Frontiers Project

Searches for ways to empower native Canadians by bringing them into the economic mainstream, restoring property and commercial rights and devising a non-coercive framework for self-government. Frontier’s fifth “Aboriginal Governance Index” ranking the quality of governance on Prairie First Nations was released in 2012.

For the most part, relationships between institutions of government and the communities, families and individuals that form Canada’s population have a predictable consistency. The people are allowed a wide latitude of social and economic expression, and a social safety net has been carefully constructed to assist those who fail to achieve at least a minimal level of sustenance on their own.

In many respects, these arrangements differ for the aboriginal community. The breadth of opportunities available to them are constricted by a unique legal framework that differs significantly from the one that governs the mainstream of Canadian society. The long-term effects of those differences are little understood, but it is plain that they create at least some incentives for behaviour that are negative in their impact.

Weak property rights which undermine security of possession, legal exclusion from systems of commercial credit and the inability of courts to enforce contracts on Indian lands mean that the rewards that other Canadians expect from work and constructive effort may not be available on Indian land. That difference does much to explain why aboriginals in Canada sit at the bottom of the economic ladder.

In addition, the traditional response of social supports is delivered through layers of programs that often fail to reach those most in need. Assistance is indirect, and its ability to ameliorate individual need reduced by high overheads.

In the last thirty years, government spending on aboriginal Canadians has increased by 3000%, yet the data on native incomes and standards of living show little improvement. Many reserves report unemployment rates as high as 90%, and urban natives face rates as high as 50%. Other indicators of social development often associated with entrenched poverty – welfare dependency, involvement with the criminal justice system, family disintegration – also lag when applied to the First Nations.

No other ethnic group reflects this persistent lack of progress. The need for public policy innovations to address these dysfunctions is especially acute because the native population is expanding at faster rate than any other group in Canada.

The Aboriginal Frontiers Project will propose a fresh look at these problems and point out some reforms with the potential to create a stronger economic and social framework for native peoples. By adapting the Indian Act to create wider avenues of opportunity and by making the social supports for natives more effective, we believe there is great potential for improving the lives of Canada’s First Nations.


Executive Summary

  • Obsolete protectionist regulations are the reason Canadian employers are unable to employ more workers in the skilled trades, particularly Aboriginal workers.
  • Canadian employers report difficulty in finding enough skilled workers and labour shortages will occur given the fact that many skilled workers are set to retire.
  • Aboriginals are the fastest-growing population in many places, yet they remain one of the largest untapped labour markets.
  • Historically, governments have turned to immigration to fill skills shortages. This study, however, calls for governments to attract talent that is already right here.
  • Many of

Executive Summary

• The Idle No More movement was motivated to a certain degree by opposition to imposed change.
• First Nations have historically opposed imposed solutions. First Nations require a new approach.
• Some of the most successful initiatives that benefit First Nations have been voluntary initiatives, such as the First Nations Land Management Act (FNLMA) and Section 83 of the Indian Act that allows bands to raise local tax revenues.
• Policy makers often miss that voluntary outside accreditation is one solution for First Nations improvement.
• The first voluntary initiative is certification...

Executive Summary

• First Nations and Métis make up the majority of commercial fishers who are under the jurisdiction of the Freshwater Fish Marketing Corporation (FFMC), which holds a monopoly in Manitoba, Alberta, Saskatchewan, the Northwest Territories and parts of northwestern Ontario.

• The FFMC is in trouble, as Saskatchewan and northwestern Ontario withdrew from its mandate and the NWT is considering a similar move. Moreover, Aboriginal communities in northern areas are mobilized in opposition to the FFMC.

• Aboriginal fishers are finding they can make much more money using their own...


“Nurturing the Learning Spirit of First Nation Students” (The National Panel on First Nation Elementary and Secondary Education for Students on Reserve, 2012), the recent study of aboriginal education, reports that students on reserves are not doing very well in comparison with other Canadian students. The study panel heard considerable evidence that on-reserve students are often two or more years behind other students. Moreover, there is evidence from Statistics Canada that aboriginal students have substantially lower educational attainment than their non-aboriginal peers even when they attend provincial, offreserve, schools (see Richards, 2008; 2011,...

