Amidst raft of federal scandals, are Canadians ready for self-government?

Published in Windspeaker newspaper | June 2013 | Circulation: 145,000

Re-published rabble.ca | June 21, 2013 | Circulation: 250,000

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With Ottawa embroiled in a mushrooming number of financial embarrassments, observers across Indian Country are raising their collective eyebrows over the Conservatives’ focus on alleged First Nations improprieties.

From the arrest of Canada’s ex-spy watchdog on corruption charges on May 27, to swirling suspicions around Senator Pamela Wallin’s $350,000 travel expenses, and a $90,000 cheque cut by the Prime Minister’s since-resigned chief of staff to cover Senator Mike Duffy’s falsely claimed P.E.I. residence as his primary home, many are accusing the government of a double-standard when it comes to Aboriginal transparency.

Even the country’s most outspoken advocate for increased accountability on reserves–labeled a whistle-blower by Conservative lobby groups and a turncoat by her critics—told Windspeaker the recent scandals make a “mockery” of demands to open up band council budgets to scrutiny.

“I am just shaking my head … about the Ottawa scandal,” said Phyllis Sutherland of Peguis First Nation, whom Conservatives honoured when announcing their new fiscal transparency law in Winnipeg on March 27. “Sure makes a mockery of what they are calling for with chiefs and council.

“All levels of government should be held accountable to the people they serve, whether it’s federal officials, or chiefs and council.”

Indian Country’s response to the scandals, which also include the government’s admission this year that it could not account for more than $3 billion in anti-terrorism funds, and a court rejecting convicted Senator Raymond Lavigne’s appeal of a six-month jail sentence for fraud and breach of trust on June 14, has emboldened a bitter sense of humour amongst observers.

“I was asking folks if ‘white people’ are really ready for self-government, given the scandals in Ottawa,” quipped Ernie Crey, senior policy advisor at Stó:lö Tribal Council in B.C.

Although sarcastic, Crey’s comments resonate with a simmering outrage over Aboriginal leaders being stereotyped as corrupt and greedy, a common Conservative allegation that occasionally leads to columnists pronouncing Aboriginal people unfit for autonomy.
The National Post’s Christie Blatchford summed up this line of argument in this way: “Some First Nations haven’t a clue how to govern themselves,” she wrote in 2011. “After generations of learned helplessness, people have become genuinely helpless.
“As a Native friend of a friend always says, that ‘the chief’s driveway is always paved.’”

For Crey, now that today’s fiscal scandals have reached Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s office itself, generalizations about Aboriginal people seem even more comical if one turned the tables and issued pronouncements about White culture’s ability to self-govern.

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