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The First Nations Elections Act: A Great Step Forward

The Indian Act election system used by many First Nations does not work. It has proven to be weak and creates instability for our communities and their economies. It has prevented First Nations from moving forward on important projects and initiatives such as economic development, and on important infrastructure developments that are vital for communities, their well-being, and their quality of life.

With the two-year term of office within the Act, research and experience has shown that newly elected Chiefs and their Council members have little time to learn their responsibilities, build the necessary relationships, and develop or complete the necessary projects and initiatives before it's time for another election. In any given month, leadership in one or more of the band councils in each province is changing due to an election. Constant changes to band councils cause major disruption to the important plans and projects being worked on in the community. This political instability makes first nations very unattractive to long-term investment and economic development by both internal and external entities.

As was recommended by Wahbung: Our Tomorrows in 1971, and later in 1996 in the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, the ultimate goal of all First Nations is to be self-sustaining and self-governing. Creating an electoral system that is accountable, transparent, and driven by First Nations is essential in creating stability and credibility within First Nations governments and will strengthen First Nations governance in Canada. These changes benefit all First Nations, improve and strengthen First Nations governance, and allow First Nations to move forward in a positive and progressive manner.

Manitoba First Nations Leadership and the Atlantic Policy Congress led the initiative to bring opportunities for electoral change to all First Nations in Canada. As a result of this work, the First Nations Elections Act was assented to in April of 2014. It provides some constructive provisions that strengthen the election process and governance of First Nations, including a longer term of office, from two- to four-year terms; and a common election day for all First Nations who opt-in to the First Nations Elections Act. This type of general election adds a more robust and transparent nomination process for candidates, and most importantly, an independent process for the First Nations elections.

Since it was made law, nearly 40 First Nations across the country have adopted the Act and 6 of these are in Manitoba. First Nations are signaling that they are ready to stabilize the political and economic landscape and are encouraging partnerships with government agencies and the private sector. It is the dawning of a new generation of relationships, community building and economic development.

This important, ground-breaking, and historic initiative has been many years in the making. A concept born in the 1970s that is now reality thanks to the hard work and determination of the Manitoba First Nations Leadership, the Atlantic Policy Congress, and four Ministers of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development who were instrumental to this process.

Let us use the strength of the First Nations Elections Act and begin anew the work of building stronger communities with new and secure partnerships with governments and businesses to shape future growth, prosperity and financial independence for our people.

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