They live in small communities across Canada with populations of a few hundred to a few thousand, and a few with populations of around 20,000. They are called by various names, including: Haida, Dene, Blackfoot, Cree, Ojibwa, Mohawk and Micmac. They are the First Nations peoples of Canada.
There are over 600 First Nations’ governments or “bands” with a total population of 1,172,790 people. Residents of First Nation reserves are often among the poorest Canadians. According to the website of The Assembly of First Nations, the national organization representing First Nations citizens in Canada, First Nations people in Canada live in Third World conditions:
- First Nations’ living conditions rank 63rd in the world on the Human Development Index created by the United Nations.
- Canada’s drop from first to eighth as the best country in the world to live is primarily due to conditions on reserves.
- 423,000 people live in 89,000 overcrowded, substandard and rapidly deteriorating housing units.
- 5,486 of the 88,485 houses on-reserve are without sewage service.
- Almost 25% of First Nations water infrastructures are at high risk of contamination.
- Infant mortality rate is 1.5 times higher than the Canadian infant mortality rate.
- About 70% of First Nations students on-reserve will never complete high school.
- Unemployment rates for all Aboriginal groups continue to be at least double the rate of the non-Aboriginal population.
- A study by Indian Affairs (the “Community Well-being Index”) assessed quality of life in 4,685 Canadian communities based on education, labour force activity, income and housing. There was only one First Nation community in the Top 100. There were 92 First Nations in the Bottom 100.
“The Assembly of First Nations …National Chief Shawn Atleo lashed out at the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, calling its campaign to publicize native political incomes as “an insult that paints First Nations leadership as overpaid, unaccountable local bosses, uninterested in the challenges faced by First Nations citizens.”
– National Post
In other words, readers, aboriginal bands have some real challenges facing them, notwithstanding the $7-billion or so they receive directly or indirectly in transfers from the federal government’s Indian and Northern Affairs Canada department.
Contrast this sorry state of affairs with today’s report in the National Post that:
“Scores of First Nations chiefs and council members earn more than the Prime Minister of Canada… and one reserve politician in Atlantic Canada was found to have been paid a combined tax-free salary and honorarium totaling an astounding $978,468.
The figures obtained by the National Post through access to information requests reveal that 82 reserve politicians earned more than Prime Minister Stephen Harper’ 2008-09 after-tax income of $184,000. The Post also informs us that 222 reserve politicians were paid more in tax-free income in 2008-09 than their respective provincial premiers, who averaged an after-tax income of $109,893.
And, furthermore, more than 700 reserve politicians earned an income equivalent to over $100,000 off-reserve.
According to the Post, Indian Affairs Minister John Duncan was unavailable for comment. Why am I not surprised?
For how much longer will the government of Canada tolerate this general lack of accountability in First Nations communities? And when can we expect prudent fiscal management to begin in Ottawa?