|Previous Article||Next Article||FNPI Search||Home||Previous Year||Next Year||Year List|
The Alternate Funding Arrangment (AFA) is a new policy of the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs designed to create major changes to the economic, social, and political life of the Reserves.
This policy may be The Federal Government's first major step, since the White Paper Policy, to abandon its Treaty Obligations and responsibilities to Indian bands. While a growing number of band councils are being charmed into signing AFA agreements, Indian Affairs' district offices are closing down. Under AFA Band Councils get to exercise total control over the "design and management" of programs and are given the full responsibility of spending a non-inflationary budget. All this spells serious trouble if bands do not set up their own internal constitutions with which to govern themselves in a stable, practical, democratic manner.
Bands without Indian government constitutions, and especially those who become permanently locked into the AFA agreement, are in for an indefinate period of very painful internal struggles. No longer under the close supervision of the Indian Affairs and not yet totally accountable to their band members, either politically of financially, AFA band councils will have free reign over making band policy and spending. Bitter strife will grow out of a 'king of the hill' type of struggle for political control, band budgets will rapidly disappear through misuse, and band members will suffer great harship and discontent.
While these internal conflicts rage in Reserves, the political unity of bands across Saskatchewan will crumble, and the Federal government will quietly withdraw from its Treaty responsibilities permanently. This pattern towards fragmentation is being set even now as the Indian Affairs goes into separate, confidential agreements with some individual bands and district councils.
This is a typical strategy of divide and rule, an old but still effective trick, apparently. When the Treaties are no longer an important issue to either the Federal government or the AFA band councils, Bands will lose their lands through privatization and Indian Treaty Reserves will dissappear as we know it. This is the worst scenario but an inevitable one if band members do not muster the collective will to either stop the AFA process completely or change the agreement and redesign it so that it will faithfully serve the Treaty arrangements and provide the path for true autonomy through Indian Self-government.
Fortunately, all of the internal power struggles and social and economic upheavals predicted can be avoided, or at least minimized, if band members take some serious common-sense steps to exercise power over their own lives and communities. These practical steps include:
1. A serious study of the AFA agreement;
2. A comparative study of other alternative arrangements made between the Federal Government and Indian bands (including Bill C-39 and the Kamloops Amendment);
3. A serious look at the state of current economic projects and social developments taking place around them;
4. A serious consideration of long term plans and costs for future developments such as schools, co-operative businesses and industry, police force, daycare centres, recreation centres, homes for the aged, parks and game reserves, and ceremonial grounds;
5. Setting up a basic foundation, a constitution, on which true Indian Self-government can evolve in a stable and intelligent manner.
6. Establishing band laws and regulations to license and control social and economic projects that will otherwise have to go under provincial licenses and jurisdictions.
Basic Democratic principles and questions
When band members are not seriously involved in new agreements and policies made between band council, Indian Affairs, and their consultants, that will affect them and their future generations, fears and concerns and passive resistance to negative change is the natural result. "Keeping the peasants ignorant" so they won't cause any trouble is no longer effective today on reserves. Unfortunately for those who have held unquestionable authority over bands for so many years, there are growing numbers of band members, who are either self-educated or educated through universities, who know too much and are simply fed up with being powerless individuals.
The implementation of AFA without the band members' complete knowledge or consent is clearly an undemocratic act and simply cannot be tolerated anymore.
The AFA policy may indeed be a blessing in disguise, for its dangerous implications will force band members into establishing internal constitutions and real authority over their own councils in order to protect their Treaty Rights and Lands.
The AFA Agreement has to be examined carefully by all band members, however, and its short and long term effects must be discussed at length. In any democratic society public hearings are held whenever any major project, or law, or policy is proposed by the governing body that could drastically affect that society one way or another. Public hearings are a normal procedure expected of any government. If full public hearings are not held under these circumstances, then things are very abnormal. Under basic democratic principle, therefore, proper public hearings must be held.
