February 11, 2011

By Jeff Parkinson

When the news broke in late 2010 that some Native chiefs earn more than the Prime Minister, and that councillor Mike Halliday of the Glooscap First Nation in Nova Scotia which has a membership of 304 brought home $978,000 in 2008, Canadians were startled. When CBC tried to interview Halliday on Nov 26 2010, he threatened to have them removed by police.

When resident Sherie Francis spoke out about living in poverty while her representatives get rich, she says Halliday threatened to fire her from her job at a band operated store.

The revelation was the result of some freedom of information act digging by the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.

When confronted with the numbers, Chief Shirley Clarke of the Glooscap First Nation admitted that while only 87 people actually live on the Reserve, she personally takes home $243,000 per year, but she said she “works hard” for that salary and that it’s “unfair” for those numbers to be made public.

The numbers revealed by the CTF show that in 2008-2009, 50 reserve politicians made more than the Prime Minister, 160 made more than their respective provincial premier, and more than 600 received the tax free equivalent of someone off the reserve who made $100,000.

Given that poverty is rampant on reserves which have an average population of 1100, there is something very wrong with the way in which the Billions of taxpayer dollars Canada gives to it’s First Nations communities each year is distributed. This comes as no surprise to anyone who has taken even a cursory look at how First Nations finances are handled by Canada, but it’s a shocking number that gives us a small glimpse at what Aboriginal accountability could do.

Chief Clarke quickly became defensive when her salary, paid by the Canadian taxpayers was made public, and she spoke out against accountability telling CBC It has singled out native communities in a way that deepen prejudice and reinforces stereotypes, and that is not fair,”

Contrary to her assertion, I would suggest that exposing politicians who secretly make hundreds of thousands of dollars each year while their constituents toil in poverty is an excellent idea. If Canada had the back bone to flush out corrupt leaders who are siphoning tax free fortunes off of the Billions we give to First Nations communities across the country, perhaps actual progress could be made in ending the needless poverty on reserves.

Pinning down the total amount spent is like trying to catch smoke, but a 2003 presentation to the Frasier Institute by the CTF  stated $7 Billion federally and $3 Billion provincially, and noted that between 1990-2000 the amount of federal funding increased 49%. Assuming that the rate of growth stayed the same, federal funding would have reached $10.34 Billion by 2010 which if provincial funding stayed exactly the same (unlikely) gives us an annual budget of $13.4 Billion.

According to the Statistics Canada website, based on the 2006 Census, a total of 1,169,435 Canadians identified themselves as Aboriginal, Métis, or Inuit, of which 696,310 identified themselves as members of a reserve or Indian settlement. Being a member of a reserve doesn’t necessarily mean living on one.

The Department of Indian & Northern Affairs Canada has a different take. They projected an on reserve population (as opposed to membership) of 427,700 for 2011 which yields an annual budget of $31,330 per year, per person.

It’s important to note that it’s difficult to determine how many of those who are members of a reserve actually live on one. If the Glooscap First Nation figure of 87 of the 304 (28.5%) rings true across the board, there would be only 121,895 people (judging by the INAC data) actually living on reserves in Canada.

While I don’t think it would necessarily be prudent to assume that the actual on reserve population is quite that low, if we do, we get $109.930 spent per person per year tax free.

To put this in perspective, a single person on Welfare in Ontario receives an astoundingly meager maximum of $7020 per year to live on, and a single person on ODSP receives a maximum of $12,574. Both of those rates are taxable income and both are vastly below the poverty line of $18,849 for a single person or $23,561 for a family of two.

While studying the social assistance rates for residents of Ontario leaves me sickened, it is a topic for another day.

In any case, guesstimating gives us a tax free number somewhere between $31,330 and $109,930 per year, per registered status Indian living on a reserve. At the lowest end of that scale, they are still getting more than quadruple what a person on Ontario Works (welfare) gets or 2.4 times what someone on ODSP gets, and yet they remain impoverished while their leaders get rich which is absolutely unacceptable.

Going back for a moment to the CBC story about Mr. Halliday and his fortune, we find an alarming statement. “Residents say the salary revelation is difficult to take when there are people living on the reserve who are collecting welfare and struggling to get by day to day”

Welfare? Why would anyone on the Glooscap reserve be forced to go on welfare ($7020 per year) when the feds are funneling Billions into the reserve system every year? Could it have something to do with the mayor raking in a salary that could be keeping 13 people above the poverty line, or perhaps the councilor who makes enough to keep 52 of his 87 constituents out of poverty?

According to INAC, the bulk of the tax benefits and programs provided are to those who stay on a reserve, and while any person anywhere in Canada can apply for welfare or disability, there is no reason why anyone on a reserve should have to suffer the indignity of living on $7020 per year.

For the sake of argument, let’s say that the actual amount given is somewhere between our estimates which would be approximately $65,000 per year, per person.

At that rate there is no excuse for poverty on any reserve anywhere in Canada, and whatever the rate may be, there is no excuse for the kind of extreme poverty that we often hear of such as no clean drinking water.

While countless people and organizations have tried to design a solution to the problem, government policy remains designed to isolate Native people on reserves which we flood with cash each year in the hope that the problems will go away. The intention may arguably be good, (I don’t believe it is) but without accountability there can never be any progress.

If you hand someone a massive pile of cash and tell them that they are supposed to share it equally, but that you won’t be watching to make sure they do, the end result is fairly predictable, but each year we pretend that it’s not and replenish the cash without ever asking where it’s going.

