Derek Nepinak And Manitoba Chiefs Bannock Slapped By Federal Government

The Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs has received a jolt from the federal government, securing no more than four per cent of its usual allocation in federal funding this year, after officials rejected a series of projects ranging from energy to transitions to urban living.

The axe fell on an envelope of grants for research and related community projects. Aboriginal Affairs approved $106,000 from a total grant request of $2.6 million.

Grand Chief Derek Nepinak decried the steep cuts on Thursday, saying Ottawa was failing to act in good faith and introducing “political” changes in procedures to secure funding.

Prior to 2012, AMC received a budget, including core expenses and projects, of $10 million to $15 million through Aboriginal Affairs and Health Canada. Aboriginal Affairs has imposed the latest cuts, $2 million last year and roughly another $2 million this year. The reductions represent a dramatic shift in national policy in Ottawa’s relations with First Nations lobby and service organizations in Canada.

Nepinak said the cuts came without warning, with the AMC only learning of them three-quarters of the way through the fiscal year, well after projects were underway.

“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,” Nepinak said in a statement.

“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 third quarter of the fiscal year.”

Ottawa defended its shift in aboriginal funding in a emailed statement issued late Thursday afternoon.
The focus is to target allocations better, the minister’s office wrote.
“Our priority is creating conditions for healthier, more self-sufficient First Nation communities. The government is taking concrete steps to ensure that funding for organizations is directed at the delivery of essential services and programs for aboriginal peoples,” the statement said.

“The objective is to ensure that funding is directed at priorities, such as initiatives that contribute to economic development, education and to also eliminate duplication of projects. Resources will be focused on projects that result in concrete and positive impact on the aboriginal people as they are intended,” it said.

Proposals that were denied funding include renewable energy solutions for northern communities, policy frameworks on resource equity, environmental research and food security in Manitoba First Nations and proposals for helping First Nations residents make successful transitions to urban living from life on often remote rural reserves.

In addition to acting as a political lobby, the assembly conducts federally sponsored research into health and aboriginal development.

Nepinak said the AMC had difficulty dealing with changes in procedures.

“Unlike previous years, the current process has turned purely political with proposals vetted through the minister’s office directly,” he said in his statement.

By: Alexandra Paul – Winnipeg Free Press

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