By Jorge Barrera
APTN National News
The federal Aboriginal Affairs department is playing politics with millions of dollars’ worth of project funding for First Nation organizations, according to chiefs on the Assembly of First Nations executive who are planning a national counter-attack to Ottawa’s tactics.
Aboriginal Affairs has approved only $888,720 out of $7.1 million worth of projects submitted by the Assembly of First Nations this year, APTN National News has learned. Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt is also still sitting on 14 proposals from the AFN, months after the department’s own notification deadline passed for responding to proposals from First Nations organizations.
The same scenario is playing out in other First Nation organizations and the AFN is preparing to launch a national strategy to counter the department, according to a widely distributed email from the AFN to officials with First Nation organizations.
Chiefs on the AFN executive decided to develop the strategy during a meeting on Oct. 3. The executive came up with a draft of three “key messages” forming the core of the strategy. The messages focus on the department’s own words and timeline around project funding.
The department told First Nation organizations they would all be informed of the status of their projects by April 1 if they submitted their proposals by Feb. 21. The project funding was supposed to offset part of the department’s deep cuts to the core funding of First Nations organizations. The department blew its deadline by several months.
“The federal government’s promise that project funding would be available to off-set core funding cuts has not been kept,” says one of the AFN’s draft key messages, according to the Oct. 10 email, obtained by APTN National News. “The federal government has not kept its promise to respond to all funding proposals by April 1 and has politicized approval process, despite their assurances of transparency and accountability.”
The AFN said in the email that the department has already rejected 16 proposals out of a total of 34 submissions. The department has only approved four proposals and the AFN is still waiting on responses to 14 proposals.
The department rejected the AFN’s proposals on murdered and missing Indigenous women, treaties, comprehensive claims, specific claims, housing, trade, energy, emergency management and infrastructure. The department has only approved projects on economic development, connectivity, additions to reserves and social-assisted living. Valcourt has the final sign-off on all the project proposals, according to an Aug. 21 letter from the AFN’s CEO Peter Dinsdale to deputy minister Coleen Swords, previously obtained by APTN National News.
The department said last November it set aside $20 million for project funding. Former deputy minister Michael Wernick said at the time that the department would only fund projects that “align with department priorities and yield concrete results.”
Wernick is now deputy clerk of the Office of the Privy Council, which is essentially the nerve centre of the federal bureaucracy and the prime minister’s department.
Valcourt’s office did not return a request for comment.
The AFN is trying to compile the status of project proposals from other organizations to press their case with Valcourt and the public, the email said.
“It will be through solidarity with Aboriginal representative organizations that we will be stronger,” said the email.
There is a widespread belief the department is playing hardball on project funding as a result of the AFN’s rejection of the Harper government’s proposed bill for First Nation education.