July 10, 2017

A Court of Queen's Bench justice is directing the Onion Lake Cree Nation council to begin publishing their basic finances after a ruling on June 16, 2017. Photo: meadowlakeNOW

After years of battling, Canada’s First Nations people are celebrating as the Canadian Taxpayers Federation (CTF), a Canada-based Atlas Network partner, is victorious in its court battle for government transparency.

“For years I’ve been demanding answers from our leaders and they’ve told me I’d never get anywhere,” said Charmaine Stick, a First Nations activist from the Onion Lake Cree Nation. Stick partnered with the CTF to launch a court application to compel leadership at the Onion Lake Cree Nation to publish salaries and expenses paid to the chief and council as well as audited financial statements. “But [this] court ruling proves that all of us have the right to hold our chief and council accountable.”

The recent court ruling upheld The First Nations Financial Transparency Act, which requires government leaders to publish their financial statements. Before the case, 85 percent of First Nations leaders were previously in compliance.

The problem started in 2015 when the government announced it would no longer enforce The First Nations Financial Transparency Act. Without any accountability standard, government spending and institutional responsibility was hidden from the First Nations, seeding distrust in their leaders.

Through an access-to-information request, CTF uncovered that the federal department of Indigenous and Northern Affairs “did virtually nothing for six months” except plan a consultation. In a second request, the federal department admitted to not holding any consultation meetings.

Members of the Onion Lake Cree Nation were often left questioning where their money was going when requests for housing repairs, travel expenses, and medical appointments went unheard.

“Charmaine Stick deserves to know what her leaders are doing with her band’s money,” wrote Todd MacKay, Prairie Director for the CTF. “The legal precedent set with this case means that Indigenous and Northern Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett must act to enforce transparency on behalf of grassroots people in First Nations communities.”

First Nations people identify themselves by the nation to which they belong, and are the predominant Aboriginal peoples of Canada south of the Arctic.