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The Evolution Of The Federation Of Saskatchewan Indian Nations

Dave Ahenakew

SASKATCHEWAN INDIAN      MAY 1988      p13  
As a result of the Yorkton resolution calling for the creation and establishment of an "Indian Government Unit", I was approached to assist the Indian Government Commission in the review and reorganization of the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nation, its conventions, commissions and institutions. The sense is that we are all involved in so many issues that we are missing the fundamentals - we sometimes lose site of the basics. The task is to stand back, look at what is going on and suggest how our bands and their executive can regain control so that there is a clear vision of where we are going.

If we want to re-emphasize the basics, we need to prescribe a cure to get us back to these basics. We have to decide whether the rehabilitation of the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations can be done by tampering with our arrangements or whether a cure demands drastic surgery followed by a rigorous plan to stay healthy.

In an effort to establish a point of reference, I think it is worthwhile to think back to how the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations came into being, not with our Convention of 1982, but fifty-two years before that and maybe even earlier.

In 1930, many of our Chiefs came together to form a political action voice known as the Saskatchewan Treaty Protective Association. These Chiefs expressed their principle mission, their purpose right in the name. Obviously, their primary purpose was to defend and enhance the tenets of Treaty.

Their entire energy was to mount an offensive so that the work of our forefathers in securing Treaty and the rights of Treaty would not be eroded. The Chiefs in 1830 were confronted with circumstances where the Indian Act was so oppressive that their lives were controlled by federal and provincial governments, the role of the Churches, by the threat of the Natural Resources Transfer Act, by manipulative land transactions and by everyone except Indians. Now almost 60 years later, not much has changed.

"...our mission remains protection of Treaties , but the question is whether our process is supporting that mission or detracting from it."

In 1943, the Association of Indians of Saskatchewan succeeded the STPA and the most significant difference was that it included more bands and a recognition that treaty protection needed also the benefit of Indian government development so as to improve life for band members. The Qu'Appelle Chiefs formed a political association at about this time with essentially the same purpose of protecting treaties and developing Indian government.

In 1946, the Union of Saskatchewan Indians unified these associations simply to strengthen the voice by strengthening numbers and defending treaties cohesively. The purpose of treaty protection remained paramount.

In the 1950's the Union was changed to Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations. This was done to assert our rights as distinct nations but the convention is clear that our primary purpose remained Treaty Rights protection.

Now in 1988, we find ourselves in trouble. When we look back to our organizational predecessors, we can see that the mission was constant, the only change was in method, a change in process. Our chiefs have a history of adapting to current realities and the challenge in 1988 is to decide if we need to adapt again.

Obviously, our mission remains protection of treaties but the question is whether our process is supporting that mission or detracting from it. What are we doing that is inconsistent with the mission, that is causing us to lose focus or be inefficient in delivering on the mission. There is skepticism about our political effectiveness. There is a view that it seems leaders are more concerned with process or their own territory, their portfolios than with substance. There is a view that there are times when we are being led by the federal and provincial agendas. There is a sense that the non-Indian governments get their way in eroding our treaties by dangling a few dollars to distract our leaders into being excited about building up their budgets or expanding their programs.

In my observations the criticisms are both fair and unfair. Fair to say we have been and are being manipulated at times and that money is used as a smokescreen. Unfair to suggest that any leaders have openly played ball with non-Indian governments with full knowledge of the costs to our treaties.

It is fair to say that at times the human weaknesses of our leaders, as with anybody, have been exploited.

The Evolution Of The Federation Of Saskatchewan Indian Nations

Dave Ahenakew

SASKATCHEWAN INDIAN      MAY 1988      p14  
The issue in terms of correction isn't how do we get superhuman leaders. There aren't enough around.

The issue is how do we structure ourselves to encourage focus on our mission and to remove distractions, to remove temptations to get off track. Repeatedly, federal or provincial politicians or senior officials have schemed to diminish opposition and criticism of Indian leaders or Indian programs. They always employ one of two basic strategies. The first option is to enter into consultation and negotiation with a view to concluding arrangements that respect Indian rights and aspirations. Such a course of action requires respect for our Indian leadership. The second option is when they can't or won't deliver, they need to either say, "no" which has political cost or they pretend to be delivering. To do this they must take care of that noisy bunch, the Indian leaders.

There are four ways that Governments can destroy Indian leadership. The first is to co-opt them, offering cushy or senior jobs that remove them from their political role.

The second is the bribe strategy which may include little pots of money to tie up a leader with other small promises. This happens all the time.

