Nordern Perspective of the First Nations Financial Transparency Act…

I have learned as the law has taught me to give opinions with reason, logic and support, the support for my arguments expressed through words should be nothing less than a foundation of research and hard work. In saying that, my analysis of this Act is scratching the surface at best because I have yet to see its application in the courts, much of it imminent I am sure. An Act that appears to be creating more roads to them, than away and judges left with the task of it’s interpretation, analysis, application and ultimate judgment.

So I have read the Act in its form, a small Act with big hands and even bigger implications and at this point, First Nations communities should be posting their financial statements or risk having their funding withheld or any existing agreements in relation to that funding terminated. Hayden King has written an excellent article on possible, probable and likely implications with respect to Canadian society and Native and Non-Native relationships. Thus, I will try not to cover too much of his article avoiding any overlap with respect to societal implications.

The most I can do is offer the perspective of an Anishinaabe from the North who practices law, offering an opinion amongst diverse opinions of First Nations people, plenty to be made about this Act I am sure. In saying that, my opinion of the Act misses an element crucial to providing a sound analysis, I am not a Chief, Councillor and currently do not live in a First Nations community, just a First Nations citizen in love with Anishinaabe people and the Anishinaabe land around me.

However, my opinion is not formulated from an illusional pedestal of ignorance as many good friends are Chiefs and Councillors and many more who voted them in. My work and passion is also with First Nations people, involving a dream of providing a better life to my children and their generation, A dream of wanting to contribute with the skills and knowledge I have attained and using them to gain more, an Education never-ending.

In saying that, the Act in my initial reading appears to state simply, Chiefs and Councillors submit your financial statements or you and your people pay the price, one already paid and will continue, not just financially. Section 10 of the Act gives First Nations members the right to apply to the Superior Court of Justice to compel their leaders to abide by the Act, should finances go unrevealed. Here is the kicker, Section 11 of the Act gives anyone the right to do so, not just First Nations members living on or off reserve, which may have been a relevant clause for those having financial transparency issues with their leaders.

But my biggest issue with this Act is the part where financial statements of the corporate entities in relation to the First Nation must also be posted. Let me tell you why, my law practice involves helping First Nations incorporate or partner with other companies to develop in areas of mostly economic development. They see this as a chance for their people to become self-sufficient, a way to provide for themselves. What we do is set up partnerships in such a way to which the First Nation is protected but run by its Corporation. Thus, legally protected from liability and taxes, but making money, which in turn provides more funding for Education, training, sports programs and social assistance.

This Act will compel these First Nations to submit the blueprints to their companies which encompass their strengths, weaknesses and will be revealed to their competitors in bidding wars, to which there are many. Weakened against their competition, thus, weakening the concept of self-governance or sustainability through economic development, a thesis or belief, which speaks to the fact that in order to escape the chains of poverty, one must provide for oneself, a school of thought encouraged from the same Government imposing legislation to hamper that development. Confusing I know.

So what do I or we do now? We continue to deal with a Government who created an Act to which an ambush was waiting, a media blitz of a select few Chiefs with high salaries plastered on the news. A headline to which reading the story was no longer required or more importantly, a thorough investigation of the facts. Many who believed that our Chiefs were corrupt can now breathe a sigh of relief that they were right.

However, corrupt is not the Chiefs or Councillors I know but rather loving, trusting and compassionate best explains. A reason that what we do now is not worrisome, because how we do it is together, leadership with direction from the people, a concept the Chiefs and Councillors I know follow. An Act that will not weaken, but rather make us stronger.

Wab Kinew as National Chief: from the perspective of a Nordern Anishinaabe man…

The Assembly of First Nations meeting is taking place right now in Halifax, Nova Scotia, the land of our Mikmaq and Maliseet brothers, its mig-ma not mic-mac I was always told when I lived with the people of Red Bank and Eel Ground in New Brunswick. Very nice people who took care of me during my time there and I found them very similar to the many First Nations from home, but also different in many ways. In saying that, what does it take to lead the different First Nations from the East to the West Coast? A tough proposition. A decision as to who will lead will be made in Winnipeg this December.

