Recent news stories have spotlighted First Nations leaders who are paid large salaries. This is an old and racist view of Native people keeps coming back. Many people complain that Aboriginal leaders make too much money, when in fact non-Native politicians and heads of government and industry have always been paid huge amounts of money, been given valuable benefits and have enjoyed inflated expense accounts and pensions.

There will always be those who believe that Native leaders, organizational staff and other First Nation professionals are too well paid. In most cases, however, our leadership is paid on a basis that is in line with what non-Native political leaders are provided and in most cases less or much less than the norm. Our executives deserve to be paid well for their experience and efforts. Take a look around and you will see that many non-Native people who are leaders in health, education and in various sectors are paid really well. In some cases this is questionable but there are few complaints. But when a Native person is singled out for his or her substantial salary, this seems to me to be a double standard.

If you really think about it, we have a lot of catching up to do. Since colonization of our lands began, First Nation people have been living in substandard conditions and enjoying very few economic opportunities, while many lucky non-Natives have been living lives of high luxury. Strangely enough, much of the wealth that generated these high-rolling lifestyles came from the extraction of natural resources based on and near the traditional lands of First Nation people. Native people have only very recently been invited to share in the development happening in our own back yards.

I have heard it said many times by the ignorant and bigoted that First Nations people have it too good in Canada. People in general consider us as welfare recipients who abuse the system. That really is a joke when you consider where the real welfare is in this country.

The federal and provincial government provides corporations in Canada with all kinds of tax breaks, incentives and assistance that totals billions of dollars and this has been going on for many years. First Nations people don’t compare at all to this type of welfare as we are only getting the leftovers. The strangest thing is that these enormously wealthy corporations, their owners, board of directors and executives should be the last to be considered for welfare. Still, they benefit the most from handouts from the government.

Consider the multi-million-dollar salaries that executives in banking, mining, oil and forestry are being paid right across Canada. Somehow this is considered a just thing to do while the average person seems to be having a harder time to find a job, make a decent living and afford a good life. As a matter of fact, many First Nations people are currently living in Third World conditions in remote communities in Canada. There is a lack of housing, poor access to safe drinking water, inadequate sanitation and only the very essential provision in health care and education. What is just about that?

Everyone deserves the opportunity to make a good living and to be paid well for their efforts in positions in government, the public sector and the private sector. The problem is that there really is a double standard in assessing this question of remuneration. When it comes to non-Natives, at all levels, there seems to be no limits, but if a First Nations leader or bureaucrat is earning a large salary that is big news. Let’s be a little fairer in looking at this issue of fat cats with fat salaries. If and when we really become aware and concerned with this problem we should be looking at those people who are really in the big time welfare line. I can tell you there are no First Nations people collecting any of this.

So the next time you get ready to point your finger at one of our Native leaders or executives for earning too much money perhaps it would be wise to remember that the real extravagance in this area has nothing to do with First Nations people.