Executive Summary

The intent of the Aboriginal Governance Index (AGI) is to provide Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta First Nations with a convenient benchmark against which individual bands can measure their progress in developing high-performance governance institutions. We strongly emphasize that the Index measures the perception of governance, not necessarily governance itself.

The performance of each First Nation was evaluated by a survey that our research assistants conducted with local residents. As will be explained later, this year’s survey also included phone surveys by a professional polling firm.

We hope individual band members reading this report...


First Nations poverty may be Canada’s most important moral issue in generations.

Perry Bellegarde, the newly elected national chief of the Assembly of First Nations (AFN), cites United Nations statistics showing the tragic gap between First Nations and the rest of Canadian society. Canada, according to the United Nations Human Development Index, ranks sixth in terms of quality of life among countries of the world.
Applying those same indices to Indigenous peoples, it is 63rd. Addressing this gap was central to Bellegarde’s campaign.

Bellegarde is right that poverty need not be the destiny of Canada’s Indigenous populations. The answer...

The Assembly of First Nations (AFN) has selected a new national chief. 

Perry Bellegarde, recently chief of the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations and former chief of the Little Black Bear First Nation in Saskatchewan, will have three-and-a-half years to transform Indigenous politics for the better.

At no other point in its history has the AFN’s legitimacy been as challenged as it is now. 

This past July, First Nations chiefs held two very different meetings. While the AFN held its annual general meeting in Whitehorse, Indigenous leaders met in Saskatchewan to debate whether to create an alternative to the AFN....

Deplorable water and sewage systems on many First Nations reserves are a real concern. This situation is exceptionally tragic when one considers that more than 90 percent of First Nations communities are located near or directly beside bodies of water.

But what is also tragic is how we are often only given doom and gloom scenarios when it comes to the condition of water on many First Nations.

In July 2014, the United Nations released a report looking at the condition of indigenous peoples in Canada. One aspect of the report looked at the quality of water and water systems...

With the recent implementation of the First Nations Financial Transparency Act (FNFTA), this may be an excellent opportunity to raise another issue of contention—that of First Nations taxation. If First Nations governments were to tax their reserve base and incorporate the revenues into their annual budget, band members could have a chance to experience measurable improvements in their quality of life and governance.

Over the past several years, First Nations have increasingly been afforded more opportunities to create their own independent on-reserve tax base. You can count among these opportunities real property taxation, various forms of sales and good taxes,...

Early last week was the deadline for First Nations to comply with the divisive First Nations Financial Transparency Act (FNFTA). The FNFTA requires First Nations all over Canada to post their audited financial statements and the salaries and benefits of elected officials on both a publically-available website and the Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada website.

Despite the pushback from First Nations leaders, transparency and accountability are key components of good governance. International standards have established that transparency is a universal norm that all governments should strive towards.

The United Nations Development Program considers transparency and accountability to be one...


The Frontier Centre for Public Policy released today Tapping Into Our Potential: Occupational Freedom and Aboriginal Workers.

In this policy study, Frontier policy analyst Joseph Quesnel argues that Canada’s Aboriginal peoples represent vast unrealized potential for the skilled trades. In Canada, many skilled trades will face shortages as many current workers retire. Quesnel argues that the high unemployment rate and youthful demographic in many Aboriginal communities makes them prime candidates for jobs in the skilled trades.

Quesnel looks at regulations preventing Aboriginal workers from entering the skilled trades. He finds that many of the barriers faced by Aboriginal workers are unnecessary....

The Frontier Centre for Public Policy is pleased to release a new study by Frontier’s policy analyst Joseph Quesnel. The study, entitled Finding Strength from Within: How Voluntary Outside Accreditation can Advance First Nation Communities, demonstrates various means by which First Nations can improve their socio-economic standing through voluntary initiatives.

Quesnel argues that traditionally First Nations have resisted top-down change, starting with the Indian Act, the White Paper of 1969 to the First Nations Education Act today. Empirical data shows that First Nations are already succeeding through voluntary means.  For example, initiatives such as the First Nations Land Management Act...

Winnipeg: The Frontier Centre for Public Policy today released Free to Fish: How a How a Freshwater Fish Monopoly is Impoverishing Aboriginal Fishers. The author of the paper is Joseph Quesnel, a policy analyst at the Frontier Centre with a specialization in Aboriginal policy issues.  

