Manitoba Grand Chief Nepinak Expresses Extreme Disappointment with AANDC

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Assembly of Manitoba Grand Chief Derek Nepinak walking in the Full Moon Memory Walk
Chief Derek Nepinak

Assembly of Manitoba Grand Chief Derek Nepinak walking in the Full Moon Memory Walk
Assembly of Manitoba Grand Chief Derek Nepinak

TREATY ONE TERRITORY – ANISHINABEK – Updated – “I feel that we have been misled to think that the Government of Canada, under the Harper regime, would act in good faith and support policy development from local and community based initiatives,” charged Derek Nepinak, the Grand Chief of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs. “Instead we have been forced to jump through hoops, expending our limited resources in order to meet February deadlines for proposals that didn’t get final evaluation until November, which is the end of the 3rd quarter of the fiscal year.”

The Grand Chief of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs (AMC) expressed today his extreme disappointment with the Department of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada (AANDC) continued refusal to fund proposal driven project funding to the AMC for the current 2014-2015 fiscal year.

“This is the outcome of endeavouring to work for community driven initiatives,” explained the Grand Chief. “Empowerment mandates that protect rights and come from the ground up, not the top down. We are amidst a transition as a political organization from working as agents for provincial and federal government policy and laws to deconstructing the colonial paradigms and bringing back hope for freedom, treaty-based relations and the inherent rights of indigenous peoples everywhere”.

“Government cutbacks are the short-term outcome. I have said for several years, governments don’t fund empowerment of indigenous peoples. This is indicative of the challenges we face, but our resolve is strong and we won’t be silenced by this,” added the Grand Chief.

Each year the AMC implements mandates received from the Manitoba Chiefs on a combination of core annual funding, supplemented by proposal driven project funding which is a combination of policy development from local and community-based initiatives. This historically has added upwards of $5-6 million in annual funding to the overall budget of AMC. With a historical core budget of $2.7 million, combined core and project funding flowing through the AMC has historically been in the range of $10-$15 million annually from AANDC and the First Nations and Inuit Health Branch of Health Canada (FNIHB). This year, proposal driven and core funding combined at AMC are approximately 10% of previous years funding arrangements.

In September 2012, when funding cuts to core operations of Aboriginal Representative Organizations (ARO’s) were announced nationally, AMC’s core operating budget was reduced to $500,000 annually. The AANDC stated that ARO’s would still receive proposal driven project funding as in past years, as long as they were within the firm February 2014 deadline. Based on those representations made by AANDC, the AMC submitted eight proposals totaling $2,621,000.00 for the current fiscal year.

As of November 15, 2014 – 3/4 into this fiscal year – AANDC responded with approval of $102,000.00, which is only half of one of the submitted proposals. The funds are projected to flow from this proposal with less than 3 months left in the fiscal year. This reflects approvals of less than 4% of the applications for funding that the AMC submitted for the fiscal year 2014-2015. Unlike previous years, the current process has turned purely political with proposals vetted through the Minister’s office directly. This means that proposals are no longer evaluated on their merit and their relevance to community needs, but rather at the sole discretion of the Minister of the AANDC bureaucracy.

Despite firm deadlines with cumbersome and redundant application processes that cost time and money for AMC, the AANDC took nearly 9 months of the fiscal year to respond, making 12 month project timelines undertaken by the AMC impossible to complete. In addition, in past years, the AMC was expected to cash manage projects that require a 12 month workplan but are not funded until late in the fiscal year.

Grand Chief Nepinak further stated: “Despite the fact that the Harper regime is passing ‘accountability’ legislation on First Nations communities (ie. First Nations Financial Transparency Act), the very Department tasked with overseeing administration of programs and services for First Nations people takes 8 or 9 months to make decisions on thoroughly completed proposals from our organizations. Although this government has undertaken a clear agenda to highlight spending in our impoverished communities, the AANDC bureaucracy can act with impunity and not be held accountable for sitting on millions of dollars of proposals meant to advance community well-being and initiatives for First Nations people through our political organizations.”

Some of the proposals being denied this year include valuable initiatives that are of the highest priority for Manitoba First Nation communities. For example, proposals for implementing renewable energy solutions for northern communities, testing frameworks on resource equity, building environmental research and food security capacity in Manitoba First Nations and proposals for helping our community members make successful transitions to urban living amongst others are being denied by the department.

Grand Chief Nepinak asked “If the AANDC headquarters is not actively and diligently supervising successful completion of projects because it is not funding projects, then what are the regional offices of AANDC engaged in to justify the hundreds of jobs and billions of dollars in expenses it consumes annually?” ,

“In addition to withholding funding for AMC driven initiatives, I am also aware that critical funding needed to promote equitable educational opportunities and instructional services for our children serviced by our Manitoba First Nations Education Resource Centre (MFNERC) is being withheld for no good reason. This means that our children, who are the fastest growing demographic in the Canada, are being denied equitable opportunity in education. Manitoba citizens, Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal alike, should be outraged that the Harper Conservative government is denying opportunity to our children by denying equitable opportunity to children.”