The real truth about First Nations leadership compensation

By John G. Paul (guest sermon)

Letters to the Editor (The Guardian)
Published on August 11, 2014

Premier Robert Ghiz, centre, is joined by Chief Brian Francis, Abegweit First Nation, and Chief Matilda Ramjattan, Lennox Island First Nation, during the recent annual P.E.I. Provincial Cabinet and MCPEI Board of Directors Forum.

© Patricia Bourque photo

In the summer of 2011, as the issues of disclosure and transparency made front-page sensational news across Canada, the accountability of the Atlantic First Nations Chiefs’ leadership, to their people and the broader community, was of paramount importance.

The Atlantic Chiefs took a proactive approach to research and help determine the rates of compensation, based on an objective assessment of their jobs. Our organization, the Atlantic Policy Congress of First Nations Chiefs, engaged the HayGroup, an internationally recognized firm with expertise in research and benchmarking employment compensation in public and private sectors.

It was a first-ever study by a First Nations community in Canada.

The study concluded that all First Nation leaders in Atlantic Canada were below the recommended salary compensation identified. Other study highlights noted that our First Nation chiefs generally donate up to 25 per cent of their own personal income to support individual band members in their times of need. If this flow through of income were quantified, the positioning of the band chiefs would weaken even more against comparator markets.

The HayGroup provided a methodology and recommendations on the possible levels of compensation for our elected leaders, based on clear identification of job responsibilities, size of community, and other measurable benchmarks. From the study, a template job description was developed and shared will all member communities for their consideration. A complete copy of the study and findings were made public and provided to all First Nations leaders and councils for consideration and follow up action. The study is still posted on our website:

The First Nations Accountability and Transparency Act, imposed on First Nations by the federal government, is now law and has been since April 2013. These new efforts of accountability and disclosure now make it a requirement, by law, for all First Nations leaders to ensure information on compensation for all elected Chief and Councils in Canada is made public. This means that all Canadians, not only First Nations, will have access to see what levels of compensation and benefits are provided to First Nations elected leaders.

An important issue which has been neglected in all disclosures is that funding for the majority of First Nation leaders does not come from taxpayer funding nor the federal financial contributions provided to First Nations communities. In the majority of cases, funding spent to cover the costs of governance and compensation of Chiefs and Councils is secured through other First Nation own-source revenues, such as commercial fishery, retail gasoline sales, and so on.

The Band Support Funding Program, which is formula-based; is how the Federal Government has funded First Nations to cover the costs of governance and compensation of the Chiefs and Councils. This funding has been capped by the federal government at a fixed funding amount for at least the past 10 years.

The federal government has imposed this cap with no consideration of the increase in the First Nations membership, the rising cost of living; let alone the ever-changing responsibilities of the First Nation elected officials. It’s hard to imagine any organization — government or private — that can sustain a 10-plus year freeze. It’s hard to imagine any employee going for 10 years without a cost of living increase.

Unless thoughtful people take the time to review and do the required detailed analysis of the audited financial statements for First Nations, this issue will be clearly misunderstood by media and others who wish to be critical of First Nations leadership. At APCFNC, we welcome the opportunity to help clarify or explain any of this publicly-available information.

Chiefs in our region have been working hard, collectively, and within their own communities, to provide leadership and approaches that offer transparency, good governance and accountability.

Such negative incorrect characterizations of the First Nations leaders, as has appeared in recent news articles, only leads to greater disparity, misunderstanding and harmful hostility among Canadians, which does not protect or build the future of Canada that we all want.


John G. Paul is Executive Director, Atlantic Canada Policy Congress of First Nations Chiefs Secretariat, a policy research and advocacy organization that analyzes and develops culturally relevant alternatives to federal policy for 37 Mi’kmaq, Maliseet, Passamaquoddy and Innu communities and peoples.