Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett in Whitehorse in 2017. Bennett announced a new policy on Aug. 27 in Vancouver that directs funding for self-governing Indigenous governments be based on the number of citizens rather than status holders. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)

Canada, Indigenous governments develop new self-government fiscal policy

The new fiscal policy was announced on Aug. 27

Canada is to fund self-governing Indigenous governments based on the number of citizens rather than status holders, a senior policy director with the federal government told the News this week.

“This is the first time that they have a policy that actually accounts for the true and sole costs of Indigenous self-government,” said Jake Kennedy, who’s with Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs. “We haven’t had a policy that calculates that. I think it’s huge, the opportunity to see them adequately funded.”

The development is part of a new self-government fiscal policy. Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett announced it on Aug. 27 in Vancouver.

“This policy is intended to provide a principled approach to fiscal relations with all Indigenous Governments in a manner that is consistent with the commitments made in self-government agreements and modern treaties,” the policy states. “Canada also recognizes that it has an obligation to make good faith efforts to ensure that individual fiscal agreements comply with their respective self-government agreements and modern treaties.”

That it was co-developed is being heralded as a first by the federal government.

“We sat down with them right from the start with a blank page and built this policy together,” Kennedy said. “It’s as much as a reflection of their interests as it is of Canada’s interests.”

Yukon MP Larry Bagnell said the policy acts as a roadmap for future negotiations with First Nations that aren’t self-governing.

“It has to work, and that’s the point of having this new policy, to make sure that they have enough money to run their governments so that the other First Nations in Canada are interested in following these success stories,” he said.

Earlier this year, the Yukon Supreme Court ordered the federal government to hinge negotiations on the number of citizens belonging to the Teslin Tlingit Council (TTC). The First Nation took the Attorney General of Canada to court in 2017, arguing that Canada hadn’t negotiated in good faith, that funding had stalled.

The TTC and Canada hadn’t signed a new funding transfer agreement (FTA) since 2010. FTAs are supposed to be renewed every five years. Instead, the 2010 FTA has been extended several times. The last extension expired on March 31.

A key issue highlighted in Justice Ron Veale’s decision was the fact that Canada had only provided funding to TTC based on how many of its citizens were “status Indians” instead of how many citizens the TTC has overall, resulting in years of chronic underfunding.

TTC has over 800 citizens, 25 per cent of which are non-status.

Chief Richard Sidney didn’t return multiple requests for comment.

As a collective, 25 self-governing groups included in the policy could receive more than double the funding, said Kennedy, noting that it could fluctuate because treaty negotiations are ongoing. He couldn’t provide a concrete figure.

The News followed up with the department requesting one but didn’t receive a response by press time.

Ratification occurs during FTAs per Indigenous government, Kennedy said.

“Canada and Indigenous Government representatives are continuing assessments of Indigenous Government expenditure need to be reflected in the funding methodologies of this policy,” the policy says.

Bagnell said roughly $185 million could be slotted for self-governing First Nations in the Yukon.

The policy makes funding more flexible, he continued. Money was fixed before it was brought in, he said.

Kennedy said funding changes are to be rolled out incrementally.

“Other components are gonna come,” he said, “so we have to look at down the line when we look at education or infrastructure funding, then we’ll look at what that service population is, but as of right now, we’ve completed governance and we have made the transition to citizen-based funding.”

All 11 self-governing Yukon First Nations have participated throughout the process, Kennedy said, noting that, as of Aug. 27, 20 Indigenous governments in Canada had signed on. The federal government will continue to negotiate with the other self-governing Indigenous governments to seek renewed fiscal transfer agreements, according to Ottawa’s statement

A spokesperson with the federal government said that Kwanlin Dün First Nation, Little Salmon Carmacks, Teslin Tlingit Council and Vuntut Gwitchin are part of the policy.

Chiefs of these four First Nations were either unavailable to speak to the issue or didn’t respond to multiple requests for comment, including, as mentioned Sidney, but also Doris Bill, chief of Kwanlin Dün.

The policy will be reviewed and renewed every five years or less.

With files from Jackie Hong

Contact Julien Gignac at julien.gignac@yukon-news.com

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