Questions We Must Not Be Afraid To Ask
As we study the AFA documents we must ask ourselves some very basic questions. The answers may not be found right away, but asking the right questions is the first step to finding the answers. Here are some questions that you may already be asking:
On Treaty Rights
Will the AFA agreement in any way jeopardize or derogate our Treaty Rights, in the near or distant future?
Is the agreement a design of the federal government to abandon its Treaty obligations, to permanently withdraw its moral and financial responsibilities under Treaty?
Is there any clause in the new agreement that implicitly or explicitly calls for the privatization of reserve lands Indians saved for themselves through Treaty agreement?
Will the agreement move bands out of the Treaty relationship with the federal government towards municipal status, becoming subject to provincial taxes and other provincial jurisdictions?
Will federal funding be frozen or "capped" after the band is locked into the agreement? Or will the federal government tactfully wait until all the bands in Saskatchewan are locked into the agreement before they snap the financial doors shut?
The Local Picture
Could the agreement - directly or indirectly - serve private interests of a few band members through the manipulation of the new funding agreement and land use policies?
In what ways will the AFA agreement change life on the reserve forever?
The Global Picture
Will AFA agreements negotiated with each band in isolation of one another give the Indian Affairs a clear advantage as the sole power broker, subverting the political unity of the bands in Saskatchewan?
Is the AFA agreement directly related to the closing down of Indian Affairs' District offices?
AFA and its implications for self-government
When the Indian Affairs is no longer there to supervise the Chief and Council, who will supervise them?
Will the Chief and Council supervise themselves or will the band members supervise them?
Does the Chief and Council have both financial and political accountability to the band under the AFA agreement?
If the Chief and Council has financial accountability only without political accountability to the band, how then can the band members control policy-making by Chief and Council?
By law, who is the band council presently accountable to, anyway, the Indian Affairs under the Indian Act or the band members?
How can the band gain true political control over its Chief and Council, then, by declaring Band Custom?
These are some of the deeper, sobering questions we band members have to ask ourselves as we reconsider the AFA agreement, rather than just look at the immediate financial gains, if any, and the more autonomous control of programs by the Chief and Council. We have to question whether these immediate AFA benefits are just a big carrot the Indian Affairs is dangling in front of the Chiefs and Councils to draw them into a trap.
Study the AFA agreement and its implications carefully, for it will affect our future generations and the preservation of our Treaties. 'When our forefathers went into treaty with the Queen's representatives the third party to that agreement was the Creator.' This three-way Treaty agreement was a covenant made to last forever, "for as long as the sun shines and rivers flow." We have inherited this sacred responsibility. We have to ensure that we and our Indian descendants will benefit from those treaties the same way the descendants of the Queen are fully benefitting from all the lands and resources that our forefathers gave to them. In the Treaties Indians ceded a half a continant of land and resources to Canada in return for Indian Treaty Rights and small pieces of land here and there. We gave so much away and received so little in return. But its all we've got out of the deal and we must keep every bit of it and develop it to its fullest.
Basic Steps To Indian Self-Government
Our Treaty Rights include rights to develop a self-government. We have to take that bold and long overdue step in developing an Indian Self-government in a stable, democratic manner. The first step is to develop a system where the band members will have real power over themselves, where the band will delegate some of its powers to the chief and council, where the band will realize its own laws and create its own policy. How could such a simple solution have eluded us for so many years?
Developing selt-government doesn't mean we have to imitate foriegn government systems to make it workable either. We must therefore avoid the expensive and innaccurate advice of consultants who quite naturally hold Euro-Canadian perceptions. We must find the answers to self-government from within our own communities. We must turn to our Elders, who still have the knowledge of our history, philosophy, and the old language. They hold the keys to the original customs, values, and laws that or still operating within families an between families within our own communities today. The basic it ingredients for a good, workable self-government are in our back yards, not somewhere else.
'The road to self-government will be difficult and confusing at times but it beats the comfortability numb road to assimilation.' In the approach to true self-government some logical and practical steps can be taken to make the journey a lot easier:
1. Declare Band Custom
Band Members collectively, an the only one who can declare band custom and opt out of one section of the Indian act which governs the election process. The rest of the Indian Act still applies however. All band custom does is gives a band the legal right to select their own chief and council in a traditional fashion or to continue with the election practice as usual.