I have been reading articles about Wab Kinew running for National Chief and I am keeping a close eye on the results when they come and I am hopeful he is selected, a little bias yes but I will tell you why. Wab and I are the same age, we both originate from Treaty 3, myself from Shoal Lake, he from Onigaming, and our fathers are remembered as prominent leaders of their respective Nations who did so at the same time having worked together. My father was Grand Chief of Nishnawbe Aski-Nation, Treaty # 9, while Wab’s father served as Grand Chief of Grand Council Treaty # 3. I also became good friends and worked for Wab’s sister Diane Kelly during her term as Grand Chief of Treaty #3. Many connections through family, but the strongest connection being the land to which we come from, a vast territory of Anishinaabe people.

I stated yesterday that Wab running for National Chief is a good thing and let me say why. He represents a generation of change, a generation of next, in a world changing extremely fast. He represents my generation, one that is often forgotten by Government, a mistake. Residential school survivors but not quite, because we didn’t actually attend, just raised by parents who did, but survivors nonetheless who heard, experienced and lived the stories of the wrongs committed to the people we love. A generation that overcame huge obstacles to become educated, empowered and innovative thinkers, but rooted in our land, culture and traditions, an awesome combination, a scary one for the Government.

The criticism against Wab is that he does not have the experience, might be putting the cart before the horse . As I stated before, I don’t know enough about the 633 Chiefs and how they might vote to form a valid opinion. But in my personal opinion Wab running for leadership sets a precedent for young Anishinaabe to put their names forth to lead in different capacities. It gives them the courage, inspiration and confidence to do the same within their communities, regions or like Wab, at the National level, in both Native and non-Native politics. A success within itself.

So in saying that I wish the very best of luck to my friend Wab. The campaigning and election will be a daunting task, but the task of being a National leader is not an impossible one.  Our territories in the North are rich with resources, stories and teachings. If my readers have visited our communities in Treaty # 3 and Treaty # 9 they will see why Wab is well developed in the art of story-telling and communicating and why young lawyers like myself understand and study the laws that govern our people and lands, a skill needed to protect both the latter and former.

A national leader like Wab from a territory strong in Anishinaabe values, will bring them to the forefront of an organization in need of restoration and I believe he will be a positive change in one that needs it, a concept that our generation represents, positive change.

Keewatin- Tsilhqot’in- My Kokum and Her Land….

As a Lawyer I am often asked to provide legal analysis or opinions on the law, setting it out and providing my razor sharp in-depth view of what the law is and how it applies to the issue, the issue being the question that needs answering for my client. OK Razor sharp in-depth view, that is not humble at all, actually humble lawyer is what you call an oxymoron, I am kidding, humble is my foundation, well my Kokum’s foundation, I like to think she lives within me.

Recent Supreme Court decisions regarding the land have brought attention to the Anishinaabe landscape and in that respect, I would like to tell you without any legal jargon, which is how I like to try and keep my blogs, what the land means to me, an Anishinaabe lawyer from the North, a great hunter/fishermen amongst his people, a great navigator and traveller, whose stories will be told and bannock making contests will be named after. (Just Kidding about great hunter).

As you may have noticed the land is an obsession to me, an obsession not developed over time as I aged, but something within me, a passion and desire to need or want, a dream dreamt day and night, a thought that rises and sets with the sun. The land I believe is an extension of all of us, a place of being to which we came, soon to be ashes spread and once fires burning, but always a part, in our past, present and future.

Recently, I have discovered that I have always missed the land, since I was a child I dreamt of the fire, I could smell and taste the campfire bannock, see the charred kettles over boiling with tea, prepared geese on sticks rolling just above the flame and my kokum slicing meat like with the swift movements of an Artist painting, a butcher never looked so gentle.

Nighttime was my favourite, when the calm spirits entered the land, sung us lullaby’s and told us stories of the North, Kokum would sing with them and her voice echoed throughout the land, loons and wolves would join often and in that moment was magic, a connection between this world and that one, doors opened just for a moment, a frightening event, when the shadows started tip-toeing along the tree-line, gentle spirits are the dancing ones my kokum said, holding me in her arms.

So what is the land to me as an Anishinaabe, a Northern one? the land is my Kokum. Gentle, kind, caring, loving, but awesome in her power, a united front of grand-mothers who never left us but fulfilled their duties in this world by providing us with their teachings to protect a home they can be found, a home we can learn life’s greatest lessons. Land, Home, Kokum, no difference, but that is what my land means to me…