As a society, we need to stop treating Native people as children, and end the perception of perpetual victimization. They are not children, and they are not always the victim. If there is no clean water in a community, why do we not simply hire a contractor (from the community if possible) to dig a well? It does not need to be a complicated task that takes decades to achieve.

In June of 1969, the Trudeau government offered a solution to the problem by introducing what became known as “the White Paper”. Presented in the House of Commons by then Indian Affairs Minister Jean Chrétien, grounded on the premise that separate treatment of our indigenous people was causing poverty, malaise and other social ills, the White Paper sought to dissolve the Department of Indian Affairs, terminate the peculiar legal status of Indian peoples, and have services delivered to them by Canada’s provincial governments rather than the federal government.

The Trudeau government called the separation of Native people onto reserves “an unacceptable badge of inferiority” and tried to bring an end to the race based governance enforced by the Indian Act. The plan would have given full equality and the same rights as every other Canadian to Native people, and had it been enacted 42 years ago, things would undoubtedly be quite different now.

Unfortunately the Natives did not take kindly to this effort to bring an end to their dire poverty labeling it “cultural genocide”, an incredibly inaccurate term that continues to be thrown around today when Native extremists want to halt progress that would hold them accountable.

An organization called the “National Indian Brotherhood” was formed to fight the proposed changes which were scrapped, and the group would go on in 1980 to become known as the Assembly of First Nations.

The defeat of the White Paper makes clear that efforts to abolish the system that has kept them in poverty will be opposed by enough Natives to make the Canadian government uncomfortable, but progress has to start somewhere, and accountability for taxpayer funds that are supposed to help the Native community would be an excellent first step.

A private members bill, C-575 First Nations Financial Transparency Act brought forth by Kelly Block who is the Member of Parliament for Saskatoon would expose the Fat Cats and allow their constituents to keep them honest, but thus far Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff, and NDP leader Jack Layton are opposing the bill.

Until we stop cowering from the rallying cry of the greedy radicals and start focusing on the very real needs of the good people of Canada’s Native communities, we are destined to fail them in perpetuity.


Suggested Reading

CBC News – Glooscap residents take on overpaid band council

Indian & Northern Affairs Canada – Statement of the government of Canada on Indian policy (the white paper)

Canadian Taxpayers Federation – Presentation to the Frasier Institute

The Vancouver Sun – Outing the Aboriginal FatCats

The Globe & Mail – Six figure salaries for chiefs often disproportionate

The National Post – On tiny reserve, big pay defended

CBC News – Mi’kMaq chief of 304 paid $243k

OpenParliament.ca – Bill C-575

Canadian Taxpayers Federation – Petition to disclose Native salaries

Winnipeg Sun – End the gravy train

National Post – Transparency must precede money for Native reforms

National Post – Ottawa looking to open up native’s books

Post Media News – BC Chief rejects payment, slams high salaries

  1. Sick of Being Muzzled says:

    My MP is NDP. I have just sent an email to her asking her to let Jack Layton and the NDP Aboriginal Affairs critic, Jean Crowder, know that I think the NDP should support, not oppose, Bill C-575 First Nations Financial Transparency Act.

    I think aboriginal community members, and Canadians generally, should know what is happening with the tax dollars allocated to chiefs and councilors.

  2. Jeff Parkinson says:

    Excellent! You may also want to sign the CTF petition which can be found here.

    When the residents of the Glooscap reserve learned of the astounding salaries that their council are making, they started a petition asking for a meeting. That they would need a petition to speak with their council is absurd.

    They were at the time of the story starting a 2nd petition as the council tossed the first one out claiming that someone had been coerced into signing it.

    Should bill C-575 succeed, there are going to be some very long days for those making exorbitant sums to rule over people who are trying to scrape by on virtually nothing.


  3. Bonnie Stephens says:

    Thoughtful and lucid step toward resolving an abominable situation. I have signed the petition and sent your article off to my friends. Thanks.

  4. dailyrasp says:

    Excellent column! I remember seeing a lot of this poverty on Vancouver Island in the 70’s and in Alberta in the 80’s. The only time I have ever agreed with Chretien was with the White Paper – it should have been acted on in full. The Harperites should be ashamed of themselves in continuing the coruption, the poverty and ‘look the other way attitude’. The best thing for the band leader corruption is the cleansing power of the bright sunshine of investigative journalism and embarrassing the rent seekers.

  5. Oliver says:

    Very well done Mr. Parkinson. I had no idea that the figures were this shockingly high.

    I’m not a liberal (especially with iggy in the front) but after reading your article, I did a little extra digging on the White Paper and I must say I would back any party that had the guts to implement such a plan.

    There is one thing I’m having trouble grasping and I wonder if you could shed some light on it for me. The Indians oppose legislation that would give them more rights and freedoms. What possible reason could they have for doing this?


  6. Jeff Parkinson says:

    Bonnie, Thank you. Your support is always appreciated.

    Dailyrasp, Had the white paper been instituted there would have been a rabble from some of the Natives, but by now things would most likely be very different, and one has to seriously wonder if the Caledonia crisis would have even happened. I’m sure there’s a flip side, but by screaming “Genocide” the Natives obscured any legitimate arguments they may have had.

    Oliver, in my years of experience dealing with the radicals, I’ve learned that equality is in their books a dirty word. They don’t want equal rights for their people because that would seriously jeopardize their ability to rule with an iron first.

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