Reserves in dire need may worsen after the COVID crisis

As the Coronavirus (COVID) pandemic sweeps across Canada, it is becoming clearer that First Nations are susceptible to further destruction because Canada has not dealt fairly with First Nation Indigenous communities for centuries.

The First Nations are primed for holocausts because they are extensions of poorly administered Indian Affairs departments. Governance is a continuing problem on reserve. Since Indian Affairs interfered in traditional governance systems within nations, systems of pandering, corruption and dependency have emerged that are unable to deal with crises.

On First Nations reserves, there are large families who can vote together and determine the chief and council. This is not traditional governance and may not be in the best interests of the collective whole. Those families who control the reserve then award themselves jobs or positions without qualifications. Indian Affairs has been aware of this situation for decades.

Indian Affairs consistently distances themselves from the on reserve in fighting that their government created. Band members who seek relief are forced into the white man made Canadian court system where a judicial system formed on ownership of property tries to mete out some type of justice. This is the first clash of irreconcilable systems.

First Nations are collective nations where each band member is to contribute to the whole tribe or nation: a system based on trust, equality and honour. In return, the governance systems works for each band member or clan.

In the non-native world, the majority rules through a system of “democracy” that coopts the minority. In the Indigenous world there is consensus so that all voices are given weight in decision-making. This is why the attack on original governance systems has been the most insidious and debilitating measure applied to First Nation communities.

In a First Nation community on reserve, the people of the community are reliant on the chief and council for their jobs, homes, road upkeep and all other infrastructure services associated with living in a small kind of rural hamlet or municipality. If there are only two families or one family that hold the majority of votes in an election, then First Nation chief and councils are in positions to tend to only one family or the family of voters that supports them. This is seen in much of the U.S. where gerrymandering has rigged their system for certain states. What happens elsewhere ussally happens to those of us on reserve first. The result on reserve has been there is no need to talk about platforms or campaigning over policies and objectives. Blood is thicker than sense, so unqualified families may have a monopoly on reserve for many years.

On reserve, you will have people who have worked or lived off reserve who bring experience and education back to their tribe. This is no use if the chief and council hire relatives over qualified people to ensure their own families have a source of income.

Angry band members have tried to contest this unfair situation. What has been the result?

In one instance Indian Affairs decided that women who married “off reserve” to another native or to a non-native effectively “lost” their Indian status. Court cases concerning this discriminatory action are still going forward in the Canadian court system.

With a stroke of a pen, Indian Affairs removed native women and their descendants off band lists. Now Indian Affairs continues tampering with our membership by attempting to insert these “status-less” band members back onto band lists without funding and without long-term planning.

Another discrepancy surfaced in home ownership. Many arguments can be made that the matriarchs or Indigenous women were the rightful homeowners prior to Canadian settlement. Indian Affairs, through the Indian Act has made reserve land a collective space without property status. Therefore a home on reserve is not the same as a home off reserve. Indian Affairs does not acknowledge this. Instead, Indian Affairs created the Matrimonial Property Act to try to give the family home to women in the event of a separation, divorce or death.

On reserve, families typically live in the generally same or traditionally held areas. So Indian Affairs can say that a women “owns” the house but in fact because the house is on reserve, on communal land, there is no real ownership. If anything there is a beneficial interest on use of the house for the lifetime of the band member or their spouse. Nevertheless, Indian Affairs has blundered through some legislation so that if the First Nation Band does not have a “law” regarding housing then this Matrimonial Act kicks in. Again, it is a very nice piece of paper, but where is the enforcement portion. Councils on reserve can choose to ignore outside court made decisions especially if their own families or a big family of voters has a vested interest in holding the house.

Do these situations arise? Yes. Houses are limited on reserve so there is a shortage before fighting over one house ensures. Further to this, without enforcement, judges can decide in urban settings but no one will venture to some reserve to see that this ruling is enforced.

It is the same thing with membership, illegal or suspect election practices on reserve. Those dissatisfied band members can go to court and try to rectify the situation but again, it is up to the council to enforce the ruling or to police their office.

Indian Affairs is aware of this conundrum. Yet they do nothing. Indian Affairs will state in singsong voices that membership is a band affair. This is after they have interfered and made a mockery of the membership rules prior to contact. Indian Affairs is aware of misspending and mismanagement by certain councils. Third party institutions are installed in band offices that do little more than try to balance the books around council ineptitude which reverts as the norm when third party agencies leave.

Why is this allowed?
In the last century traditional governance was allowed to remove councils by the authority of elders, matriarchs or clan mothers, and was upheld by Indian Affairs. Over time this authority was taken away from our traditional systems in favor of the bureaucratic, legalistic system we see now.

Indian Affairs and the government of Canada have no love or care for their original land partners. They would like to see the First Nations assimilate or be terminated so that Canada finally can say it is a country in its own right. Canada was calling for bands to run their elections during the COVID pandemic, endangering the lives of the people. Since then they have extended the powers of councils pending pandemic resolution and put off elections. It is of little consequence as Indian Affairs controls funding or lack of funding and all aspects of First Nation life while fronting that they are dealing honourably with the original people. The COVID crisis is showing how ill equipped First Nation communities are in infrastructure, health or governance. This is the real problem.

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