The federal government will soon make changes to its decades-old funding model for First Nations, Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett announced on Tuesday.

Those changes will be the ability for First Nations governments to carry over unused money between years and more stability of funding for long-term, multi-year infrastructure projects like housing developments, which often needed to have their funding renewed each year.

Bennett made the announcement in Regina at the Assembly of First Nations annual meetings, which hundreds of chiefs from across the country are attending until Thursday.

"This is action," she said. "It acknowledges that greater fiscal and financial autonomy is necessary for First Nations to provide good governance for their communities and respond appropriately to the priorities and challenges."

Scheer AFN

Federal Conservatives leader Andrew Scheer, also a Saskatchewan MP, speaks to chiefs at the Assembly of First Nations meetings underway in Regina on Tuesday. (Tim Fontaine/CBC)

An end to 'spend it or lose it'

At the announcement, National Chief Perry Bellegarde said the new policy changes will soon mean an end to what he called "March Madness," where First Nations governments scramble to spend funding dollars before any unused funds were clawed back or returned to Ottawa.

"When those funds get sent back to Ottawa, it's not because those funds weren't needed," Bellegarde told the chiefs. "You won't have to panic now, you won't have to scramble now."

"For example, this means that more First Nations communities can start housing projects knowing that they have the financial flexibility to finish them," Bennett said.

The funding announcement was part of an update the Indigenous Affairs minister provided to chiefs on a "new fiscal relationship" promised to First Nations at the annual general assembly last year in Niagara Falls, Ont.

The ability to carry over funding could kick in as soon as April 2018, Bellegarde said. The changes come after consultations with communities over the past year.

Chiefs 'not in bed with any one party' 

Bennett wasn't the only politician in attendance.

Several federal cabinet ministers attended the meetings on Tuesday, including Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale and Minsister of Justice and Attorney General Jody Wilson-Raybould.

Also in attendance was Regina Mayor Michael Fougere, NDP leadership candidate Jagmeet Singh, who was in the grand entry procession and Conservative leader Andrew Scheer, who spoke to the chiefs in an assembly in the morning.

"We have to build relationships with all these leaders," said Bellegarde. 

"It's not that we're in bed with any one party."