Group to reject federal cuts
By Jason Warick, The Starphoenix
Saskatchewan First Nations have formed an alliance to fight federal funding cuts to their education, health and job training programs.
Some members of the Treaty 4 and Treaty 6 Alliance met in Saskatoon last week after a third Saskatchewan First Nation rejected what leaders say is an unacceptable cut to their social programs.
"I can see this picking up steam. I'm sure others are going to refuse to sign (the federal funding agreement)," said Thunderchild First Nation Chief Delbert Wapass.
"We work hard to keep our kids in school, to get jobs for our people. We want to help this province succeed, but what the government is doing - it's a very sad situation."
Late last week, Thunderchild declined to sign an $8-million contribution agreement with the federal government. Like federal transfer payments to the provinces, these annual agreements fund the vast majority of social programs on reserve.
Unlike other governmentto-government agreements, First Nations have little say in the type or amount of funding. There has also been a cap placed on annual increases for education and other needs, regardless of economic conditions, labour costs or other factors, critics say.
Some First Nations who have successfully moved residents off welfare and into the job market have seen their funding clawed back excessively, they say.
Thunderchild follows Little Pine and Peepeekisis First Nations in refusing to sign. Wapass, Little Pine Chief Wayne Semaganis and Peepeekisis Headman Allan Bird say they expect others to join soon. A recent meeting on the topic with Manitoba chiefs has led them to believe this could reach across the Prairies.
"We want the Crown to be accountable. This has been a unilateral process, and we're tired of it," Bird said. "There is a lot of fear about standing and fighting, but we have to."
All essential funding is continuing to these communities, but leaders aren't sure what will happen if the dispute continues. They hope the government will be willing to negotiate before things escalate.
Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada (AANDC) Minister Bernard Valcourt was not available for comment. An official in his office emailed a response.
"Our government continues to take concrete steps to create the conditions for more prosperous, self-sufficient First Nation communities. We will continue to provide funding to First Nations for services including education, economic development, health services, band governance and infrastructure," stated the email. "AANDC Officials will continue discussions with First Nations to ensure the delivery of essential services."