skpic bernard valcourt

Minister of Aboriginal Affairs Bernard Valcourt said the federal government cut funds to the FSIN because the organization was using program dollars for day to day operations. (CBC)

Bernard Valcourt, the federal minister of Aboriginal Affairs, is defending recent cuts in funding to the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations.

Valcourt, who was in Saskatoon Friday for an announcement about a job training initiative, said the cuts were made because the FSIN was using some funding for its day to day operations, instead of a specific program.

"The project-funding money became core operational funds that were not supposed to be core funding every year after year," Valcourt explained.

According to the FSIN, the organization is losing $1.1 million dollars in federal funding as of April 1. That is on top of another cut, of about $800,000, that took effect a year ago.

The organization has issued layoff notices to 66 staff -- essentially its entire workforce -- to take effect at the end of March. However, FSIN Chief Perry Bellegarde said some notices may be rescinded.

Valcourt insisted that the federal government was not spending less on First Nations, but was directing its dollars elsewhere.

"We're not taking the money away," Valcourt said. "We are insuring that the finite resources we have will be targeted towards those priority projects that we share."

Earlier in the week, Bellegarde said staffing decisions at the organization will depend on how successful he is at securing funding to replace the cuts.

According to the FSIN's 2012 Annual Report, the organization has expenses of just under $20 million. About $7.2 million is for salaries and benefits.