Thursday, October 21, 2010

Hello everyone:

So sorry for the long absence! I have been quite busy with all kinds of projects at my day job. I just attended a conference on property rights for First Nations hosted by the First Nation Tax Commission. Very impressive to hear Manny Jules again! Also heard from renowned economist Hernando de Soto. Who knew how much one could explain the economy so well with only an apple and a passport! I will explain in another post :)
Anyways, some interesting discussions. It appears that six First Nations would opt into the First Nation Ownership Act if it were available right now. I suspect more would opt in if the bill was put into force.
Also, encountered a left-wing journalist with the Dominion newspaper who tried to take Hernando de Soto to task for his views. This journalist tried to convince me that fee simple rights do not deliver better results than collective rights. Hmmm.. I think she is one of these people who forgot how thoroughly discredited collectivized property and agriculture has become.
One problem was I think the First Nations supporting private property are being ostracized and more marginalized than anything. Right after the conference, the Indigenous Bar Association held its annual conference. Co-sponsored by the FN Tax Commission, the conference did not have any speakers supporting fee simple. You would have thought they would have someone from FN Tax Commission or the Nisga'a (who were at Tax Commission conference) defend their proposals and experience. The Bar Association highlighted speakers critical of individual fee simple rights.
Interesting was an AFN speaker at IBA conference who seemed to defend the rights of all FNs to choose their own land tenure system, but emphasized many times the desire for First Nations to maintain some form of collective control. Also, extremely interesting was speaker from Metis settlements of Alberta. Metis have land-based government and hold all their land in collective fee simple. Very interesting, but they are realizing the limits of collective tenure.. Most developments happen off the settlements..
Also of interest was economic study showing that First Nations Land Management is producing economic benefits to those communities that opt in. Better transaction times, better economic outcomes.. Who would have thunk? Cut out the middle man (The Crown in this case) reduces transaction costs.
Anyways, I think the final remedy will be to patiently watch First Nations opt into this regime and see how it goes. The worst thing to happen would be the AFN or some other body to try to actively oppose this move. I think they won't as it would be disrespectful to First Nations to exercise their free choice in opting in.
AFN speaker brought up excellent points about need for individual healing and its effect on buulding self-government. So much hurt and pain among individual First Nations. Damaged people produce damaged, ineffective government. That must be dealt with before communities press ahead.
This is one of the first times an AFN speaker has resonated so much with me, although I think she was trying her best not to come out and directly oppose the First Nations Property Ownership initiative, when I could sense she was trepidatious about it. I think that is fair. This is a new thing and there are legitimate concerns, but as Manny Jules stressed, First Nations need to trust their people. Otherwise, nothing will ever be done ultimately.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

"Culture-specific" governance?

I was recently on Alberta Primetime discussing the Frontier Centre's Aboriginal Governance Index. I work on the Index and was the main author of the final report, which can be viewed on
On this panel, there were two other guests. They started out by criticizing the survey, with the first comment being that the report did not take into account "culture-specific" indigenous principles of governance. When the interview is up on the web, I will post the link.
My reply was that the principles we use in the survey are internationally-recognized standards of good governance. Most Aboriginal organizations have endorsed international principles of governance and human rights.
This whole debate surrounding "culture-specific" principles always puzzles me. When we conduct our survey, indigenous people understand the questions and the principles and largely support principles of good governance. Is government responsive to my needs, does it involve input from all stakeholders? Is it efficient?
I fail to see the need for reinventing the wheel of good governance within the context of any specific group. I mean, First Nations have different conceptions of what governance looks like and that is legitimate. But, the principles that governance aims for in most contexts is similar and we try to do that in our Index.
There wasn't enough time, but I wanted to probe this panelist on what they meant. Does this mean First Nations require their own separate category of governance and principles? I will always stand by the idea that older, undemocratic forms of governance do not have a place in modern Canadian life, including for indigenous people. I believe by and large First Nations embrace modern, responsive, democratic governance. This is governance that respects their unique cultures, but is modern, human rights-affirming. The point is not the turn back the clock, but to incorporate the best principles for modern First Nations, while respecting distinctive traditions and cultures that the people desire to be respected.
Am I way off base here? I don't think so.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Welcome to the vast "right wing conspiracy"

Apparently, I am part of a vast right wing conspiracy to undermine indigenous rights.. So says Russell Diabo, a respected First Nation policy analyst.

I debated Diabo on a public affairs show on APTN several months ago.
What I don't get is how anyone who criticizes aspects of Aboriginal policy out there is automatically labelled as "right wing" or part of this conspiracy.
In my writings and commentaries, I would say I am interested in solutions that work, that promote justice for First Nation people, and that also promote individual rights and self-reliance. I think solutions that reduce state dependency are better for all people. Russell Means and other indigenous people have realized the psychological damage dependency has done to Indian people in the U.S. and Canada. They want a better way forward. Is that right wing?

I mean, I was labelled along with Calvin Helin, Manny Jules, and others. I don't actually think these other individuals identify as "right wing." I think they would just say they are against the status quo and want change. In the case of Jules, he supports self-reliance for his people. Is that right wing or just good policy in the long term?

I wonder if Diabo knows that I support : (1) Entrenched Aboriginal rights;
(2) The recognition of Aboriginal title; (3) A form of self-government beyond the Indian Act; and (4) Final resolution of all comprehensive and specific lands claims, not just for the economic value of it, but for the political and moral right that First Nations have to their lands.

