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editorial

Delbert Sampson, a member of Shuswap First Nation. Dave Chan for The Globe and Mail.Dave Chan/The Globe and Mail

The First Nations Financial Transparency Act is proving its worth, simply by revealing details of the compensation of various native government officials. There may be good explanations for some surprising incomes, but the disclosure that has been required since last year means that members of aboriginal communities finally know how much the people in their local government are being paid. And that has opened the door to demands for greater accountability and better governance.

For example, Chief Paul Sam of the Shuswap First Nation, in the Upper Columbia region, earned $202,413 last year, free of income tax. His former wife, Alice Sam, also on the band council, earned $202,000. Another councillor, previously unaware of their salaries, received much less, $57,700.

The band has about 230 members, only 87 of whom live on the reserve. Over the past four years, members of the chief's family have earned more than $4.1-million. Meanwhile, some other band members are said to have gone through the winter without water and electricity.

One of the chief's sons, Dean Martin, justified his father's tax-free pay – when compared with the salary of Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who does pay income tax – saying to the Vancouver Sun, "To be ... the leader of a nation... and to lead it for 34 years, is something totally unheard of." Mr. Martin's own work as CEO of Kinbasket Development Corp., a band-owned corporation that is apparently generating revenue through commercial and real estate development, might more understandably warrant a large salary.

The financial disclosure at Shuswap First Nation has prompted new candidates for the band council.

In the summer, the FNFTA brought to light a large bonus to a chief in Coquitlam, B.C., which turned out to be consistent with a pre-existing contract, rather than being an instance of self-dealing. Even so, the opportunity to demand such explanations is progress.

The federal Liberals and NDP opposed the FNFTA when it was a bill in Parliament. They shouldn't have. The law isn't about punishing native governments. It's about empowering native citizens to know more about the finances of their governments. A little sunlight is never a bad thing.