WINNIPEG – Chiefs at an Assembly of First Nations meeting are calling for the aboriginal community to rise up against the federal government’s transparency law that requires them to disclose their salaries online.
The Conservative government is taking six First Nations in Alberta and Saskatchewan to court to force them to comply with the law. It is also withholding “non-essential” funding from almost 50 others that failed to meet the deadline for disclosure.
The new law requires bands to post audited financial statements, as well as the salaries and expenses of chiefs and councillors, on a public website.
Delbert Wapass, chief of the Thunderchild First Nation in Saskatchewan, represents one of the bands being taken to court. He said his council already shares its financial information with its members. Wapass, who has a masters degree in education, said he earns $65,000 a year.
The federal government is using the premise of transparency to attack the independence of First Nations, Wapass suggested.
“Now is the time to rise as First Nation leaders and grassroots people and defend who we are as First Nations people,” he said Tuesday. “(Prime Minister Stephen) Harper, we’re coming.”
Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt has said the law makes financial information more accessible to band members, “which leads to more effective, transparent and accountable governance, as well as stronger, more self-sufficient and prosperous communities.”
First Nations “deserve transparency and accountability from their elected leaders,” he said in a statement Monday announcing the court action.
Grand Chief Derek Nepinak, head of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, said it’s the federal government that must be held to account. The transparency law is not about accountability, but about “controlling and containing” First Nation communities, he said.
“If you marched in the street during Idle No More, now is the time to stand up again,” Nepinak said. “We have to hold this government accountable.”
There is no such thing as “non-essential” funding for First Nation communities, he added. First Nations are already chronically underfunded and will be more so with the federal government’s retribution, he said.
“Every dime is needed. Hundreds of people in our communities are going to be put to the test.”
The Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation, also being taken to court by the federal government, says it plans to continue to defy the law. The Alberta First Nation said it hasn’t taken federal funding since 2012 because it would undermine its independence and cripple its ability to oppose “unjust” laws.
“We have run our offices and provided many services to our members with our own revenues,” said Chief Allan Adam in a statement.
“We are proud of the fact that we provide full disclosures on our administration and businesses to the members of our First Nation, but we refuse to accept that Canada can demand accountability from us when we get no accountability from this government.”