The grass is always greener on the other side.  I wish my new Palm Pre ran WindowsCE and had the same apps as my old Treo Pro.  I wish my hair was long and straight rather than curly.  Do we really wish we could be the Chief of Peguis First Nation and make $174,230 tax free.  There are many people wish they could be an Indian and have everything tax free, free education and free housing.

Sorry to dispel these contemporary stereotypes.  Nothing is free in the world, it all requires hard work.  Most of us don’t get free housing or free money.  There are very few who benefit from the right to tax exemption – they must live and work on-reserve.  The majority of us, like you, pay taxes.  And very few First Nations students are “sponsored”.  We get student loans like everyone else.

To address another contemporary stereotype – First Nations do not make that much money.

In 2006, the average Aboriginal income in Ontario was only $26,000. The unemployment rate for First Nation people living on-reserve is 18 per cent – three times the Ontario average.

Given these statistics, I certainly can’t defend or substantiate the salary paid to the Chief and Council from Peguis First Nation.  Perhaps they were getting bonuses based on their recent negotiated land settlement or their own source revenue.  Perhaps, the Chief was paid a premium because he’s a professional engineer.  I have no idea why the Councillor is getting paid $310,000.  That’s is grossly excessive and actually turns my stomach.

However, having worked in First Nations politics for most of my life – I know with absolutely certainty that Chiefs and Councillors don’t get paid that much.  In fact, First Nations civil servants don’t get paid anything close to what they’re worth in relation to what they do for their communities.

In my experience, most Chiefs make between $40,000 and $60,000.

Check any First Nation audit.  These are easily obtained through a basic Freedom of Information Act request.  Yes, indeed.  I’m pleased to dispel another stereotype – First Nation governments are indeed quite accountable.

Of all the levels of government, First Nations not only have to file an annual audit to the Government of Canada, they have to file inordinate numbers of reports for every program and fund they access.  In fact, the Auditor General once criticized the sheer number of reports that must be filed, which averaged around 140 official financial reports, per band, each year.

First Nations have established their very own Aboriginal Financial Officer’s Association, a network of financial professionals who share policies and best practices.  Membership in the AFOA is quickly becoming a standard in the most accountable of First Nations band administrations.  Their members of AFOA need to be commended.

However, the Auditor General has also criticized First Nations stating that in too many cases, dollars intended for social purposes don’t always make it to those in need.  They were being used for administration and salaries, rather than helping the poor.  Peguis First Nation, despite their recent successes, remains one of the poorest First Nation in Manitoba.

I think First Nations need to re-evaluate their priorities when it comes to financial planning.  We need to merge our financial values with our societal values.  We’re a communal, socialist society.  These dollars need to be put back into the community, not just into the pockets of the leadership.

However, we also need to measure the value of leadership and the civil service.

In my experience, wages of First Nations program managers, financial administrators and program officers are HALF of what is being made by their counterparts in government.  On average, First Nations civil servants have to do a lot more than their jobs ask.  For the most part, First Nations have no executive assistants, special advisors, policy analysts or communications officers.

Sure, there may be a few First Nations leaders that make an exorbitant salary.  But I estimate that less than 1 percent of Chiefs across Canada make more than $100,000.  As I stated earlier, the vast majority make between $40,000 and $60,000.

On the other hand, I would estimate that about 10 per cent make less than $40,000.  There are still a few First Nations whose Chief is either part-time or done strictly as a volunteer, paid only by meeting honouraria.  Most councillors in First Nations are volunteers who only get honoraria, usually $100 to $200 per meeting, with perhaps a small monthly stipend.  Travel budgets for most Councils are quite low and not much of a financial incentive.

With statistics like these, why would an accountant, a lawyer, a financial planner or an MBA even consider working for their own community?  What incentive does a First Nation have to bring in the best, young university graduates?  Why would someone want to be Chief – one of the most stressful, ungrateful, often criticized position you can have in a small community – when they are making less than $50,000 per year?  And they have to worry about getting re-elected every two years, compared to four years in mainstream politics.

And it’s true.  First Nations are losing their best, young minds to urban centres where they can have housing, a better salary and a more comfortable life.  First Nations just can’t compete.

Before we are quick to paint all First Nations with the brush of contemporary stereotypes, we also need to work towards equity for the vast majority of First Nations civil servants.