

Myth:  Tax free?

Reality:  Unfortunately, the right to tax exemption continues to erode.  As we speak, thousands of First Nations people, who worked for Aboriginal organizations but were based off-reserve, are receiving tax assessments from Canada Revenue Agency, demanding payment of thousands of dollars in back taxes and penalties.  Many of those affected are women, single mothers and make less than $36,500 a year.  If the government moves forward with their plan to collect, it will result in countless bankruptcies, foreclosures, life-long debt and more poverty.

Myth: Billions of dollars are being sent to Indian reserves and more money is spent on First Nations than anyone else.

Reality:  This is a carefully orchestrated effort to discredit First Nation and our capacity for self-government.  In reality, much of the $9 billion spent on First Nations is spent on government administration.  The INAC budget accounts for only 0.004 percent of Canada’s GDP. INAC has found that expenditures per First Nations resident on reserve is less than those in Nunavut, Yukon and the NWT despite similar demographics, scale of operations and geographic challenges.  The most compelling argument to counter this stereotype is per capital spending.  Per capita spending on First Nations is half the amount of average Canadians: $8,754 compared to $18,724 spent on the average Canadian.

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