First Nations need their own constitutions, says Glen Hare

MANITOULIN—The Deputy Grand Council Chief of the Union of Ontario Indians (UOI) says while the federal government puts in place First Nations transparency laws, it is pivotal for First Nations to take the steps needed, such as passing their own band constitutions, to ensure they will not be dictated to by the government.

Algoma-Manitoulin-Kapuskasing MP Carol Hughes says her party did not support the federal First Nations transparency law announcement last week.

“Again for me, in talking to other chiefs and getting their thoughts and ideas, it is important that all our communities, in Northern Ontario and elsewhere, to engage in making our own constitutions so that no one will be able to dictates to us how, or what, will happen in our communities,” said Glen Hare. “The Indian Act and the First Nations financial transparency law are a form of dictatorship by the government. People have rights in this country and (Prime Minister Stephen) Harper’s current term in power cannot run out fast enough; and this isn’t just the feeling of First Nations people, this is the feeling of people throughout the country.”

Federal Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt unveiled a First Nations financial transparency law on March 27 in Winnipeg, but his announcement was cut short by Idle No More protesters. The legislation makes it mandatory for First Nations communities to publicly post audited financial statements and the salaries of chiefs and councillors. Mr. Valcourt told CBC news that people are being intimidated in their home community just for asking for that information, noting they have a right to get this information.

But those speaking at the announcement were soon drowned out by Idle No More protesters, with the event abruptly ending and Mr. Valcourt being escorted into another room by security staff.

Pam Palmateer, an Idle No More activist in Manitoba, told the CBC there is grassroots opposition to the new law because it gives the federal government too much power over First Nations. She told CBC News that for something as simple as not having a website, which many First Nations don’t have and failing to post their audited financial statements online because they don’t have the funding, all of their funding could be cut to their communities.

However, Mr. Valcourt said later to reporters the financial transparency law is empowering the members of the First Nations.

Ms. Hughes told the Recorder, “the First Nation transparency laws received Royal Assent, but is something we didn’t support. The government should be consulting with First Nations on these issues. First Nations say they want self-governance, but the government continues to put in place laws like this, Bill C-27, which certainly does not speak to what they (First Nations) want, or for the relationship between the government with First Nations.”

“Unfortunately, again the government forged ahead without consulting First Nations, further evidence they are not listening to First Nations people,” said Ms. Hughes. “For instance, they force education reform on First Nations but don’t provide funding, with those people living in their communities on reserves, receiving less than those not living on reserves.”

“All of this forcing us to conform to government laws has to stop at some point,” said Mr. Hare. “I can tell you the Idle No More demonstrations are going to flare up again this spring in attempts to get the government to sit down with First Nations and discuss issues. I know we are behind and support the Idle No More representatives. If the government, and the mining companies for another example, don’t want to work with the chiefs, they might as well go home. I will certainly stand with our chiefs and communities; we have nothing to lose, as First Nations we lost everything once so it doesn’t matter if it happens again.”

Tom Sasvari