2. Set up a Band Constitution
Band Members, collectively, are the only ones who can create a constitution.
A constitution is a list of fundamental laws recognized by the band outlining the powers of the people and the powers delegated to the chief and council (Headmen) and any other legislative body by the band and the powers of the Elders.
A band constitution could be either written or unwritten. If it is written, than the laws should be stated in general terms and left ambiguous. If fundamental laws are defined too precisely in a constitution then their meaning is reduced and confined, and can later restrict the healthy development of the band. U.S. Tribal governments have suffered this fate, for their constitutions have become thick, cumbersome, complex documents, filled with not only minutely defined law; but also policies, which has constricted their development rather than helped it! They thought laws and policies were one and the same thing - and they're not.
A band constitution must contain only the basic principles and laws of the band and nothing else. Policies are made outside the constitution where they support the constitution and can be changed at any time according to changing needs. A written constitution should be no more than one to four pages long.
3. Set up a Clan-based Indian Government
Reserves have traditionally operated as a family or clan-base systems but has not been officially recognized as such. Strangely enough we have continuously tried to ignore it even though traditional family clans have existed for centuries and still determine the political leadership of reserve communities.
The present powers of Chief and Council, as delegated by and dictated by the Indian Act, are greater than any known governments in the northern hemisphere. Presently their power is kept in check under the supervision of the Indian Affairs. Left to their own devices, Chief and councils can and will become virtual dictatorships. They presently hold political power, administrative power, and law and policy-making powers - all in one body. The band must, therefore, divide the chief and councils' power into three areas:
1) An Elders Council
2) A Chief and headmen council
3) A Legislative body
Family clans need to have equal represenatation in an Indian Government system on a reserve.
Each Family must have its own autonomous ways of choosing their recognized Elder to sit on the Elders council. The Elders of the Council are the Keepers of the Laws and interpret and preserve the constitution. They can exercise utlimate authority over the Chief and Headmen and the Legislative Assembly.
Each Family should choose by their own devices and from their own number a Headmen to be on the council of Chief and Headmen. The Chief and Headmen are the political spokesmen and executive of the band, who are responsible for implementing the policies and laws created by the Legislative body.
Each Family-clan should choose from their own number a lawmaker to sit in the legislative assembly or customs council where laws and by-laws are realized and prepared for the Chief and Headmen to implement. The Legislative Body should also control the band's money and approve the annual budgets of the Chief and Headmen.
With a new internal constitution and a clan-based structure in place, the band will have real collective power over its own affairs and destiny. The band can then make collective decisions and delegate specific powers to the Chief and Headmen. The band can make their own policies and develop their own economic and service programs which will be governed under their own band-made laws. The band can set their own standards and devise their own regulations for these programs and services that will be identical or even exceed provincial standards. Federal government threats to withhold funding for individuals who deem provincial standards to be perpetually superior will no longer compel boards and committees of these projects to apply for provincial licenses or incorporate under provincial laws. It will become common knowledge that to incorporate under provincial laws is to replace an old master with a new master.
'The band must think long term, while taking practical actions towards setting up its self-government constitution and structure.' The band must be always in constant readiness to see through and resist deceptive proposals by the Federal governments, that look good, like the AFA, but are designed to erode our Treaty Rights in the long run.
The Traditional Chiefs of the Iroquois Confederacy, who influence the direction of the Six Nations Band Council in Ontario, hold unbendingly to the principle that any federal proposals that may have an impact on their way of life must be considered in terms of the consequences it will have on the next seven generations of descendents. Basing their decision on this principle, the Six Nations rejected an AFA proposal (which was then labelled "Core Funding") about eight years ago.
In conclusion, the questions and directions provided herein are the basic human rights of band membership. Band members must have the courage and will, therefore, to ask these questions and then to take the necessary steps to assume power over their own lives and destinies. This is the true road to self-determination. The Indian Affairs can't do it for us. High-payed consultants can't do it for us. Nobody else can do it for us. We have to do it ourselves as band members.