The Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations has issued layoff notices to 66 staff — essentially its entire workforce — informing them they could be out of their jobs in nine weeks.
Officials from the organization said they are facing a budget shortfall adding they hope the job cuts are temporary.
The notices were issued Monday, to take effect March 31.
'How can you be a strong, effective lobby organization when you’re dependent on Indian Affairs funding?' - FSIN Chief Perry Bellegarde
Chief Perry Bellegarde told CBC News Wednesday that he is looking for other funding sources — in addition to monies from the federal government — to try to keep as many people working as possible.
“All staff in the FSIN [got the notices]," Bellegarde said. "Nobody was protected or anything. Basically, we’re just trying to follow standard HR practice and limit the liability to our organization in light of the cut backs.”
Bellegarde said as soon as funding sources are in place, many staff will be called back.
"Once funding is secured, you know, a lot of those staff will be given the first right of refusal to come back," he said.
Statement from the federal minister's office:
"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 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.
The government values its relationship with Aboriginal representative organizations and is committed to continuing to work with them, and other partners, to advance shared priorities."
Source: Office of the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development
Up to $2M needed
According to Bellegarde, the organization needs about $1.5 million to $2.5 million, to deal with funding cuts.
"Last year, we took a cut of $875,000," he said. "And a further $1.1 million will be cut back on April 1. So that’s almost $2 million. So of course it’s going to impact on the organization."
According to the FSIN's 2012 Annual Report, the organization's expenses were just under $20 million for that year, with about $7.2 spent on salaries and benefits.
The FSIN represents 74 First Nations in Saskatchewan.
Bellegarde said the reduced funding from the federal government could be an impetus to strengthen the FSIN.
"We’re lobbyists and we’re supposed to be a strong voice for our people," Bellegarde said. "But how can you be a strong, effective lobby organization when you’re dependent on Indian Affairs funding? So I saw this, as well, as an alternate source or an avenue and an opportunity to look at our own internal sources of revenue so we can truly be an effective and efficient lobby organization for our people."
In a prepared statement, the office of the federal Aboriginal affairs minister said the government's priority for funding is the "delivery of essential services and programs" for Aboriginal communities.