Transparency Act deadline missed by 19 of 22 N.W.T. First Nations
2014-2015 holdouts could be cut off from non-essential funding Sept. 1
Nineteen of 22 First Nations in the Northwest Territories are among 247 across the country that have yet to file their 2014-2015 financial statements on the Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada website, despite the July 28 deadline.
The 247 figure is as of this past Thursday, with those missing the deadline at risk of having some of their funding withheld.
The federal department says communities that missed the deadline have been notified.
"If these documents are not published by Aug. 28, the department will be withholding their funding for non-essential programs ... beginning Sept. 1, 2015," it said.
The First Nations Financial Transparency Act does not apply to self-governed First Nations, such as the Tlicho, which governs a region of four communities near Yellowknife.
The audits include the salaries of chiefs and councillors.
The First Nations Financial Transparency Act came into effect last year. It's been in place longer than Gladys Norwegian, chief of the Jean Marie River First Nation, has been in politics.
"It is what it is and I don't have a problem with it," Norwegian said.
The Jean Marie River First Nation has 140 members and only about 40 live in the community, which borders the Mackenzie River.
"We are such a small band, we really don't have large band revenue that we can speak of, as business, so until we get there, I am OK with the Transparency Act."
But she can't understand why she received a letter in the mail from Aboriginal Affairs on Wednesday about the First Nation's outstanding financial statements.
"Our auditor had sent in the audit report, the same way as he did last year, before the cut-off date," she said.
Another community on the tardy list is the K'atlodeeche First Nation near Hay River, N.W.T.
Chief Roy Fabian says the band's audit isn't yet complete.
In an email, Fabian wrote, "the stipulations for doing the audit each year is getting more and more difficult for First Nations' auditors to complete the reports by the July 29 deadline. Once we get the audit we will post it."
The federal government was in court in Saskatoon this week to try to force eight First Nations that didn't file financial statements for 2013-2014 to open their books. It has also filed court applications against other bands, including Yukon's Liard First Nation, that didn't file statements last year.
The Onion Lake band in Saskatchewan is challenging the validity and constitutionality of the law, saying it has no issue providing what Ottawa wants under the act. However, it objects to making the information public on the government's website. Its lawyer argues posting those records online would cause havoc to the businesses owned by the band as it would put competitors at an advantage.
He said he wants the federal government to stop enforcing the act until the federal court makes a decision and releases what he calls "Indian monies" from the Treasury Board of Canada.
"We are now into the second quarter and if they are not getting money there's a great burden on their capacity to function as a governing body," Erasmus said.
Northern leader wants apology
Erasmus blames the Canadian Taxpayers Federation (CTF) for misleading the public when it lobbied for the legislation.
"There ought to be an apology from the taxpayers association because they've caused a great deal of hardship in our communities," he said.
Todd MacKay, prairie director of the CTF, said the organization still supports the legislation.
"I am not going to apologize for this," MacKay said.
"It makes no sense to say that First Nations people have to go to the band office and humbly ask to see the documentation when every other Canadian can get this information by simply Googling it, whether from city hall or from whichever government they are interested in."
While MacKay and Erasmus are on opposite sides, they agree on one thing: This should be a federal election issue.