Thunder Bay

First Nation pressed for financial reports during suicide crisis

A small First Nation in northern Ontario is concerned its suicide crisis is turning into a financial crisis for the community.

Neskantaga worries crisis will lead to imposition of outside financial management

The state of emergency in Neskantaga prompted daily conference calls with officials from all levels of government. Emergency response co-ordinator Chris Moonias (left), Chief Peter Moonias (centre) and Matawa CEO David Paul Achneepineskum (right) took the call from the band office last week. (Jody Porter/CBC)

A small First Nation in northern Ontario is concerned its suicide crisis is turning into a financial crisis for the community.

Neskantaga First Nation declared a state of emergency April 17 after two young men committed suicide within days of each other. Leaders say, on average, 10 people have attempted suicide every month since the beginning of the year.

Neskantaga band councillor Roy Moonias says Aboriginal Affairs is refusing to provide any additional funds for the suicide crisis until backlogged financial reports are filed. (Jody Porter/CBC)

But help has been slow in coming to the First Nation and the band council now fears its finances are under increased scrutiny by the government and spiralling out of control.

Councillor Roy Moonias said last week that Aboriginal Affairs was not releasing any additional funding to deal with the crisis until outstanding financial reports were complete.

After seven tragic deaths in 10 months, most administrators in Neskantaga are off on bereavement leave and there is little capacity in the First Nation to complete the reporting.

"We can't think, we can't function, we can't do some of the paperwork because we're busy dealing with other stuff...dealing with lives," emergency response coordinator Chris Moonias shouted during a conference call with Aboriginal Affairs representatives last week.

"That's why we're asking you -- help," he added. "If you don't understand it, come to the community and see for yourself. When you tell me to write a report about it, that's b.s."

Neskantaga First Nation is currently in a co-management position with Aboriginal Affairs. That means an accountant in Thunder Bay is helping the community manage its government funding, but the First Nation still has some say in how it is spent.

But the band council is afraid Aboriginal Affairs is using the current crisis to leverage backlogged financial reports. They fear that will land it in third-party management, where the council would have little say in how any money is spent.

There is no road to Neskantaga, so any support or supplies coming to the community must travel by plane, adding to the cost. (Jody Porter/CBC)

Chief Peter Moonias said Neskantaga would not be in such a difficult position if it received adequate funding in the first place.

"That's why our books don't sit well with anybody with the government," he said. "We're very much underfunded in every program we have."

In response to questions from CBC News, Aboriginal Affairs said it will continue to flow funding for essential programs in Neskantaga during its state of emergency.

But a spokesperson did not answer CBC's question about the possibility a third-party manager would be imposed.

In a written statement, Linda Britt said only that the department will "continue working closely with our federal, provincial and First Nation partners to help ensure the safety of the community and its members."