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I want to clarify some statements made by Federal Indian Affairs Minister Robert Nault made to a Star Phoenix Editorial Board last Thursday, which was printed by the newspaper on Friday, February 15, 2002.
Minister Robert Nault's statements have indeed raised the ire of First Nations leaders throughout Saskatchewan.
Myself, along with many other First Nation leaders and citizens are concerned over the Minister's apparent contention that First Nation leaders should forget about our fight for rights and focus more on economic development and jobs.
I would first like to address the matter of rights vs. jobs. There is certainly no dispute from First Nations leaders that job creation for our people should be and is a top priority. The FSIN however is here to identify and address issues or policy gaps that may or may not be right in relation to our Treaties. We're here to advise, consult and assist in the development and design of legislation and policy that affects our First Nations and our Rights.
The Minister states in the article that First Nation rights are entrenched in the Constitution and that "we must make them come alive." He's right! Our rights have been affirmed in section 35 of The Constitution Act, 1982. That was 20 years ago. There appears to be a lot of foot dragging with respect to the full recognition and implementation of our constitutionally recognized and affirmed Treaty and Inherent Rights, despite the continuous efforts of First Nation leaders over the past two decades to negotiate, in good faith, with the Federal Crown.
Minister Nault, whether it was inadvertent, questions the credibility and viability of the FSIN when he states that PTO's must demonstrate a better or higher value for money provided by the federal government.
For First Nations, protecting our Treaty and Inherent Rights is more than value for money, it's what we as a political organization are all about. The FSIN is a political lobby organization. We advocate on behalf of our regional First Nations to ensure government fulfills its Treaty obligations. Are we as First Nations to rely on the Official Opposition or Canadian Alliance Party to politically advocate on our behalf? The Canadian Alliance Opposition believes even less in Treaty Rights than the federal government. So, yes the FSIN is definitely necessary to ensure that our First Nation Treaty and Inherent Rights are not only respected, but fully honoured and implemented.
The Minister further comments that the FSIN has strayed from its mandate because we deliver programs. While there may be a program or two operated out of our Economic & Community Development and Education Commission portfolios, the Minister attempts to paint a picture of excessive program delivery by the FSIN, thus competing for funding with Bands and Tribal Councils. This is unfair and not true. In fact, we flow funds through the FSIN directly to First Nations and Tribal Councils. In many cases, it is the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs that requests the FSIN to take on this role and monitor the program delivery of First Nations and Tribal Councils on the federal governments behalf.
The Minister also makes statements with respect to the administration fees charged by the FSIN to Bands or Tribal Councils. The Minister stated in his article that the FSIN charges administration fees of 15 per cent and further suggests that these charges are way out of line. This too is incorrect. Given that the FSIN is not resourced properly for our political, management and corporate affairs and neutral governance bodies, we need to charge an administration fee of ten per cent. In some cases, we cannot and do not charge this fee to our project funding. As such, our average overall administration fee is roughly between 5 and 7 per cent, not 15 per cent as the Minister contends.
"For First Nations, protecting our Treaty and Inherent Rights is more than value for money, it's what we as a political organization are all about. The FSIN is a political lobby organization. We advocate on behalf of our regional First Nations to ensure government fulfills its Treaty obligations."
- Chief Perry BellegardeThe Minister should be well aware of how the FSIN allocates and administers its funding. Here is the actual breakdown of where the FSIN allocates its funding:
- 6.2 percent or approximately $1.9 million goes towards political activity or lobbying efforts on behalf of FSIN's 74 member Bands;
- 36.1 percent or roughly $10.1 million is spent on policy development;
- 8.3 percent or $2.3 million goes toward the management or corporate affairs of the FSIN;
- 1.5 percent is allocated to institution building (FSIN has nine provincial institutions);
- 46 percent or $12.8 million is reallocated to First Nation Bands or Tribal Councils who utilize the funds to deliver programs; and,
- percent or approximately $300,000 goes toward actual programs that are delivered by the FSIN on behalf of member Bands or Tribal Councils.
Again, whether it was inadvertent, it appears as though the federal government is questioning our very existence. Rather, we should focus our efforts and resources around our Treaty and Inherent Rights as it relates to legislation and policies that directly affect our economic wealth and prosperity at the First Nation community level. Our goals should focus on creating a socio-economic level for First Nations that is comparable to all other Canadians.
It is our hope that this will clarify for your readers our role as the FSIN, which has remained virtually unchanged for the past 55 years.
FEDERATION OF SASKATCHEWAN INDIAN NATIONS
Chief Perry Bellegarde