The Four Worlds International Institute


Executive Summary

Given the present conditions in most Canadian First Nations, it is clear that merely tinkering with or adjusting the Canadian social security system has not, and will not, work. Aboriginal welfare reform will need to begin by re-conceptualizing what social security means for Aboriginal people. The role of a social security system can no longer be the provision of stop-gap programs and services for a small group of disadvantaged people, but rather must be conceived of as a comprehensive approach to building well-being and prosperity for all.

When looked at in this way, the delivery of programs to and for communities (no matter how generously funded or efficiently designed) can never bring "social security" to Aboriginal people. Until Aboriginal communities can recover an adequate measure of the wealth they possessed, real "social security" will continue to be an elusive goal. 

Traditionally, wealth existed in two inter-related forms:

1) A sustainable economic base that provided food, clothing, shelter, medicines and other material needs.

2) Healthy human relationships (which provided opportunities for self-development, sustained family, and community life, preserved the social and economic well-being of the people, and provided a dependable safety net for those who fell upon hard times for whatever reasons

As used, the term"self-sufficiency" means that people can meet their basic needs for well-being without having to be provided for out of the wealth controlled by others. Self-sufficiency, then, is predicated on the idea that people have control over the resources they need, and they have the capacities they require to produce their wealth to meet their needs and to participate meaningfully in regional, national or global economic activities. In other words, self-sufficiency means prosperity and well-being for all, a goal which is synonymous with that of social security.

Getting from where communities are now to a condition in which prosperity and well-being have been "secured" will require a fundamental transformation of political, economic, social and cultural terms and relationships both within communities and between Aboriginal communities and the rest of Canada. What is needed is a comprehensive framework for understanding the end goals and vision of the transformation of the current system. This new image includes categories of life, primary relationships, and how to promote the change process if prosperity and well-being are to be the outcome. This transformation will require culturally-based models and principles of community healing and community development.

All change is not necessarily good. It is critical to have a clear vision of what we are turning into before we step into the process. One of the most powerful models for mapping out the dimensions involved in securing well-being and prosperity is the medicine wheel. It teaches us that the mental, emotional, physical and spiritual health of every member of the Community people is important and needs to be promoted, maintained and protected. Including helping families become free of addictions and abuse, filled with spirit, love, caring, and mutual responsibility and able to function as a stable economic unit. These are critical development challenges.

The political and administrative, economic and environmental, spiritual and cultural, and social relationships of community life transformed in a way that they lead to well-being and prosperity. The political, economic, environmental, social and cultural factors in the regional, national or international context within which First Nations communities live need to be taken into account if viable development processes are to occur. Social Security reform must address all of these dimensions in a comprehensive human and community development approach.

Since all of these dimensions are interrelated, social security reform must proceed with an integrated, holistic framework, leaving behind the splintered logic of the Canadian bureaucracy. A colonial system that separates economic development, health, education, political processes and spirituality as if they were unrelated when, in reality, success in any one area depends on success in all the others. There is an urgent need for a new paradigm, a new way of conceptualizing "development" that is distinctly Aboriginal. The full encouragement and support for communities to proceed as if they already have the jurisdiction to remake their world. If we don't proceed in that way, then unnecessary suffering and dependency will only deepen.

It is also crucial to remember that a vision of development that leads to sustainable well-being and prosperity for Aboriginal communities can never be a one-size-fits-all proposition. There can be no cookie-cutter recipes that will work in all communities. What is needed is guiding principles that can be applied and adapted to fit a multitude of situations. Four such principles are listed below to serve by way of example.

1. Development comes from within - Well-being and prosperity cannot be delivered to communities. It has to be grown from within people, from the very spiritual core of their beings; from within families and from within processes of civic engagement. This principle implies that to achieve social security, a massive effort of engaging ordinary Aboriginal people in a collective process of healing, learning, consultation and action are required. Facilitating this process will be a key challenge facing Aboriginal leadership everywhere.

2. No Vision, no development - A vision of who we can become and what a sustainable world would be like works as a powerful magnet, drawing us to our potential. Where there is no vision, there is no development. This principle implies that the work of imagining what prosperity and well-being would look like, and what the path to achieving it would be in any particular community, is of paramount importance.

3. Personal and Community Development must go Hand-in-Hand - Social Security reform must focus both on personal growth, healing, and learning, and on the transformation of community structures, power arrangements, institutions, organizations, policies, and patterns. These two dimensions are inter-related and inseparable.

4. Learning is the key that unlocks the door of change - Individuals, families, organizations, and whole communities and nations of people can learn. We have come to live as we do now, and we can learn to do, think and live differently. This principle urges a major focus on capacity building at all levels as a primary line of action for Aboriginal social security reform.


The following recommendations are designed to guide social security reform processes for First Nations communities. To build self-sufficiency and to work toward prosperity and well-being in ways which are consistent with the above principles and which take into account all the dimensions of the "medicine wheel model" described above.

It is important to remember, however, that Aboriginal community prosperity and well-being is not a few recommendations and templates. We caution readers to keep in mind that a general overview such as is provided by these recommendations is not a sufficient map for actually taking the journey of Aboriginal social security reform. This mission will require thoughtful attention to vision and detail. And the journey will take time, probably years of time.

The recommendations are in six categories. These broad lines of action, are as follows:

I. Developing True Economy

1. Transfer payments from the government can not achieve Aboriginal prosperity. A fundamental focus of reform needs to be on the development of an actual economy that is capable of producing wealth; is sustainable in its methods and outcomes, and ensures equitable distribution to all within Aboriginal communities.

