Chief Shirley Clarke, brought to you by the Indian Act

You may not be aware, so allow me to begin this discourse by mentioning that Glooscap is the name of a Trickster figure, that curious mythical creature who is part fool, part teacher, and in composition an improbable union of the human and supernatural realms. One is well advised to pay close attention to the Trickster, even if only for the reason that something is certain to be revealed.

This bring us to the Glooscap First Nation and the revelation of Chief Shirley Clarke’s $243,000 tax-free income for the year 2008-09, placed into the news cycle this week as a result of efforts by the Canadian Taxpayers Federation. Add to this the apparent nepotism, conflicts of interest, back scratchings, and political sittings-upon (“Several Glooscap members would not speak on the record, saying that the community was run by a cabal that penalizes dissenters”), and you have the drift of this week’s news reports concerning this reserve of three hundred persons.

It happens that I am well familiar with these sorts of things. Before I came to Ottawa, I’d encountered smaller-scale examples of such corruptions among the “Native leadership.” My experiences discouraged me from working on-reserve, or even off-reserve in an Onkwehonweh (Aboriginal) organisation. But eventually I was brought around on this point. I don’t work on-reserve, but I do work with, and for, indigenous peoples. As a result, I’ve come into contact with many principled, effective, honest, and accountable persons. They do exist, and even in politics. I would summarize my experience by noting the plain and perhaps boring fact that there is both good and bad to be found among Onkwehonweh.

I begin there because the facts concerning persons and systems are of differing character, and it’s the latter — the systems — which are indicative. I have waited, and in vain, for someone to note the fact that the Government of Canada imposed the Indian Act’s band-and-council system nation-wide, by design and with great cost and effort, among those efforts being armed invasion and (in the case of my community, Six Nations) the displacement of a pre-existing and fully-functional and accountable Haudenosaunee longhouse council. The Haudenosaunee Grand Council continues to this day, but the Government chooses to deal only with its creation, the elected band council.  I’ve never myself believed the purposes of the elected Chief and band council system were transparency, accountability, and good government. Rather, it has always appeared to me on the plain evidence of things that this system was designed simply to assimilate Onkwehonweh communities into the Canadian political and economic system. The Chief and Council system, dear ladies and gentlemen and friends and comrades, is a colonial puppet regime. In its intended manner, it works, and comes rather cheaply too, it must be said.

I understand and share the indignation upon the sight of politicians growing fat amongst poverty. Indian reserves however have no monopoly on this: again, the Canadian model prefigures and indeed determines the reserve-based examples. The only remarkable distinction, between the provincial premiere and the band councillor, is that the latter will be called upon by all community members and in all matters and at all hours, from the morning’s domestic dispute and the mid-afternoon’s cat in the tree to the evening’s kitchen meeting and the late-night suicide. Nor does the Chief or band councillor disinclined from work have recourse to the office with the closed door, deeply nested in the security-rimmed Government office building. Such is the life of a politician in the small, resource-scarce community. To get the full import of my argument, ask yourself when is the last time you went to the Prime Minister, or even the Premiere, to trouble him for his time. Then consider the possibility that no “non-Aboriginal” politician would want the band councillor job at any wage, for the very reason I’ve given.

Fine, you say, but what about the disgusting unfairness of it? I quite agree, and I raise you one. Wherever they are found throughout the Indian Act system, the excesses, unaccountability, and lack of transparency are endowments from a colonial master. The arts of graft and the greasing of the skid were first perfected in Ottawa. It happens I came here about the time of the Sponsorship Scandal, and the rot neither began nor ended there. I mention this, not to excuse Ms Clarke and her kind, but to suggest where one might find the source of the stink, as well as where one might well begin the work of reform.

One thought on “Chief Shirley Clarke, brought to you by the Indian Act”

  1. Ayoung Blackfoot youth worker and I both totally agree with your article. He is seeing it right now on his reserve and said it is a creation of Ottawa over many decades to promote a system of learned helplessness.


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