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Natives To Vote On Independent Auditor-General

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  • Natives To Vote On Independent Auditor-General

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    Natives To Vote On Independent Auditor-General

    From Monday's Globe and Mail

    Facing a new federal government that has vowed to make accountability its top
    priority, native chiefs from across Canada will vote this week on measures
    designed to show that aboriginal leaders are open and democratic.
    Assembly of First Nations National Chief Phil Fontaine says he intends to
    launch a three-day assembly in Gatineau, Que., today by reminding chiefs of the
    "political reality" they are facing with a new Conservative government in
    Native accountability issues have been largely dormant in Ottawa since
    aboriginal protests derailed the Liberal government's controversial First Nations
    Governance Act in 2003.

    But Prime Minister Stephen Harper stated in writing during the campaign that
    the Conservatives "strongly support" that bill. That has led to speculation
    the Tories' promised Accountability Act could be applied to first nations
    Mr. Fontaine will be urging chiefs to support the AFN's plan for an
    independent first nations auditor-general that could audit chiefs and council members
    on reserves, a measure he appears to be promoting as an example of why the
    new government does not need to impose its own version of accountability.
    "An imposed approach will not work," said Mr. Fontaine in an interview. "Any
    suggestion of change would be better addressed if the government sits down
    with us and we figure it out together because we've done a lot of work on the
    issue of accountability."
    The chiefs will be reviewing reforms contained in a report based on two years
    of consultations. Topping the list of changes is an end to the current
    system where only the roughly 640 chiefs can vote to elect the national chief of
    the Assembly of First Nations.
    The three main options for change involve giving a vote to all status
    natives, regardless of whether they live on reserves.
    Such a move is aimed at giving the national chief more legitimacy in the eyes
    of the federal government and to ward off other native organizations who say
    they better represent Canada's aboriginals.
    "The national universal vote will enable First Nation peoples who live away
    from First Nation communities, in urban and rural areas, to become a vital
    part of the AFN," states a discussion paper prepared by the AFN.
    Nahum Kanhai, the chairman of native studies at Laurentian University in
    Sudbury, Ont., says a universal vote could shift the focus of Canada's main
    aboriginal organization away from life on reserves as the large off-reserve
    population will be able to vote and get involved.
    While he supports the AFN's proposals for accountability, Mr. Kanhai said
    they should not be viewed as major changes.
    "It will have some practical application and be useful, but it probably has
    more to do with optics and criticisms that people like the Canadian Taxpayers'
    Federation and others have been making," he said. "I think the need for
    accountability is based on some very exaggerated fears about mismanagement and
    Mr. Kanhai noted that one of the proposed voting systems would be based on
    the idea that Canada is made up of between 60 and 80 "nations" such as Cree and
    Ojibwa, rather than more than 640 "first nations," the phrase commonly used
    to describe reserves.
    The 1996 Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples had recommended aboriginals
    organize primarily as large nations and rename reserves as first nations
    "communities." The commission said larger nation governments would have the
    geographic and population size required to take on self-government.
    Many have said describing reserves as "first nations" has confused the debate
    for self-government and land rights.
    While some regions have created nation-based structures, such as the Nisga'a
    in B.C., there has been little shift in that direction.
    The AFN discussion paper said a new voting system could be used to "rebuild"
    those nations by organizing elections so that each nation holds a vote as to
    which candidate should be the nation's choice for national chief.
    "The over 640 First Nations that currently now comprise the AFN's membership
    are predominantly communities, and constructs of the imposed Indian Act
    regime, not Nations," states the AFN paper.
    David Newhouse, chairman of native studies at Trent University, said this is
    the first time since the royal commission that chiefs will discuss concrete
    steps toward establishing nations.
    "If you move to a nation model, the nations aren't yet well defined, so
    that's a problem," he said. "The idea of aboriginal nations is a large construct,
    but no one knows really how to go about doing it, so this is really the
    first time that people are starting to talk about 'How do we go about doing
    this?' "
    The other two voting systems involve votes at the reserve level to decide the
    reserve's vote for national chief. Should the chiefs approve one of the
    three voting systems, it would be in place for the 2009 national chief election,
    not the next vote this summer.
    Don't worry that it's not good enough for anyone else to hear... just sing, sing a song.sigpic

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