The third way to destroy leaders is to challenge their honesty, to tie them up in accountability exercises that erode their peoples confidence in their leadership and that promote suspicion about their motives. This is very effective as it diverts attention from the issues and ties up everyone with infighting, bickering and backstabbing. The current non-Indian Governments use this tactic very effectively.

The fourth way to destroy leaders is to saddle them with busywork and to tie them up in administration and program details. Devolution is the latest name for this.

If we reflect on our current problems, we see all of these strategies being used on us and our leaders. We must avoid being placed in positions of vulnerability.

When you look at the recent secret document, its clear that Governments feel they can run with whatever policy or process they wish without serious Indian and public repercussion. They can adopt an agenda where they feel political points will be gained by breaching and violating treaties and that the Indians will eventually realize and accept that Indians are Canadians and entitled to all the rights and obligations of all Canadians, i.e.: taxation, etc. We are beginning to accent the agenda created for us by the Governments without decisive opposition. Our people will not accept political or treaty compromises. We are capable of changing things around, by restructuring ourselves so we may control our agenda.

"Our Chiefs have a history of adapting to current realities and the challenge in 1988 is to decide if we need to adapt again."

In my observations, and those of others, the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations has found itself in a typical corporate bind. Companies find that as they grow and age, their style and substance tend to change. We aren't a corporation or a business but that is the point, in many ways we find we act like one.

All initiatives started with enthusiastic energy, new ideas and convictions to a mission. As things grow and age, the focus tends to get away from the mission and other concerns become prominent new ideas and initiatives reflecting the mission, which in the case of Indians is protecting and enhancing their treaties and future, become secondary because status quo can provide that sense of security. There are instances when people will say that we cannot change to suit our purposes and interests because the non-Indian governments will not agree and thereby refuse to provide funds. The result is increasing apathy and the decision that fighting for our survival isn't worth the effort.

In summary, the problem is that our political machine is weighted down with neutralizing factors that render it impotent. The solution to these stifling factors is to consult with the Chiefs and headmen, districts, and the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations Executive over the next several months to find ways of removing the unnecessary baggage that weighs down our political machine. The task, is rather than complaining that the Executive spends too much time on management and administrative details, to remove all administration from their table, remove their vulnerability to games and tactics used by non-Indian Governments to tie them up.

In other words, if the Executive determines that the funds which are offered have terms and conditions which are "devolutionary", they can't touch it unless the strings are Indian strings. Remember the old saying "he who pays the piper calls the tune." If our Executive are accountable to the non-Indian funding agencies for program services or other things, they can't be accountable to the people. This doesn't mean that program dollars shouldn't be touched, but that they shouldn't be touched by our Executive. Otherwise their political independence and credibility is tainted by conflict of interest.

The Evolution of the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations

Dave Ahenakew

SASKATCHEWAN INDIAN      MAY 1988      p15  
Their only interest must be taking direction from the people to advance treaty and Indian government.

The political table must be clean of all but political action. Programs can be under the guidance of district councils or commissions who would report directly to the Chiefs. As such, assemblies would consider the policy issues for various commissions and translate needs into political direction that would then be carried out by the Executive. Similarly, the Executive needs to be in tune with policy and development issues of the commissions enabling the Executive to politically articulate these concerns on the political stage. The Executive would no longer be dealing with bureaucracies such as INAC and the commissions would fill this role with the knowledge that they couldn't be held accountable by the Government Agencies for any political statements.

Similarly, if a Commission's work is off track in the view of the Executive, or conversely if the Executive is headed in a political direction damaging to the commission, either one could raise the concern with the Chiefs in assembly and the chiefs would state direction.

This structure would provide a strong healthy system of checks and balances. The executive and commissions would communicate effectively but each would be independently accountable directly to the people through their leaders.

It should be understood that consultations need to be undertaken more extensively than is presently the case. This report is interim and contains suggestions which may not accurately reflect conclusions which further consultations may provide.

This report is intended to focus on concerns and obstacles as seen by some leaders. It is suggested that we think in terms of simplicity and effectiveness, and how we can better serve the people by upholding Treaties and by developing our governments.

It is clear that too much energy and thought is given to administrative and reactionary agendas. We are dealing with program cutbacks, layoffs, overhead concerns, leaked document, sneakiness, smoothness, deceptiveness and dishonesty of non-Indian Governments and with the resultant depair and backstabbing that is killing our efforts and energy.

We must modify the way we do things, we cannot continue our struggle for survival in the non-Indian structures and processes.