OKTLaw documents government cuts to First Nation organizations reducing services and support

From OKTLaw.com

Massive Cuts to Aboriginal Organizations Means Loss of Successful Programs and Services

Stephanie Kearns - April 1, 2014

Today, Aboriginal organizations across Canada will have their funding slashed. Some organizations will lose over 80% of their core operating budgets. These drastic cuts will profoundly impact the work these organizations do. Ultimately, these cuts will particularly affect smaller First Nations who rely on regional and tribal organizations for critical policy and other services.

These cuts come after Canada decided to cut core and program funding to Aboriginal Representative Organizations ("AROs") and Tribal Councils. Program funding cuts started last year and core funding cuts come into effect on April 1. Programs will now only be funded if they fit Harper's agenda.

The cuts are deep for AROs, and may be terminal for some organizations, for example:

  • Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs Secretariat will have its core funding cut by 81%
  • Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations will have its core funding cut by 70%
  • Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak Inc will have its core funding cut by 68%

The Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations is one of many organizations that have announced massive staff layoffs effective April 1, 2014 to cope with the funding cuts.

The cuts will be felt just as greatly by Tribal Councils across Canada who will have their funding capped at $200K, $350K, or $500K depending on their size and the number of programs they offer. Many Tribal Councils are facing core funding cuts of between 50 and 70%. The caps do not take into account the successes of some Tribal Council to offer valuable and efficient services to their members and may mean the loss of successful programs that have taken decades to develop.

AFN has prepared a great summary of the financial impacts of these cuts to organizations across Canada.

So what are AROs and Tribal Councils?

There are five national and 40 regional AROs. For example, the Assembly of First Nations, Inuit Tapirit Kanatami, and the Chiefs of Ontario are all AROs who provide a wide range of services to member nations, like economic development programs and training, working on issues of concern like justice and the environment, and providing support to members for education and health. These organizations are also voices advocating for changes to laws and policies for their members. They often intervene in environmental assessments, important legal cases, and provide input on new policies and laws. AROs can provide a voice on a larger stage for their members, who may not otherwise be heard.

Tribal Councils represent a smaller number of Nations and provided more specialized support and services that suit the particular needs of their members. Tribal Councils offer services like economic development advice, child welfare, education, employment and training, nursing, mental health services, and sometimes represent members in negotiations with government and proponents. Tribal Councils are able to take advantage of economies of scale to offer services that would otherwise be prohibitively expensive to an individual Nation. For example, a Tribal Council may have a staff person who offers specific economic development advice to members tailored to the location and rights of the members. Together, the First Nations are able to share this cost, rather than each having to pay for expensive consultants who may not even be able to provide advice specific to their circumstances.

The fact is that these cuts will mean eliminating funding for services and weakening the capacity of these long standing organizations to provide valuable services to members. Organizations are scrambling to try to find other sources of income or make difficult cuts to staff and services.

The cuts will also have a huge impact on the ability of these organizations to advocate for their members. While some Nations are very successful at advocating for themselves, others rely on AROs and Tribal Councils to raise their concerns on the provincial, territorial and national stage. As a larger group, they have a bigger voice. These cuts are going to gut these organizations and leave little capacity to provide advocacy services anymore. Was this the intent of these cuts or just a convenient side effect?

Some will argue that funding cuts were required given the current fiscal reality. But no consultations with these organizations occurred prior to the cuts to identify where programs could be streamlined and efficiencies found. Instead, it was a blanket cut across the board with no recognition of successful programs that may be in place and the long history these organizations have in offering exceptional services to their members.

April 1 marks a new reality in Canada for AROs and Tribal Councils.