Letter of the Week… First Nations Governance

—–Original Message—–
From: Goulais, Bob
Sent: Monday, November 19, 2007 5:17 PM
To: ‘helen frank’
Subject: RE: Policies

Helen: This topic is a difficult thing for many of our First Nations to understand.  Most First Nations are not used to these concepts of good modern governance.  For so long, our Band Councils operated trying to please everyone, help their friends, or make decisions that will keep them in power.  As you know, this type of approach has led to a lot of criticism over First Nations for poor governance and bad spending. In an ‘ideal’ world, the job of Chief and Council is ONLY political.  You meet to develop by-laws and policy that oversee the administration of programs and services.  It is the job of the Band Staff, under the direction of the Executive Director/Band Administrator, to implement those by-laws and policies.

For example:  If you decide to develop a Housing Policy.  Say you have money to build 10 houses a year.  Chief and Council will meet to develop criteria (without any bias or conflict of interest) and develop that criteria into a Housing Policy.  You don’t decide who gets the houses.  You decide how people are selected to get the houses.  Your administration implements the policy.  That way it is fair.  Everyone is treated equally.

Another example:  if you decide to develop a Hiring Policy.  You develop a policy and criteria on how you do Recruitment (posting, etc.), Application process, etc.  You develop a policy to govern the Interview process, number of questions, keeping score, etc.  You develop the policy on the Selection process based on interview score, suitability score, resume and cover letter score.  When you are done, it will be your Administration that implements the policy to hire people.  That way it is fair. 

Everyone is treated equally. When it comes to spending, a good financial policy sets a budget, a budget process, purchasing policy, spending limits, procurement and contracting policies, audit and reporting requirements, etc.

For example: if you decide to develop a Finance Policy.  The E.D. can have approval to spend in any area that has been budgeted for, to a maximum of $5000.00.  Cheques should all have two signatures on them, the E.D. and the Chief, or Finance Manager and the Chief.  Any amounts outside of the budget, or over the maximum of $5000.00 need to come to Chief and Council for approval.

Once you develop governance policies, financial policies, etc… your E.D. will be responsible for carrying out those decisions.  She will need to report to Chief and Council regularly to ensure she is carrying this out correctly.  That’s how she is accountable.  If she doesn’t adhere to the policy and works outside of them, there needs to be serious consequences. Yes, you are definitely accountable for what happens, but accountable for the policies and the process ONLY. 

You keep control by developing good and fair policies and by making good financial decisions through an annual, transparent, budgeting process.  You shouldn’t be accountable with who gets houses, jobs, etc.   Good governance and a good Band Council maintains an arms-length distance from administration.  But through good policy, they maintain control of their priorities and agenda. Like I said, this is all in an IDEAL world.  Many First Nations do not operate within these principles.

I hope this helps.

Bob Goulais

Chief of Staff &
Executive Assistant to the Grand Council Chief
Anishinabek Nation – Union of Ontario Indians

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