Tom Flanagan is professor emeritus of political science at the University of Calgary and the author of the report Why First Nations Succeed, published by the Fraser Institute.
Although the living standard of most First Nations still lags behind the Canadian average, many are finding ways to improve conditions for their members. We can measure communities’ standard of living by using the Community Well-Being (CWB) Index, which combines data about incomes, employment, housing and education.
Standard statistical methods can identify factors associated with higher CWB scores. In other words, we now have objective evidence about what works and what doesn’t work to improve First Nations living standards.
Successful First Nations run a tight governmental ship. They balance their budgets and stay out of remedial third-party management. They pay their elected councillors less than average for First Nations, thus dampening political factionalism. And they reward visionary leadership with re-election and long terms in office.
Well-governed First Nations are more likely to assume more control of their own affairs, making use of “off ramps” that provide an escape from the strictures of the Indian Act. Negotiating a self-government agreement provides for overall self-determination within the Canadian Constitution. Entry into the First Nations Land Management Agreement allows faster and more effective control of local lands, moving “at the speed of business” rather than “at the speed of government.”
Setting up a system of property taxes on leaseholds generates much-needed own-source revenue. And Certificates of Possession (a form of landownership on reserve) create incentives for individuals to invest in higher quality housing.
Strikingly, successful First Nations have achieved impressive results on their own initiative, not from additional transfers of public revenue or through participation in government-managed programs.
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