For decades, the Freshwater Fish Marketing Corporation (FFMC) has forced commercial fishers from across the West and parts of northwestern Ontario to sell their fish through the monopoly.

However, there is much dissatisfaction with the FFMC. In April 2012, Saskatchewan removed itself from the monopoly as had done northwestern Ontario in...

Winnipeg: Today the Frontier Centre released a paper entitled A Workable Voucher System for Aboriginal Students.  Authored by Rodney A. Clifton, a former Professor of Sociology of Education at the University of Manitoba, the paper is a proposal for a system that would improve education for Aboriginal students on reserves and bring in greater accountability. 

While a number of policy-makers have suggested that the voucher system gives parents more choice in the schools their children attend, Clifton notes that on reserves there are currently no alternative schools, making such a system difficult, if not impossible. 

Clifton, therefore, suggests...

WINNIPEG/LETHBRIDGE – The Frontier Centre for Public Policy today released the fifth Aboriginal Governance Index (AGI). The AGI is an ambitious project that promotes accountability, transparency and the dissemination of best practices by evaluating how grassroots Aboriginal individuals perceive the quality of governance institutions in Prairie First Nations. The AGI relies on opinion surveys to gather residents’ perceptions of their band’s government, and ranks each participating band on the basis of those surveys. This year’s project involved 32 First Nations communities. In total, there were 3,084 surveys, 2,662 in person and 422 by telephone. For the first time, the...


The federal budget provides for $305 million for rural and northern broadband access.  There are no details yet on the structure of the program.  How this is structured and delivered will be key to its success.  There are a wide range of options of what to subsidize that include:

  • Local distribution infrastructure
  • Satellite space segment capacity
  • Satellite earth stations
  • Extending fibre transport routes

Who gets access to the funds will also be important.  Options include:

  • the consumer
  • Northwestel, the incumbent telco, and Telesat the incumbent satellite operator
  • Competitors to Northwestel like SSi Micro,
  • ...

PERC Reports, a publication of the Property and Environment Research Center (PERC) in Montana, has released a new issue that highlights Native American economic empowerment. 

In particular, the issue looks at the effects of economic growth on indigenous culture. 

The issue also highlights an interview with a Canadian tribal leader on the importance of First Nations property rights. 

The Frontier Centre's Joseph Quesnel is interviewed in the piece looking at recent moves by the Nisga'a Nation to grant property rights to individual members. 

Also included is a story on Maori land rights in New Zealand. 

All in...

A recent news report from the Winnipeg Free Press shows that 40 per cent of bands in Manitoba have outside managers to help with their finances. This is a record among Canadian provinces and territories. 

Saskatchewan also has a high number of First Nations under some sort of remedial intervention. 

The report also correctly concludes that while this while this intervention may help balance the books, it doesn't necessarily deal with underlying management issues. 

Here is a link to a government document showing what First Nations across Canada are under default management. 

The Frontier Centre, in the past, has...

Who would have known that this is a busy week on aboriginal policy in Canada with the sideshow going on in Toronto that has dominated the news headlines? This week has seen heightened aboriginal engagement not through the protests we typically see covered by the news but through lesser-known venues that the news tends to ignore.

The Aboriginal Affairs Working Group (AAWG) and the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) Youth Summit are taking place this week and these are proving to be positive signs of aboriginal engagement. Last night Rob Clarke, an aboriginal MP, private members bill took another crucial...

Yesterday B.C.’s children’s watchdog, Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, released a damning report of the provinces Ministry of Children and Family Development in spending close to $66 million over the last dozen years on “big, blue sky initiatives” for aboriginal youth. Yet she pointed out that there was not a single piece of evidence that the money actually went to services for aboriginal youth.

“So what was the money spent on? A lot of talk, planning, meetings, consultants…” she went to say that all this talk produced “materials of questionable practical value.” While the ministry did spend 31 million towards transferring authority...


Saskatchewan's Perry Bellegarde faces many challenges as the new National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations.

The organization is in crisis after Shawn Atleo resigned from the post before the end of his term.

A number of chiefs felt he acted too independently and was too cozy with the Harper government in Ottawa.

Bellegarde’s first challenge will be to convince the chiefs that he needs a degree of independence to be effective, and that cooperation with government can result in meaningful change.

