Airdrie, Alberta - The rally cry for a national Aboriginal grassroots movement to put pressure on reserve councils to be more accountable to their memberships is being supported by the Reform Party's deputy critic of Indian Affairs. MP Myron Thompson has orchestrated several meetings with interested First Nations members to discuss the plan. The meetings were held at Thompson's constituency office in Airdrie, Alberta. "I convinced them that they needed to come together collectively," said Thompson. "We got started on that after the Bruce Starlight thing."
Bruce Starlight, a member of the Tsuu T'ina First Nation, was sued after the chief of his reserve obtained a confidential letter he wrote to Indian affairs last winter about band financial mismanagement. The Committee Against Injustices to Natives (CAIN) organized press conferences for Starlight to get his word on accountability out to the public. Reform Party leader Preston Manning went on the record to support the then newly formed CAIN. After that incident, First Nations members from other reserves got news of the meetings and started calling, said Thompson. An open three-day meeting in August with more than 100 First Nations participants prompted the deputy critic's decision to assign a national co-ordinator and regional coordinators for the grassroots movement. Their goal is to link up with other interested First Nations people across the country concerned about poor conditions on reserve.
Three co-ordinators for the movement were picked after the latest meeting at Thompson's office in October. He also confirmed that the Aboriginal grassroots co-ordinator's travel costs will be paid out of the Reform Party's official Opposition funds.
"We are hearing voices crying in the wilderness, and our people have been put down long enough," said Ross Shingoose, national co-ordinator for the movement. Shingoose is originally from the Cote First Nation in Saskatchewan and is now living near Calgary. It's not a CAIN movement or a First Nations Accountability Coalition (FNAC) movement, he said, but a grassroots movement that will do more groundwork on issues for the people. He said the movement is something that has been worked on for years. He's not making accusations or generalizing about band councils. He stated there are good people working out there.
Shingoose is looking for documentation from First Nations before taking any kind of action. "We are going to do something to make changes for people at the grassroots level," said Shingoose. He will specifically look at the financial disparity between some band councils and the members. The grassroots co-ordinator said he is not a member of the Reform Party, however, after years of lobbying the federal government, he finds the Reform Party is the only political party willing to help. While he expects to face opposition in the work that is ahead of him, Shingoose said he is not nervous. The Aboriginal grassroots movement has gained support from CAIN in Alberta and FNAC in Manitoba. FNAC in Saskatchewan, lead by Rita Galloway, has yet to come forward with its support, said Shingoose.
Planned summit meetings in places like Edmonton and Calgary are to take place before Christmas where the social climate can be more controlled as opposed to the environment Shingoose expects in some First Nations communities. A press conference is also planned for Oct. 31 in Calgary at Reform Party leader Preston Manning's national office where Thompson will introduce Shingoose and regional co-ordinator Roy Littlechief.
Minister of Indian Affairs Jane Stewart said she would be the last person to discourage people from gaining awareness and demanding good governance from their leaders. Good governance demands transparency from its leaders and there is a requirement from First Nations to be accountable to its members, she said. The Indian Act is not a good guide to provide First Nations with the capacity towards self government and that has to change.
"I just hope people understand what the Reform Party stands for and be aware of who they are lining themselves up with," said Stewart. She welcomes the movement from First Nations people who are demanding accountability from their leaders, but sees Thompson's approach as pitting people against each other in communities. She said the Reform Party solution is only one of the many options available to First Nations on the governance accountability issue. The resolution of accountability problems on reserves will best come about by bringing communities together in discussion to come up with fair and sound solutions suited to their needs, Stewart said. It will not be by her department coming into a community to solve those problems for them. That, she said, has not worked in the past. Stewart believes that across Canada there is a movement, and awareness from First Nations about moving towards good governance. And who is not for that? she asks.