Yukon First Nations will be largely unaffected by one of the most contentious changes to the Indian Act contained in the recently passed First Nations Financial Transparency Act.
Bill C-27 was passed Nov. 27 in Ottawa, and requires all unsigned First Nations to post their financial audits on a public website.
But those requirements don’t affect most Yukon First Nations, said Mike Smith, the regional chief of the Assembly of First Nations.
The changes only apply to First Nations still covered under the Indian Act. All but three of the Yukon’s First Nations have signed final agreements.
“Where a First Nation has passed its own financial administration act, the Indian Act doesn’t apply, period. Basically, it’s not really aimed at the northern First Nations,” said Smith.
And as far as the Yukon’s First Nations are concerned, no one has a problem opening their books, said Smith.
“Actually, we’ve had a good discussion on that and no one really cares about publicizing the funding they receive from government. That’s not the real issue for us. The real issue is the amendments to the waters act, the fisheries act, the whole nine yards (contained in the federal omnibus bill C-45),” said Smith.
The Liard First Nation is one of the three unsigned in the territory. While it would be covered under the proposed changes, Chief Liard McMillan said the changes themselves aren’t a major concern for him either.
“From my perspective, I don’t see (Bill C-27) as much of a concern. It’s not going to change anything for us. We’re already accountable regardless. We have our audits done every year,” said McMillan.
McMillan came under fire earlier this month from a group of Watson Lake elders who feel that he isn’t being transparent enough and threatened to overthrow his government.
While it isn’t required under the Indian Act, McMillan was one of only three chiefs who agreed to release their salaries when first asked in 2011 by the Yukon News. He makes $69,550 annually.
Seven other chiefs refused to disclose their earnings, including Ruth Massie, grand chief of the Council of Yukon First Nations.
McMillan said he and his council have done everything they can to be accountable. More federal legislation isn’t going to change that, he said.
Bill C-27 was one piece in a raft of recent legislation that has sparked protest across the country as the Idle No More movement. The bill was slammed by many First Nations for being harsher than the rules governing other levels of government and for being imposed unilaterally by the federal government. If First Nations don’t comply with the new rules, they could have their funding cut.
That’s essentially already the case, said McMillan. But he did take issue with the spirit behind the C-27 changes.
“There’s a perception out there that money First Nations get is taxpayer money and perhaps they shouldn’t be getting that level of money,” he said.
One distinction in the proposed changes from C-27 is that First Nations would now be forced to open their books to the public instead of just to their own members.
In some cases, it could be potentially damaging for a First Nations government to be forced to publicize its finances, especially if it is involved in a dispute with mining companies or other levels of government, said McMillan.
He said he feels that the distrust from non-First Nations people who demand accountability from governments they aren’t part of is “in some ways a little bit of a racist or prejudiced position that people are taking.”
Idle No More has also targeted omnibus bill C-45, which Smith said seriously undermines Canada’s environmental protections and tramples First Nations’ right to consultation.
Theresa Spence, chief of the Attawapiskat First Nation in Ontario, is a week into a hunger strike that she said she will keep up until she dies, or Prime Minister Stephen Harper agrees to meet with her to discuss what she calls government disrespect for aboriginal treaties.
“So far she’s still doing OK, but things start happening after 10 days. The body starts eating itself,” Smith said, adding that the AFN has so far received no official response from the federal government about Spence’s strike.
“She’s being totally being ignored,” he said.
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