If the national chief works closely with Ottawa, there may be movement on calls for a national...

Residents of Canada's First Nations should begin to see noticeable improvements in the quality of their drinking water sooner rather than later.

While the condition of water and sewage treatment systems on many reserves is a serious concern, significant resources have recently been invested in First Nations water systems.

Since 2006, nearly $3 billion has been invested to support First Nations communities in managing their water and waste infrastructure, and some progress has already been made.
Between 2011 and 2013, the number of First Nations with water systems that are considered high-risk with major deficiencies has been...

If First Nations started to tax band members and include that revenue in their annual budget, there could be measurable improvements in their overall quality of life.

In recent years, First Nations have been given more opportunities to create their own independent tax base.

Personal income can now be taxed on First Nations with self-government agreements, and other First Nations have the opportunity to implement sales taxes, user-fees, and taxes on real property.

The Institute on Governance has found that there are definite benefits to using tax revenue for First Nations projects and enhancing economic development.

These benefits include greater...

The resignation earlier this year of Shawn Atleo as National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations strongly confirmed the need for reform of this important organization.

Internal divisions are preventing the AFN from being as effective as it should be.

First Nations chiefs elect the National Chief, who is always supposed to take direction from them.

But to be truly effective, the National Chief needs the authority to set the agenda for the Assembly and to make deals with Ottawa on behalf of First Nations.

The National Chief should be a voice of conciliation as he or she approaches...

The First Nations Financial Transparency Act, which was passed by parliament in 2013, helps band members take steps to improve the governance of their communities.

It requires the Chief and Council to post audited financial statements including their salaries and benefits on a public website and on the website of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development.

In the past, band members often found that they did not have easy access to such information.

The posting of financial statements online ensures that band members can now access these documents quickly, and anonymously.

Transparency and accountability have been enshrined in the nine principles...


Source: Tristin Hopper, The National Post, 8 Nov 2013

This month, in a remote corner of northern B.C., just a few kilometres from the Alaskan border, three modest houses entered Canadian First Nations history.

The residences, all located on the self-governed lands of the Nisga’a Nation, are the first privately owned homes on Canadian native land. They can be mortgaged, they can be transferred without the approval of either Ottawa or local administrators and they can even be sold to a non-aboriginal.

As Dorothy Elliott, the Nisga’a deputy registrar of land titles, summed up to the Vancouver Sun this...

Frontier Centre: You mentioned in your presentation that a problem is that First Nations are viewed as a social problem, not an economic one. How can First Nations become part of the wider economy?

Manny Jules: Well, fundamentally we have to have the institutional basis to be able to be a fully functional part of the Canadian economy and therefore the global economy. I’m a big believer that we need national institutions to help facilitate our entry into the economy. You know one of the questions at this conference was Bill Gates. Bill Gates is really a product...

Want to boost consumer spending in the economy? Get divorced. A family that needs one house suddenly finds itself needing two — not to mention more gas (and maybe even another car) for shuttling the kids from dad to Weekend dad. The unemployed spouse (if there is one) typically has to get a new job, which means paying for daycare, while his or her ex digs deep for alimony and child support. And don’t forget the lawyers’ bills (not that any divorced spouse would).

Emotionally, divorce can be a devastating, life-crushing experience. But its effect on a...

Terry Nelson says a new movement in Winnipeg will deal with aboriginal issues by "whatever means necessary."

A Winnipeg chapter of the American Indian Movement will be formally organized on Saturday with Nelson, the former head of the Roseau River reserve, announcing Tuesday that three of 20 positions on the Grand Governing Council will be filled in a ceremony at Thunderbird House.

Nelson said the Idle No More movement has engaged aboriginals.

"The American Indian Movement doesn't ask permission from governments to carry out what we need to do," he said. "It requires people that are...


Figures on aboriginal population from the 2011 census are not yet available, but the 2006 census showed nearly 1.2 million Canadians -- about 4 per cent of the population -- claim to be aboriginal. Of these, fewer than a quarter (under 400,000) live on reserves.

While some of the central Canadian reserves likely have the biggest populations (Ontario's Six Nations may have as many as 20,000), residents seldom respond to requests from census-takers. Among reserves on which a reliable census has been completed, the largest is the Blood reserve near Fort Macleod, with under 5,000 members....