Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Fontaine vocal for dollars, silent on votes

On the same day Assembly of First Nations Chief Phil Fontaine made headlines for calling on premiers to give more money to First Nations, he was unavailable to comment on the fact that many bands still exclude off-reserve members from voting. Then again, the authors of the study, the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples, couldn't be reached for comment either.

The congress says 79 per cent of Canada's aboriginals live off reserve. Many are at risk of being excluded from voting for their chief and band council because the written codes do not give them the right and in some cases specifically exclude them, says the report.

The codes in question, called custom electoral codes, follow the traditions of the individual First Nation community. The custom codes do not fall under the auspices of the Indian Act, which was amended in 2000 to give off-reserve voting rights to aboriginals, says the study.

The report said that 344 of Canada's 600 reserve communities follow custom codes, and "upon scrutiny, many of the codes revealed fundamental flaws."

About 150,000 aboriginals who live off reserve are affected by custom codes, said the report.

A landmark Supreme Court ruling in 1999 declared it to be a violation of the equality provisions in the Charter of Rights for bands to exclude their off-reserve members from voting in elections.

The report looked at 60 custom codes currently in use and found that "a substantive number of band councils have not made reasonable effort to recognize and guarantee voting rights to their off reserve members."

The congress did not specify the exact number of codes that do not guarantee voting rights. Representatives could not be reached for comment.

**July 16 update**
First Nations chiefs in Saskatchewan likely refused to co-operate with a recent study on reserve governance "because they have something to hide," says the head of the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples (CAP).

"We received the most resistance from the FSIN [Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations] and its chiefs. The FSIN has rejected us," CAP national Chief Patrick Brazeau said in an interview.

"If they don't co-operate, it's probably because they have something to hide."

First Nations people in Saskatchewan, like those in other provinces, are being denied their rights, Brazeau said.

"The people in power don't want anything to change (but) the voices of the people were not being heard."

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