To the Editor:
For the past month many of our band members have been campaigning and organizing to be ready for the election of our next council. It has been interesting and exciting to listen in on some of the wants and ideas that each camp is putting forward that justifies their choice over others who are running for office.
Like most, I believe that there is only one way to vote that will serve the membership on what I perceive to be fair and priority issues. However, in our democracy we each get only one vote and must accept what happens over the term (four years) of those who are successfully elected.
The issues, and the inability to address them by the many councils over the past fifty years, appears to remain the same, with a few exceptions caused by the band taking control and running an office that directly deals with everything, thus eliminating the need for government involvement and an Indian agent.
Some might ask what an Indian agent did, others have formulated opinions based purely on what they have heard, and then there are those who believe they are so knowledgeable that they can lead us better than has ever been done because it has never been right.
Well, here are a few facts and ideas of why it works the way it does, and why it will probably never change if we continue to use the present mind sets. Those who do not really understand just where our (Band) income comes from and how that money was obtained should take the time to get properly informed from the money source and not believe what is provided by council, there is in most cases a very big difference.
INAC funding is applied for and designated for explicit purposes based on need as would be expected by those providing the funding. We know that this funding (treaty money) is payment for land use that the federal government never negotiated beyond the part that was for Indian sustenance until an agreement for permanent control was in place. This agreement is still pending.
Most of our band members are not aware that money is accessed using band member names and ear marked for them families, ( housing, health, education, community services, etc., etc,) but is being directed to what ever areas these council appointed department heads decide even though the money was accessed using specific family names as justification for the need.
Other income that is derived from resource claims ( mineral, forestry, etc., etc.), is being expensed as council sees fit with no real accountability because it is considered by those in control that the use of this money is purely their decision. Again the band membership (the band) is the driving force that makes opportunities to access this income possible.
Why does council continue to fail our membership, that is real easy to explain and understand and seems so logical.
Firstly there are no pre-requisites to becoming a council member or department head and therefore each person elected or appointed is successful for reasons other than known experience or knowledge. I do not know of one member who has served on our council who has owned a business, run a business, worked at a business level, or achieved success outside of First Nations or reserves, First Nations operations exist mainly for administration of funding provided by the federal government. (So if we don’t obtain the money from business involvement, we have no appreciation of it, and no sound plan for it’s use).
Are council members bad people, hell no – they are the same as everyone else who belongs to our band, the difference is they are attempting to do something they have only a partial opinion on, and believe they can be successful without proper training or experience. Listening to different comments heard from failed council members to potential new council candidates offering to coach them tells it all. If you keep using the same ideas over and over again, is it logical to expect a different end result?
Fact of it all is that you really have to have had experience and training to make good decisions, to be able to forecast the many challenges and pitfalls that every business operation will experience.
Looking at the history of our band there are common factors that have and continue to prevent us from stepping out of this socially funded way of thinking and become leaders in what we do for our people and our community.
Factors appear to be that we have no business experience at the top, we have no one to support those heading our departments, department heads are being chosen for reason other than knowledge and experience, there is no policing policy to ensure that each department is honoring and using its funding in a fair and just manner, there are too many assistants allowing department head to become disconnected, and council has distanced itself from being held accountable.
Spiritual, emotional, and linguistic values are very important to preserve and identify who we are and how our communities have lived here over the many centuries, but the first things have to come first and not be overshadowed . Food, shelter, employment, medical, communication, and care facilities, etc., etc. come a long way ahead of all others and survival proves that without these the other values cannot exist. Although we are a band of Indians with certain rights and privileges, we co-exist in a much bigger community with non-native people who we rely on to fill our basic needs in every respect.
Comparing the two new councillors to those who now serving or have served in the past we see the same thought process. The personal agendas they bring may further divide us from who we really are and mix us into a much bigger group thus eroding our identity, heritage and way of life. Being Similkameen first has always been a defining factor of who we are in this native community, we now hear many referring to our heritage as being Okanagan without the mention of Similkameen. It is difficult not to believe that there are certain movements with personal mandates that are being headed by some of our own.
The outgoing council members may be confused about not being re-elected and wonder why, this again satisfies the comments made about pre-requisites. Without experience and knowledge of political ethic, the lack of accountability usually sends mixed messages to members who then grasp onto a quick fix and a vote becomes more about removal instead of a step forward.
Hopefully the new council members will bring a transparency to our administrative structure that will also include accountability.
Darryl R. Brewer LSIB Band Member