It’s no secret that some Cree people feel Cree public officials are somehow benefitting more than them as a result of their positions—elected or appointed. But was anything ever done about this? In a word, yes.
The Grand Council of the Crees unanimously passed a resolution on the topic at its Annual General Assembly in December, 1990. The subject: Establishment of a code of ethics concerning elected officials.
“It is generally recognized that there exists a serious risk of conflict of interest when elected officials participate actively in or manage businesses during the time of their tenure,” said the resolution.
The resolution established an ethics committee under the direction of Grand Chief Matthew Coon Come with a representative from each band and legal council. Its mandate was to draft ethics guidelines within a six-month period, after which these would be presented to all band councils to be adopted as a by-law. The guidelines would also be applied to all Cree entities.
A 12-page draft of the guidelines (for discussion purposes only) was drawn up and sent to all band councils and the Grand Council on June 28, 1991. Since then, the guidelines have resided in limbo. To our knowledge, no band councils or entities have adopted them.
Kenny Blacksmith, Deputy Grand Chief of the Grand Council of the Crees, said Cree officials may be reluctant to adopt the rules because of the difficulty of avoiding conflict-of-interest in small communities. “The Cree world is a small world. We have only 12,000 people. This means that some people must wear many hats. If we had a larger number of people wearing these hats it would be easier in terms of the workload necessary to implement,” said Blacksmith.
“With issues of this magnitude, people tend to shy away from implementation [of ethics rules] because of various reasons. Take the example of social workers and police in the communities. They have a hard time of it: They’re well-known and know the family interactions in terms of the people they have to deal with in their jobs. This can apply to regional as well as community interactions.”
Blacksmith said the Cree School Board examined the guidelines during his term as chair, but didn’t adopt them.
“We looked at the guidelines favourably, but didn’t pass them because we felt the Cree people had to move as one on this issue. This issue was too important for one entity to tackle alone. ”
The guidelines are a sweeping document that outlines proper conduct toward the land, the truth, Cree society, integrity, rules of confidentiality and disciplinary measures. It was produced with Cree society in mind and attempted to integrate its unique cultural and traditional values as part of the guidelines.
The first chapter, entitled Conduct Toward The Land, calls on public officials “to respect the spirit of these rules as they aim for the highest degree of conservation, protection of Cree way of life and the protection of the people’s interests.”
The rules also bar discrimination based on sex, marital status, age, social status, religion or political orientation. Each person is asked to treat others “with respect” and to respect their freedom of choice.
Officials are also requested to provide the public with access to accurate information and to safeguard the independence of their office from political interference.
The guidelines include strict rules to prevent conflict-of-interest. Officials are required to avoid taking part in decisions from which they or their associates could benefit by getting a contract or any form of payment.
The rules also prohibit trading favours in exchange for contracts, misappropriation and embezzlement of funds. Entities are also barred from giving loans to officers or employees, except for travel allowances or salary advances.
Officials are also required to avoid any activity that doesn’t leave them enough time to do their jobs.
The full document is available in every band council or from the Grand Council/Cree Regional Authority.