By: Cochrane Eagle
The good people of the Stoney First Nation have a great opportunity before them.
Or, more precisely, the powers-that-be, the people who lead the Stoney First Nation have a terrific opportunity to set an example.
We’re not just talking about the deal announced last week between the Stoneys’ three bands — Bearspaw, Chiniki and Wesley — and Huatong Petrochemical Holdings Ltd. to explore roughly 49,000 hectares of land for oil and gas deposits.
The Hong Kong-based company will reportedly pony up millions of dollars in funding while the Nakoda Oil and Gas Inc. — a company owned by the three bands that was launched earlier this year — will be the primary operator.
One industry observer — Robert Schulz, a professor at the Haskayne School of Business at the University of Calgary who specializes in petroleum land management — told CBC News he has doubts that the joint venture will come to fruition because Huatong Petrochemical was itself incorporated just last December. Nevertheless, let’s hope for the best for the Stoneys on this deal, especially if it can generate jobs for band members and in turn improve living conditions.
No, the opportunity before the Stoney First Nation leadership is to embrace transparency, fully and whole-heartedly, especially in the wake of this joint venture with a little-known Hong Kong company. This is not a deal between a local farmer and a Wesley rancher involving a few bales of hay. This is big-time international financial affairs and really, what do any of us know about how business works in Hong Kong? A lot of money will exchange hands, and environmental concerns loom on the horizon if oil and gas fields are developed, so can our neighbours to the West be certain that they will be well informed?
So far, confidence is low that transparency will win out.
The First Nations Financial Transparency Act now requires First Nations, within 120 days of the end of their financial year, to post their audited consolidated financial statements and a list of what the chief and councillors received in pay and expenses. The Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada website — http://pse5-esd5.ainc-inac.gc.ca/FNP/Main/Search/SearchFF.aspx?lang=eng — does not list the Stoney First Nation, but the Chiniki First Nation is listed and those documents were not posted as of Aug. 4. To be fair, it’s not certain when the Stoney, or Chiniki, financial year ends so perhaps they intend to eventually post that information.
The Act also requires First Nations to post on their websites the financial statements and how much councillors and the chief have been paid. That info was not listed on the home page of Stoney Nakoda First Nation website’s on Aug. 4 (stoneynation.com), while the link to the Chiniki website simply did not work.
Of the 45 First Nations listed on the federal website, as of Aug. 1 only 16, or 35 per cent, have posted their audited statements and lists of remuneration and expenses received by chiefs and councillors. Indeed, a spokesman for the Tsuu T’ina Nation, which has not posted its financial information on the federal website, suggests the Act may be unconstitutional. Peter Manywounds also told the Calgary Sun that Tsuu T’ina band members have access to that information. Really? How? On its website (tsuutina.ca)? In conversations? At public meetings?
Otherwise, for non-Tsuu T’ina residents the message is it’s none of our business.
Certainly, this plea for transparency may be viewed in Morley as yet another unwanted lecture from a “white” institution. Just as certainly, this newspaper, like all news organizations, pushes for better transparency from all levels of government. Politicians, whether native or non-native, work for The People. Not that we, the media, the people who inform The People, don’t trust politicians, but, with all due respect, we don’t trust politicians and their handlers.
Politicians and their bureaucrats — whether in Morley, Cochrane, Edmonton or Ottawa — always try to manage, or manipulate, the flow of information, for good and bad reasons.
Here’s where the leaders of the Stoney First Nation can break with tradition: Be transparent and open. Be bold. Lead by example. Embrace transparency for the 5,300 people living on Stoney land, and for the thousands more in your neighbourhood who want to see you folks prosper but who will also be affected by your decisions.
The status quo isn’t good enough.