By Sara Carson, Orillia Packet & Times
The Government of Canada has put First Nations at a “competitive disadvantage economically” by requiring them to release their consolidated financial statements, says Chippewas of Rama First Nation Chief Sharon Stinson Henry.
“Now, potential business partners have access to our financial statements, whereas we don’t have access to theirs,” Stinson Henry said Thursday.
Rama First Nation has released financial statements in accordance with the federal government’s new First Nations Financial Transparency Act. They include consolidated financial statements and a schedule of remuneration and expenses.
The federal government’s contributions to the First Nation have also been made public on the Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada website.
While Stinson Henry agreed the Canadian public has a right to see federal government transfer payments, she said First Nations should not have to release consolidated financial statements and chief and council salaries, expenses and remuneration.
“We are fully accountable and transparent to our own citizens, our members,” she said. “We’ve been providing audited financial statements and even more detailed financial statements semi-annually to our members for at least the last decade.”
Rama First Nation has a registered population 1,885.
Stinson Henry said the government did not consult with First Nations in the development of the changes.
“We have no problem at all with publishing the government funding that Rama receives online for public information. Not a problem there. The concern and the issue is publishing our own source revenues for the public to see,” she said.
Rama First Nation had an accumulated surplus of $141.23 million by its year end of March 31, 2013. That takes into account $100.27 million in financial assets and $89.172 million in non-financial assets. It also factors in the First Nation’s liabilities of $48.217 million.
For its 2013 budget, Rama made $93.52 million in revenue, including $10 million coming from land-settlement revenue, $30 million from First Nation fund revenue and $13.5 million from sales from business enterprises. Rama had $63.46 million in expenses, including $22.9 million on salaries, wages and benefits.
The First Nation had $83.76 million in portfolio investments by its 2013 year end.
The “Government of Canada said they want First Nations to strive to be economically self-sufficient and that’s exactly what Rama does,” Stinson Henry said. “We’re striving every day to create new businesses and we’re doing just that.”
The First Nations Financial Transparency Act interferes with those efforts, she said.
Potential business partners “… can come in with a proposal knowing what our financial situation is. That’s critical,” Stinson Henry said.
Rama invested $5.5 million in business enterprises in the 2013 fiscal year. In January 2013, Rama purchased shares in My Lucky Spot-Entertainment Centre Ltd. — a $2.5-million investment. Rama is also a partner in SEM Resort Ltd. Partnership, which owns St. Eugene Golf Resort and Casino in British Columbia. Rama invested $3 million in that partnership in 2013. Along with gaming businesses, Rama has been approached by potential partners for solar projects and construction projects. Rama also operates several businesses on reserve.
“Now, the world sees our own business information. That is information that our citizens — the Rama First Nation citizens — are entitled to, not the world,” Stinson Henry said.
She called it “differential treatment” of First Nations.
“We are not a publicly traded business and therefore we’re being forced under this legislation to publicize for the world to see our financial status,” she said.
Rama First Nation chief and council salaries do not come out of federal government transfer payments, she said, adding, “They are from own source revenues.”
Stinson Henry’s salary, as chief, was $123,273 for the year ending March 31, 2014. She received $26,245 in other remuneration and expensed $17,005 in travel costs. The six Rama councillors have differing salaries.
Coun. Ronald Douglas received $116,811 as a base salary, $49,146 in other remuneration and expensed $2,791.
Coun. Byron Stiles earned $111,183 as a base salary, $52,613 in other remuneration and expensed $4,917.
Coun. Gina Genno had a base salary of $110,971, $52,879 in other remuneration and expensed $8,743.
Coun. Nemke Quarrington earned a base salary of $110,971, $47,913 in other remuneration and expensed $5,118.
Coun. Rodney Noganosh received $110,716 as a base salary, $47,508 in other remuneration and expensed $3,885.
Tracey Snache earned $111,042 as a base salary, $50,255 in other remuneration and expensed $4,824.
The total spent on salaries and remuneration was $1.12 million and $47,283 was expensed.
“Myself and council voluntarily took a 10% decrease in our salaries about four years ago. We continually operate with a balanced budget and this initiative was to assist in doing that,” Stinson Henry said.
Along with running the First Nation, chief and council are responsible for running the business operations, she noted.
For its 2011-12 fiscal year, Rama received $5.78 million in federal government funding. The government outlines where each dollar is allocated.
Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada contributed $4.55 million and funded $1.68 million on elementary/secondary education, $843,013 on post-secondary education, $105,925 on economic development, $518,392 for Indian government support, $77,226 for lands and trust services, $817,219 for community infrastructure, $183,804 for housing, $164,761 for social assistance and social support and $28,550 in other funding.
Health Canada provided Rama with $870,185 for mental health and addictions, chronic diseases, health governance and support, primary health care, non-insured health benefits and children and youth.
The Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation gave Rama $285,001 for non-profit, on-reserve housing and Public Safety Justice provided $75,000 for community healing.