After three years of tense negotiations, the Carcross/Tagish First Nation has finally reached a financial agreement with Ottawa.
The six-year deal will provide about $9.5 million per year to the First Nation, an increase from the $7.3 million it received annually in its previous agreement, which expired in May 2011.
Carcross/Tagish First Nation Chief Danny Cresswell made the announcement Monday. He said there were a lot of obstacles along the way but they finally got it done.
“In that time the minister changed and other people left, so we just about started over on some of the stuff,” he said.
“We just had to keep working on it. There’s so much going on in those departments in Ottawa.
“I had to go down there a few times to meet with them and keep pushing this, but with the amount of work they have to do, I don’t know how they do it.”
Negotiations between the First Nation and Ottawa had broken down on a number of occasions since 2011.
When talks ground to a halt in January 2012, the First Nation blamed the federal government for dictating all the terms of a new agreement.
Cresswell was elected as chief in May 2012, and there was a glimmer of hope two months later when Ottawa announced its intentions to reach a stop-gap funding agreement with the First Nation. But meetings that were supposed to take place were cancelled without explanation.
Meanwhile, citizens of the First Nation – which currently has more than 1,000 members – kept telling its leadership not to sign the offer on the table.
Cresswell said negotiations finally began moving along when Bernard Valcourt became minister of Aboriginal Affairs in Feb. 2013. “We started forming a relationship and eventually came to an understanding,” he said.
Now the First Nation must decide where the new money will go. A new community centre could be in the works, said Cresswell.
Such a building has been discussed since the 1970s. Ideally it would house a potlatch house, a learning centre, and space for youth and elders, said Cresswell.
“Right now we’re using a school gym for our funerals, and that’s not good,” he said.
“In all of the Southern Lakes area we don’t have a facility where we can host 300, 400, 500 people. We wouldn’t have to worry about another building for the next 45-50 years if we can build this one.”
This new funding gives the First Nation the flexibility in its budget to start that project as soon as the spring, Cresswell said.
Citizens have also suggested spending the new money on such things as a year-round greenhouse, improvements to the local school and post-secondary grants, among others.
Cresswell said the additional $2.2 million isn’t a lot of money when you consider how far it has to go for an entire First Nation.
“I don’t just want to say ‘OK departments, what do you need?’ because everyone is going to be looking at this money,” he said.
“We need to sit down with our people and create a vision, and put that money towards our priorities.”
The new financial transfer agreement will be in place until March 31, 2020.
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