The Campbell administration's proposed Recognition and Reconciliation Act will see the provincial government share decision-making regarding land and resources with First Nations government. But existing band councils are perceived by some as lacking in accountability and transparency. As a result, concerns could be raised about the kinds of governments that would be empowered under the act. Responding to those concerns, Assembly of First Nations British Columbia Regional Chief Shawn Atleo told Public Eye Radio, he's heard complaints it will be "difficult to deal with" the province's 203 First Nations people. But "we don't hear that about the 187 municipalities - mayors and councils - that exist. We also know that many townships, their forms of governments are extremely loose and not necessarily very well-defined."
"And so I always find it interesting how it seems one standard is applied in interpreting what chiefs and councils look like or how they behave or whether they're accountable. But we don't see it necessarily being applied in the mainstream government or municipal system. Nevertheless, I take that point and feel strongly that part of the effort here is to address it."
"First of all, the idea that we were broken up into 2003 First Nations governments in B.C. was not our choice," he continued. "That was something whites did on us. Now, if we're going to be supported to nation rebuild, that doesn't mean that we're going to automatically re-organize into a tidy 30 indigenous nations in British Columbia just because it's easier for us to deal with. We have 150 years to come out from underneath. So that's the first point - is the long effort of rebuilding."
"Secondly, what we also don't have in place - as I said earlier - at a national level we're looking at things like an auditor general where we can bring in independence and fairness to reflect back the fiscal issues that First Nations are challenged with. In B.C., we also don't have things like dispute resolution mechanisms - both internally within First Nations who are overcoming what are referred to as overlaps or shared territory issues and we don't have dispute resolution mechanisms when we run into challenges with business, industry or the provincial government. Right now, the courts are the only mechanism."
"So we do need, in my view, not just an auditor general but an ombudsperson type role - where we've got someone to reflect back the issues of accountability and fairness and to help us work through collectively how we respond more credibly and more clearly to ourselves to the citizens not to the minister of Indian affairs in Ottawa. And so that is a definite shift and I view I share about achieving a level of accountability that is no longer to Ottawa - it's to your citizens. That is something we need to build. That is what nation-building is about."
So would Regional Chief Atleo support First Nations governments being subject to the same kind of sunshine laws that are governments are subject to - such as the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act? "Absolutely. When I think about the traditional system I was born into and that I've seen practiced since I was child it has everything to do with that notion of full transparency and full inclusion."
"We all have a right to be involved and have a say. It's a simple proposition. But it's difficult to implement. And, in particular, it's challenging when half of our citizens live away from home off the reserves. And yet, the Indian Act only accounts for those who are on reserve...So it's extremely challenging and near impossible for chiefs and councils to be able to implement the kinds of accountability for all citizens that we would like."