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Social Science Indigenous Studies

First Nations Self-Government

17 Roadblocks to Self-Determination, and One Chief’s Thoughts on Solutions

by (author) Leroy Wolf Collar

Brush Education
Initial publish date
Jan 2020
Indigenous Studies, Native American Studies
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    Jan 2020
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    Jan 2020
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Indigenous Peoples in Canada are continuing to assert their right to self-determination in this era of reconciliation. While dozens of Indigenous communities have signed varying forms of self-government agreements with the federal government, Indigenous Nations still face many obstacles along the path to true self-determination.

As a former Chief of Siksika Nation in southern Alberta, Leroy Wolf Collar dealt with many of the same problems other Indigenous Nations face across the country. From serious housing shortages to the lack of opportunities for youth, Chief Wolf Collar experienced the challenges and frustrations that come from operating in a colonial system still constrained by the Indian Act.

How do Indigenous Peoples move on from this defective system? Chief Wolf Collar identifies 17 issues that currently hinder Indigenous Nations—including broken treaty promises, problems with common forms of band administration, and the intrusion of provincial governments—along with potential solutions to overcome them.

This guide is for current and aspiring Indigenous leaders who want to increase their understanding of good governance, management, and leadership, as well as those who want to explore issues around Indigenous self-determination in Canada.

About the author

Leroy Wolf Collar is a member of Siksika Nation in southern Alberta, where he served as a Band Councillor from 1993-2007 and Chief from 2007-2010. In 2008, he was honoured for his service with a leadership award from the Aboriginal Role Models of Alberta. Leroy has a BA in Indigenous Studies from the University of Lethbridge, numerous management and leadership certificates from Mount Royal University, and a certificate from the Banff Centre’s Aboriginal Leadership and Management Development Program.

Leroy Wolf Collar's profile page

Excerpt: First Nations Self-Government: 17 Roadblocks to Self-Determination, and One Chief’s Thoughts on Solutions (by (author) Leroy Wolf Collar)


How often have we heard our Chiefs and Councillors publicly state that youth are our future leaders? Yet they do very little to help them become leaders. This is not a criticism of any one Chief or Councillor. As leaders, we have all been guilty of saying these words during community functions involving youth, whether it is a high school graduation, a sporting event, a conference, or an employment orientation for summer students.



The list of challenges youth today face is daunting:

alcohol and drug abuse


early pregnancies


dropping out of school


engaging in common-law relationships while under the age of eighteen






violence and gangs




loss of culture and language


no plans for them in their communities


inadequate child protection (sexual and physical abuse)


bullying in schools and in the community, and cyberbullying


no parental support because parents are also lost


missing Indigenous children and youth


All of these problems are serious and deserve attention, but the ones I want to stress here, the ones I see as helping youth help themselves, are education and employment. The truth is, most Indigenous communities don’t provide any of their own funding to support employment and training programs for their community’s youth. Most of them depend on funding provided by Indigenous Services Canada and Human Resources Development Canada to create student employment and training services. But the funding provided by the federal government is limited and is never enough to accommodate all the needs of youth.

For example, in my community from 2007 to 2010, I was the Siksika Employment Manager and then became the Chief of Siksika Nation. We averaged approximately 300 students who applied for summer employment each year over the four-year period. The federal government provided funding to hire approximately 60 students per year, so the funding covered only 20 percent of the students who applied. Rather than going back to the federal government and asking for additional funding support, I met with our treasury department’s Chief Financial Officer and negotiated funding to hire all the students who applied for summer jobs. From 2007 to 2010, we employed approximately 300 students each year, with a record high of 320 students in 2010, my last year as Chief. We wanted to make sure that none of the students—aged fourteen to twenty-five—were left out.

The point I am making here is that our leaders today need to place more emphasis on the youth of their communities. They need to invest in young people so they become strong, healthy adults who at some point will take over as the community’s Chiefs, Councillors, board members, senior managers, employees, and business owners. As long as our leaders do not engage students in long-term planning to support their career endeavours, we will continue to witness many of our young people falling to the wayside, and many will turn to alcohol, drugs, and crime to cope with their life’s pressures and stresses. The bottom line is that we are not doing enough for our youth today to help them to become healthy, contributing members of society.


How we address the needs of our youth will make or break the future of our communities because our communities are young. Statistics Canada’s 2011 Aboriginal People’s Fact Sheet notes that close to half (46%) of Indigenous people in Canada were under the age of twenty-five, compared with 30 percent of the non-Indigenous population. More than half of Inuit (54%) were in this age group, as were 49 percent of First Nations people (52 percent of those living on-reserve and 47 percent living off-reserve) and 41 percent of Métis. All three groups were younger (average 32.1 years) than the non-Indigenous population, whose average age was 40.9.

According to the Financial Post in 2018, one in four Canadians considered part of Generation X (37 to 52 years of age) have saved nothing for retirement. The Financial Post also noted that one in four millennials (18 to 36 years of age) still live with their parents. Because of the widespread high unemployment rates and overcrowding on reserves, the retirement success rates for First Nations people doesn’t look promising, nor do the economic prospects of First Nations youth.


Most First Nations communities use the majority of their own-source revenues to bridge their community’s social gaps in housing, education, health, and family services. For example, the challenge facing many First Nations communities today is building enough houses to address the needs of their community’s homeless families. In Siksika Nation, the senior manager of Siksika Housing says that approximately 400 families are on the department’s waiting list for a home as of July 2019. In most communities, the priorities of the leadership are based on the needs of their people. In Siksika, this means that rather than investing monies in the community’s youth, the community focuses on building houses.

This is a reality facing Chiefs and Councillors across Canada. There is a constant struggle of trying to balance the needs of their communities. First Nations leaders have become expert social workers because they are constantly bridging the social gaps, leaving little time and resources to plan for the future. They are reactive instead of proactive. This results in the perpetuation of poverty within their communities and leaving no plans for youth and their future.


Of course, youth are not the only ones to suffer from unemployment; all Indigenous people face higher-than-average unemployment rates. Surveys have found that a major reason for the high employment is the level of educational attainment of individual Indigenous people. For this reason alone, First Nations need to make education a priority for their youth; the youth need support so they can reach their educational goals. This will result in many positive outcomes, including growing a pool of qualified people to take over their community’s leadership roles and responsibilities. Youth are not the only segment of the Indigenous population to experience high unemployment, but they are the segment that most impacts the future of communities.

Indigenous leaders need to take a hard look at their community’s youth and the social issues that impact their lives. We cannot afford to lose another generation of people impacted by the intergenerational trauma of the Indian residential schools. We need to invest in our youth today so that as we become the Elders within our communities, we will have healthy leaders looking after the well-being of our people and communities. Just like our ancestors in precontact times who practiced a philosophy of reciprocity in which everyone helped everyone in the community, we need to do the same by incorporating long-term strategies that will develop our youth into strong and healthy leaders for tomorrow.

Editorial Reviews

Administration of First Nations governments in Canada has become more complex and challenging in light of continuing federal underfunding and the uncertainty of our jurisdiction over our lands and natural resources. This book offers a fresh consideration of such issues, and is a must-read for all Indigenous and non-Indigenous leaders and managers.

Dr. Andrew Bear Robe, Siksika Nation, Blackfoot Confederacy