Letter: First Nations of independent means have greater flexibility

Government funding has always been inadequate

To the Expositor:

Where do bands get their funding to operate their reserves?

All First Nations see their funding serviced through “contribution agreements” on an annualized basis, categorized into one year, or multi-year block funding agreements and 10 year grants with multiple conditions attached. First Nations who opt into 10-year grants through new funding arrangements require less reporting than that of the one or multi-year agreements, under existing “contribution agreement” processes.

First Nation governments or (bands) who are fortunate enough to have their “own source revenue”—money received in terms of dividends from oil and gas deposits, large land claim settlement agreements or large scale mining projects. Those First Nations have far more flexibility in terms of finances and stability than those First Nations who are less fortunate and struggle with what they have under current “contribution agreement” protocols and processes with the government of Canada.

It is estimated that 12 billion dollars is appropriated for First Nations, Inuit and Metis people across Canada on an annualized basis and this money comes directly from the Treasury Board based on budget estimates, planning and priorities as determined by various agencies and ministries of the Government of Canada. However, a majority of those funds is flowed and administered through the Department of Indian Affairs, with its head office in Gatineau, Quebec, its regional offices and district offices throughout Canada. Only $2 billion is split between First Nations, Inuit and Metis.

In a report titled ‘Departmental Plan 2019-20’ published by Indigenous Services Canada (ISC) in 2019, it stated, “In August of 2017, the Prime Minister announced the dissolution of Indian and Northern Affairs Canada and the creation of two new departments: Crown Indigenous-relations and Northern Affairs Canada (CIRNAC) and ISC.” This has caused a lot of uncertainty among First Nations, citizens and the general public, it has also caused confusion by adding unnecessary government bureaucracy. The report also cited, a $30 billion deficit in infrastructure, meaning no water treatment plants for those First Nations with decades old boil water advisories.

The dissolution of AANDC by the prime minister in 2017 was desperately needed, but to create two new departments was unnecessary, intrusive, paternalistic and a step backwards in fostering reconciliation and improving relationships on a government to government basis with First Nations people. First Nations don’t need further bureaucracy, they need to rebuild their foundations for independence, not dependence.

The transfer of payments to the provinces and territories comes directly from the Treasury Board and doesn’t include funding for First Nations and while the standard for equalization is not a component in the determination of funding for First Nation communities in transfer payments from CIRNAC and ISC, that funding is delivered under a different financial process then those provinces and territories because provincial government aren’t considered wards of the state. Understandably, there is a lack of coherence and clarity as to what is appropriate in terms of funding or what formula(s) are used to make those determinations for provinces and territories and First Nations. I would argue that First Nations governments hold independent sovereignty as recognized under section 35 and 91(24) of the Canadian Constitution. In retrospect, First Nation governments ought to be considered to hold the same paralleled equalization in the transfer payment process as provinces and territories, since First Nations are recognized by law as standalone governments.

So, whatever planning and priorities chiefs and councils have in terms of their present “contribution agreements,” planning is limited in scope and practice and that needs to change. I’ve been around politics long enough to know that funding has always been inadequate and the status quo isn’t working under existing “contribution agreements” arrangements. I would rather see a direct transfer of payment from Treasury Board to each First Nation that is sustainable, proactive and not reactive.

Given the rise of the deficit calculated to be $343 billion slated for the end of 2020, how many First Nation communities will continue to suffer? Will the proposed economic outlook scheduled for November 30, 2020 include First Nations? As it stands, the pandemic is driving force of the economy and will continue to drive the deficit to unprecedented numbers. Will 2021 be any different? Who knows; time will tell.

Yours truly,

Donald J. McGraw

M’Kwaa Dodem

Aundegomniikaaning First Nation