Questionable leadership a barrier to good government

To the Expositor:

Transparency, accountability, good government and re-dress are all undisputable qualities of those who exhibit exceptional leadership in and among our First Nations. Operationalizing such great leadership qualities sometimes leaves much to be desired in certain instances. Indeed in some cases, exceptional leadership is in short supply as we enter the new millennium. The above qualities, in my view, are the minimum requirement and standard to lead a First Nation into the 21st century. Certainly, the position of leadership is not a personal arena for bullying, nor is it a place for the abuse of power. It is ultimately a position of duty and honour and a time to carry out the needs of the people. The following are undesirable and ineffective examples of, and even barriers to, good government that may exist in and among the myriad of First Nations across this great Turtle Island. I would like to point out that the following, in no way, is a reflection on those First Nation leaders who have a consistent and positive track record of transparency, accountability, good government, and re-dress in their own respective First Nation communities. However, there are those leaders who appear to do otherwise.

Some leaders may think that building roads and new homes in a First Nation community is a sign of prosperity. This is far from the definition of prosperity, especially where many of our First Nations experience high levels of unemployment and social assistance among other issues. Nor is such a view an example of exceptional leadership for that matter. Anyone can get a contractor to build a road or homes. Building homes in an economically depressed First Nation climate is questionable, at minimum, especially if the population is not present to fill such vacancies. If anything, building more homes under such circumstances may be contributing to further ghettoizing our First Nation communities. Without a sound and stable industry or economic base, social and economic development will remain problematic in such communities regardless of community cosmetics. At the same time, maintaining the homes that currently exist in our communities remains problematic. However, if this sounds like your community, then you have a responsibility to be proactive and to question your leadership on housing in your community.

Leaders who actively work towards dismantling and/or discrediting the community organization of their grassroots membership may be leaders who fear transparency, accountability, and indeed re-dress. It is said that the Department of Indian Affairs, as well as the federal government, has kept many a First Nation community in the dark. Harold Cardinal’s 1969 book entitled ‘The Unjust Society’ written in response to the federal government’s 1969 ‘White Paper,’ stated that the First Nations are a ‘mushroom society.’ As we all know, mushrooms grow in the dark and are fed a lot of manure, as that’s how mushrooms grow best. Sadly, it can be said and argued that some First Nation leaders employ similar strategies, either directly or indirectly, as part of their own leadership styles and philosophies. If anything, this is utterly and blatantly wrong. It can also be said that some First Nation leaders have learned well from those who have colonized North America. If this sounds like your community, insist on transparency, accountability, good government, and re-dress. Organizing a grassroots movement may be in order in your community!

Some leaders talk about issues of unity. Talking about the issue of unity is indeed different from doing something positive about it. Choosing to do nothing is unacceptable. Keeping grassroots First Nations informed is key. Leaders who cannot walk the talk may be contributing to the social and political instability that seem to be characteristic of so many of our First Nation communities across Turtle Island. If this sounds like your community, then you may want to become proactive in community change and community development.

Having the spouse of a leader threaten the employment of a grassroots community employee is unwise. Such behaviours can be touted as foolhardy at best and litigious at worse. Certainly such behaviour would be a reflection on the leader of that community. I would strongly encourage any grassroots employee who may be experiencing such bullying and abuse by a leader or a spouse of a leader to be proactive and keep a paper trail in addition to immediately involving the police and/or seeking legal advice. Such bullying is unacceptable behaviour from any leader, Native or non-Native. Certainly individual leaders who engage in such behaviour are anything but leadership material. Leaders who verbally threaten their membership, or anyone for that matter, should be removed from office immediately. I remain active and diligent to ensure that such behaviour is dealt with effectively and immediately. Doing nothing will only allow such leaders to continue their socially corrosive behaviours. Re-election in this instance would no longer be optional for that particular leader. If this is happening in your community, being proactive in leadership selection is your responsibility as a grassroots First Nation individual.

I am sure that hiring non-aboriginal people for positions in First Nation communities is not a major issue. However the reality is that with high unemployment and many on social assistance, First Nations people need employment too. This in the midst of highly educated, but unemployed, First Nations individuals within our communities who could easily fill such positions. It becomes problematic when such non-aboriginal people fraternize with some First Nation leaders for the sole purpose of obtaining high level employment positions within our administration offices. For these non-aboriginal people, obtaining these positions based on merit and skill become moot points under such conditions. In some instances, such non-aboriginal employees have been known to become loyal to leaders who may be viewed as less than honest. Such non-aboriginal employees may even be less-than-honest themselves, dictatorial, and even manipulative and critical when it comes to working with First Nation organizations and leaders. Such people, including our leaders, need to be reminded that they work for the communities they serve. Again, if this is happening in your community, you have a responsibility to address such concerns with your leadership relative to the employment capacity in your First Nation community.

The above examples are a reflection on those few who engage in such behaviours—behaviours that have nothing to do with the concept of respect. In the Whitefish River First Nation community there is a highway billboard that reads, ‘Respect all First Nations from Coast to Coast.’ I would like to add to this by saying that respect begins and ends at home.

Overall, these are just a few negative examples of, and barriers to, good government. It is ultimately our responsibility, living in a democratic system, to ensure that the concept of good government flourishes in all communities including our First Nation communities. Failing this, we fall prey to a host of issues that I have only begun to mention and address. Certainly, in these instances, questionable leadership is indeed a barrier to good government.

Patrick Corbiere

Whitefish River First Nation