2. To achieve the development of real economy, a concentrated focus on the following strategies is required:

a) Increase each Nation's lands and resource base.

b) Increase equitable access to capital and credit for micro-enterprises as well as for larger projects.

c) Considerable investment in human development and training.

d) Institutional development and capacity building related to managing economic processes.

e) Emphasis on developing secondary manufacturing capacity (such as moving from harvesting trees to making furniture).

f) Focus on multiplying the circulation of money within communities.

g) A shift from large to small and medium size enterprises as a primary strategy with diligent attention to community economic development (CED) principles.

h) Establish democratically operated community economic development corporations or cooperatives.

i) Develop regional strategies for integrating local economic efforts into larger networks and markets.

3. As well as the development of local and regional economies, a particular emphasis on strengthening International Indigenous People's financial systems to facilitate trade, economic cooperation and collaboration with other Indigenous peoples of mutual benefit globally.

II. Control and Jurisdiction

1. A five-year moratorium on AFA and FTA transfer agreements because these arrangements severely limit the sovereignty of First Nations to exercise control in reforming social development programs

2. The formation of a national Aboriginal Social Development Commission to monitor and manage all Aboriginal social development and welfare reform related funds. The intention is to replace Indian Affairs' control of funding with an Aboriginal-controlled oversight commission empowered to administer funds in ways that allow for the flexibility and creativity that is needed for social security reform to be successful.

III. Key Program Features for Reform

1. A shift from individual entitlement to community well-being, which views social assistance as just one part of a community healing and development effort. This change entails refocusing programs toward strengthening community capacity and transforming community conditions.

2. A shift toward emphasizing community responsibility for the welfare of its members (and away from government as the provider and caretaker). This change developing the will, the capacity, and the mechanisms within communities for citizen involvement, partnership building with the government, program ownership, and accountability.

IV. Healing

1. Establish and develop healing centers that expand the role now played by treatment centers to include a community outreach and wellness focus, mobile treatment programs, and specialized programs for youth, women, elders, victims of abuse, and leaders.

2. The development and promotion of an Aboriginal Healing Accord - a kind of pact or treaty that sets goals, strategies and a code of conduct about the realities and needs of community healing. All who sign the Accord would thereby commit themselves to working for its provisions in their lives and communities.

3. The establishment of an Aboriginal Community Healing Fund (contributed to by the government, the private sector, or any group wishing to make reparations related to Aboriginal healing) to be operated as a foundation at arms length from government and controlled by Aboriginal people. Access to the fund restricted to those communities and groups that have agreed to the terms and conditions of the Aboriginal Healing Accord. Special programs under this fund would focus on the needs of young people, women and prison inmates.

V. Strategies for Facilitating and Supporting the Reform Process

1. Local or regional Human and Community Development Technical Assistance and Capacity Building Teams to serve as coaches and mentors to community programs and voluntary groups struggling to shift community patterns toward wellness.

2. Regional Aboriginal Leadership Academies for strengthening the capacity of community leaders (political, program and voluntary leaders) about healing and community development.

3. A "Virtual College" of Human and Community Development (a post-secondary learning program without walls to tailor-make learning programs for community capacity-building needs.)

4. Aboriginal terms to include all useful service to the community. The use of social assistance and other transfer dollars to build up this type of "social economy" develops the social capital of the community (i.e. the trust, empowerment levels, networks, leadership capacity, confidence, work ethic, mutual support mechanisms, etc.).

5. Focus programs on the root causes of poverty and dependency rather than on the symptoms.

6. A significant investment in "capacity building" is required, which includes appropriate healing, education, and training for individuals, as well as organizational learning and institutional development.

VI. Fostering People's Empowerment and Participation

1. Redefining "work" that includes developing and maintaining well-being.

2. The establishment of local human and community development societies as a mechanism for healing and change within the community that operates at arm's length from government. These societies would be non-partisan promoters of the community healing and development process empowered to receive funds and to mount programs for that purpose. They would provide vehicles through which individuals could learn, heal and practice democratic skills and methods in pursuit of development goals.

3. A particular focus on developing community capacity for consultation processes, making and keeping a collective commitment, conflict resolution, as well as community development vision, planning and action.

4. Leadership development to train Aboriginal political and program leaders in participatory development approaches.

5. The development and promotion of an Aboriginal Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities which incorporates the right to basic human well-being (and the healing needed to get there), as well as the responsibilities of both individuals and communities. The Charter would serve as a standard against which communities could measure their progress, as well as a consciousness-raising tool.

Phil Lane Jr, Chairperson, Four Worlds International Institute

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Comment by Stephen Bamford on May 23, 2016 at 8:59am

This is a very comprehensive and well conceived map for all humankind and all our relations for that matter. The challenges are great, but as the saying goes, 'the journey of 10,000 miles begins with a single step.' Best of luck and wishes for your continued success in the formulation and putting this into action.

Comment by True on May 19, 2016 at 10:06am

SSA has self sufficiency programs built in that they 'do t get paid to educate the public on' Programs like PASS and PESS. PASS is the program to achieve self support. It allows you tax exempt savings and property. PESS is property essential to self support, an example: I am disabled, my home is a homestead and I use it to feed myself, exempt. Having these ACCTS actually increases some peoples benefits, because the exemptions change your 'income/equity' numbers. Train someone in these programs and send all your people to them who are on SSDI. Some more note worthy clarifications. SSDI is an insurance program that you have paid into working throughout your life, not to be confused with SSI which is a welfare entitlement. These programs are available to both categories however, one has NO asset limit, the other does. At least this is how the program operates in the US. Its very much worth looking into.

Comment by Sister Rosemarie Stevens on May 19, 2016 at 7:40am

Great work of wisdom...thank you...may it come to fulfillment

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