First Nations divided on new Financial Transparency Act

First Nations across Canada are divided in their reactions to a federal government act that requires bands to post financial information, including salaries, online. Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development says it will "increase accountability in First Nations governance."

First Nations have until midnight to post chiefs' salaries online, but it's unclear how many have complied

Bill Erasmus, regional chief with the Assembly of First Nations in the Northwest Territories, is critical of the new First Nations Financial Transparency Act. He says First Nation leaders need to be accountable to the people, not government. (Yuri Gripas/Reuters)

First Nations across Canada are reacting to the Financial Transparency Act, which requires bands to post financial information, including salaries, online. 

Some First Nation chiefs say it shouldn't be the role of the federal government or the public to oversee their spending.

"We need to answer to our First Nation, not the federal government or the public," said Bill Erasmus, Assembly of First Nations regional chief and head of the Dene Nation in the Northwest Territories.

He is not the only one critiquing the new rules.

The Assembly of First Nations National Chief Ghislain Picard also opposes to the new act.
Ghislain Picard, the Assembly of First Nations regional chief for Quebec and Labrador, says the act calls for disclosure of information above and beyond that of other governments, including potentially sensitive information about business dealings. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

He said that First Nations are supportive of accountability, but this act can put bands at a disadvantage financially.

"The bill calls for disclosure of information above and beyond that of other governments, including potentially sensitive information about business dealings that could put First Nations' businesses at a disadvantage in terms of competitiveness."

Derek Nepinak is currently running for Manitoba grand chief. In a post on Facebook, he called the Transparency Act a "colonial control tool" and said it reeks of hypocrisy.

"Meanwhile, our communities face a mountain of reporting and red tape to satisfy bureaucrats in a very imbalanced relationship."

Some First Nations support act

But there are also those who think the First Nations Transparency Act will do what it proposes — provide further clarity on how First Nations leaders are spending.

Colin Craig from the Canadian Taxpayers Federation says the new legislation also gives people a chance to access the information anonymously.

"We certainly have heard from people living on reserves over the years that they have tried to find out how much their politicians are making and have been refused."

Even some chiefs are speaking out in support of it.

According to a statement put out by Aboriginal Affairs, the act "is consistent with generally accepted accounting rules that already apply to government-owned businesses across Canada, and reporting requirements for members of Parliament under the Parliament of Canada Act and the Salaries Act."

Recently, Grand Chief David Harper of the Manitoba KeewatinowiOkimakanak (MKO) First Nations group came under fire for spending thousands of the group's funds on personal travel.

First Nations already submit financial statements to the federal government, but this is the first time they are being asked to post the information online.

Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development says the act is a step "to encourage transparency and accountability in First Nations governance, and does not increase reporting requirements."

First Nations who refuse to comply could be subject to a court order or see funds withheld from them.

With files from CBC News

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