The reality is, I think, that those who subscribe to the dominant thinking on indigenous nationalism cannot really deal with diversity in thought within the indigenous discourse. There is a need to demonize it and de-legitimize it.

I think Diabo obviously has a right to his opinion, but I think he needs to understand there is much more nuance out there in the indigenous world. There are changes in thinking going on out there and it is not just the "Great White Father." The Nisga'a of BC came up with policies related to private property on their own and are pressing on on their own. I suppose that is part of the "white wing conspiracy" by the "Great White Father."

I just think it is sad that Aboriginal people can't think differently without being labelled and demonized.

I invite Russell Diabo to discuss these issues with me, if he's reading ... :)

Friday, April 30, 2010

Salaries and things

Hello all:

Some interesting happenings in Aboriginal Country.
The posting of chief and councillor salaries has become a hot button issue, even to the point that some of the most radical indigenous nationalists are taking notice of the abuses out there.
Chiefs set their own salaries with very little oversight and scrutiny, so are we surprised they set them so high and out of proportion?
The Canadian Taxpayers Federation (CTF) did a great service by posting some of the worst examples of salaries.
I am not one to say exactly what a chief or councillor should make. There are many chiefs out there who do great work and work hard. They also live in isolated communities, so travel expenses are higher.
I support the CTF's proposal of setting up a website to post all chief and councillor salaries. I think public pressure from their own communities will drive some of the most bloated salaries down.
I think a lot of these changes can happen if the chiefs were more transparent in their dealings. Band council meetings should be open and not held off-reserve, as is the case with many First Nations.
The problem is there is no incentive to change. Chiefs receive their salaries mainly from taxpayers, not their members, so they don't feel accountable to them.
I think sociologist Mennon Boldt was right in arguing that a bottom-up reconfiguration of First Nation governments, including band constitutions with significant grassroots input, could change a lot of things on reserves.
Will I see change in my lifetime? I am skeptical, but hope some politician takes this issue on in a big way.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Sorry for the long lapse in posting, folks! I have been crazy busy with different projects.
The recent issue that has caught my attention is a recent paper released by the newly-formed Macdonald-Laurier Institute that calls for First Nation post-secondary educational monies to bypass band councils and go directly to pay for First Nation students through individual savings account that start at birth.
Here's the link:
I think this is an excellent idea worthy of exploration and I heartily endorsed the author's paper.
In my days in Aboriginal media, I heard stories from many sincere First Nations who were tired of the politicization that goes on with allocating post-secondary funding on reserves.
I think this is a good idea because the money goes directly to the institution to pay for tuition and pays for living expenses. It completely avoids the issue of band interference. It also provides the funding for First Nations and provides an incentive to finish high school as each year adds to the savings account.
Predictably, the AFN is not happy. Well, when are they ever really? I mean, I thought Shawn Atleo would set a different tone, but it seems, at least in their communications department, there is still the kneejerk defensive, "Dr. No" perspective on any innovative thinking. Honestly, would they be happy if Ottawa proposed to divert money away from their main clients (band chiefs) and give money directly to individuals? Didn't think so. That would represent too much loss of control over the status quo for them. Who really cares about students, in their view.
Over the next few weeks, the federal government will release their re-design of the Aboriginal post-secondary educational assistance system. I hope some of the good logic of this proposal ends up in the final reform package.

Friday, February 12, 2010

I recently had a column published in the National Post about the existence of what I call "non-viable" reserves. These are First Nations that possess very little hope of becoming economically viable. Even if reforms were made to the Indian Act in the way of helping them succeed at business, it seems some of these communities are affected by their geography, which places prohibitive costs on their costs of doing business. High costs must be slapped on goods that are shipped in and these communities, mainly fly-in reserves, are very isolated from highways or other means of access to the commercial market.
I argue these communities may have to think about relocating (hopefully within their traditional territory) to an area closer to an urban centre to take advantage of economic and educational opportunities.
This is a voluntary move that would not affect Aboriginal title or treaty rights. First Nations would always have access to their territories for social and cultural purposes.
Anyways, response has been interesting. My favourite negative response has been that, "well, this is the same as non-Aboriginal rural communities, so why are we talking about this?" reaction. This has been almost exclusively raised by Aboriginal reporters or people responding to the study.
My first response is yes, there are parallels. So??? This doesn't mean my study or recommendations no longer apply. There are also significant differences between reserves and non-Aboriginal rural communities. For one, the Indian Act places many burdens on economic and political activity. There are significant benefits to staying on reserves that aren't there with rural towns, such as access to band council housing and other services. The most you can get in a rural community is social assistance and maybe social housing, but it is no where near the benefits that FNs provide to band members.
Anyway, I haven't been called a "racist" yet, so I think that is hopeful. I think we may have reached the point where certain provocative policy proposals do not generate that kneejerk response.
My next column will look more closely at the state of aboriginal issues within academia. This is a particular concern of mine, given what I have seen to any scholars who challenge current thinking on Aboriginal issues.
Stay tuned!

Monday, January 25, 2010

Strike while the iron is hot

It appears that AFN National Chief Shawn Atleo may be more open to progressive proposals for change than originally thought.
In a recent story published in the National Post, it was stated that, "Mr. Atleo did indicate he would not stand in the way of moves allowing native Canadians to own freehold title over more on-reserve property, which has been suggested as an encouragement to entrepreneurship."