Five Saskatchewan First Nations reject funding agreements

Five Saskatchewan First Nations won't sign new funding agreements with the federal government.

Chiefs say new federal rules ask for too much control

Thunderchild First Nation Chief Delbert Wapass and Onion Lake Cree Nation Chief Wallace Fox say they won't be signing on to funding agreements with the federal government. (David Shield/CBC)

Five First Nations across Saskatchewan say they won't be signing on to federal funding agreements.

The Thunderchild, Onion Lake, Peepeekisis, English River and Sakimay First Nations all said new federal rules that are attached to basic band funding are unacceptable.

Thunderchild First Nation Chief Delbert Wapass said he has issues with a number of conditions that come with the money. He said new rules grant the federal government immunity from any future problems.

"What if they appoint a third-party manager or an expert resource and they come and mess up our community?" he said. "Who do we go after then? Who do our people hold accountable? Nobody. Because that's what the agreement says, you've signed on to that."

The chiefs said there is a culture of mistrust between bureaucrats at Aboriginal Affairs and First Nations. They are asking for direct talks with Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt.

"They are still telling us what to do," Onion Lake Cree Nation Chief Wallace Fox said. "They are still defining our budgets without consultation, without understanding the needs of our people."

According to the group, 20 other Saskatchewan First Nations have signed agreements under duress.

Future consequences

It's still not clear what action Aboriginal Affairs will take if the First Nations don't sign the agreements. The money is used for everything from teacher's salaries to housing.

"We have a plan B," Chief Fox said. "We'll take care of our own people. That's all government needs to know. Our people have asked us that same question, so we're not going to disrupt the livelihood of our people, when this time comes."

It's possible the federal government could put the First Nations into third-party management, where an independent manager is brought in to run band operations. Third-party status is normally used when bands enter bankruptcy.

"We have unqualified audits galore for many, many years in our community," Chief Fox said. "How could they justify that? They have no legal basis and mandate."

Fox said he welcomes challenging the federal government.

"What if Onion Lake doesn't take a dime and not sign the agreement?" he said. "What happens then? What kind of control do you have over Onion Lake then? Because that's how they've controlled First Nations for many, many years."

The deadline to sign the agreements is April 1st.

No one from the federal government was available to comment.