Feds to fiddle with First Nations’ funding

Ottawa wants to change the way it doles out money to self-governing First Nations and Inuit groups. It is proposing to establish a formula-based policy to replace the current model of negotiating each financial transfer for every one of Canada's 24 modern treaties.

Ottawa wants to change the way it doles out money to self-governing First Nations and Inuit groups.

It is proposing to establish a formula-based policy to replace the current model of negotiating each financial transfer for every one of Canada’s 24 modern treaties.

But those treaties, including the agreements for Yukon’s 11 self-governing First Nations, all say that the financial transfers must be negotiated.

The Department of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development intends to pass the new “fiscal harmonization policy” to cabinet by the end of the calendar year.

But if it does, Canada would be committing a direct breach of all 24 constitutionally-entrenched agreements it has signed with aboriginal governments in Canada, said Mitchell Stevens, co-chair of the national Land Claims Agreements Coalition, and president of the Nisga’a Nation in B.C., which is one of the first aboriginal groups in Canada to sign a land claims agreement.

Mitchell’s coalition represents all self-governing aboriginal groups across Canada, including the 11 self-governing First Nations in the Yukon. All together, those 24 land claims agreements affect more than 40 per cent of Canada’s lands, waters and resources.

The coalition got wind of Ottawa’s plans to pass the policy after meetings with federal officials last week.

The meeting was supposed to constitute round two of consultation with the self-governing aboriginal groups.

But that consultation has been a farce, said Stevens.

The federal department hasn’t given any response to the aboriginal governments’ concerns, he said.

And it hasn’t shared any real details about the policy with the aboriginal governments, Stevens added.

“How can we, as signatories to constitutionally protected agreements, agree to a policy which we had no part in developing or … which we have never even seen?” he asked. “They have a constitutional obligation per each respected agreement, which they have signed on behalf of the citizens of Canada.”

If Ottawa does pass the policy, there’s little room to turn back, and aboriginal governments will be left with really only one option: costly and lengthy court proceedings, said several Yukon First Nation chiefs.

The Yukon’s self-governing First Nations have publicly opposed the new “fiscal harmonization policy” for more than a year, comparing it to the formula-based and oppressive Indian Act.

According to the Yukon agreements, First Nations are supposed to negotiate financial transfers with Ottawa every five years.

This allows for changes as the aboriginal governments take on more responsibilities for their citizens and generate more of their own revenue, among other things.

For most Yukon First Nations, the transfers make up the majority of their budgets.

And Ottawa’s unwillingness to negotiate those transfers has already left one Yukon First Nation in trouble.

The Carcross/Tagish First Nation’s agreement ran out in April after it came to a stalemate with Ottawa last year. Ottawa refused to negotiate, offering the Tlingit group the same deal as it did to three other Yukon First Nations which were also up for a new transfer, said current deputy chief Danny Cresswell.

It was not a matter of money, but principle. Ottawa was offering more than Carcross/Tagish’s last transfer but by tabling a “take it or leave it” offer, Ottawa was breaking the legal promise it made by signing Carcross/Tagish’s agreement, Cresswell said.

Since then, Cresswell has been able to secure a six-month extension of the old cash flow and has until September until money runs out again.

Ottawa’s proposed fiscal harmonization policy would cut out negotiations across the board.

Right now, the process is not transparent, efficient, consistent, fair or timely enough, according to the federal department’s website.

But Ottawa causes the holdups, said Stevens, citing the frustration with having to go through Aboriginal Affairs instead of straight to finance officials, for example.

“There’s no fiscal harmonization policy that governs the provinces, so why then would there be one for self-governing First Nations?” asked Stevens. “We negotiated our way back into Canada to become full and equal partners, only to be insulted after the fact by a policy.”

The Nisga’a Nation’s agreement cost the B.C. group $80 million to negotiate more than 12 years ago. And it’s working, said Stevens.

First Nations are no different than provinces or territories, he said. And they get financial transfers. The Yukon depends on Ottawa for 83 per cent of its budget.

But if Ottawa really wants to get down and talk about who’s giving a hand out to whom, Stevens welcomes the discussion.

The tax revenue from resource development, on First Nations’ land across Canada is huge, and it all goes to the federal government, he said.

“Let’s talk about that revenue share of that tax so that we can pay our own way,” said Stevens. “We’re not objecting to paying our own way. I don’t think any aboriginal people in this country would object to paying their own way if they got a share of what rightfully belongs to them.”

And Ottawa’s pressure for aboriginal governments to develop “own-source revenues” has become a disincentive, said Stevens.

“We’re getting taxed on our tax,” he said. “Canada has to allow the agreements to be implemented. If they ever do, they’ll see the economic benefit it will bring to the country.”

Contact Roxanne Stasyszyn at


Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Benjamin Poudou, Mount MacIntyre’s ski club manager, poses for a photo in the club’s ski rental area on Nov. 16. The club has sold around 1,850 passes already this year, compared to 1067 passes on Oct. 31 last year. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Early season ski pass sales up as Yukoners prepare for pandemic winter

Season passe sales at Mount McIntyre for cross-country skiing are up by around 60 per cent this year

The City of Whitehorse will be spending $655,000 to upgrade the waste heat recovery system at the Canada Games Centre. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
New waste heat recovery system coming to the CGC

Council approves $655,000 project

Yukon First Nation Education Directorate education advocates and volunteers help to sort and distribute Christmas hamper grocery boxes outside Elijah Smith Elementary School on Feb. 23. (Rebecca Bradford Andrew/Submitted)
First Nation Education Directorate begins Christmas hamper program

Pick-ups for hampers are scheduled at local schools

Cyrine Candido, cashier, right, wipes down the new plexi-glass dividers at Superstore on March 28, before it was commonplace for them to wear masks. The Yukon government is relaunching the Yukon Essential Workers Income Support Program as the second wave of COVID-19 begins to take place in the territory. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Yukon Essential Workers Income Support Program extended to 32 weeks

More than 100 businesses in the territory applied for the first phase of the program

Cody Pederson of the CA Storm walks around LJ’s Sabres player Clay Plume during the ‘A’ division final of the 2019 Yukon Native Hockey Tournament. The 2021 Yukon Native Hockey Tournament, scheduled for March 25 to 28 in Whitehorse next year, was officially cancelled on Nov. 24 in a press release from organizers. (John Hopkins-Hill/Yukon News file)
2021 Yukon Native Hockey Tournament cancelled

The 2021 Yukon Native Hockey Tournament, scheduled for March 25 to 28… Continue reading

Lev Dolgachov/123rf
The Yukon’s Information and Privacy Commissioner stressed the need to safeguard personal information while shopping this holiday season in a press release on Nov. 24.
Information and Privacy Commissioner issues reminder about shopping

The Yukon’s Information and Privacy Commissioner Diane McLeod-McKay stressed the need to… Continue reading

Keith Lay speaks at a city council meeting on Dec. 4, 2017. Lay provided the lone submission to council on the city’s proposed $33 million capital spending plan for 2021 on Nov. 23, taking issue with a number of projects outlined. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Resident raises issues with city’s capital budget

Council to vote on budget in December

Beatrice Lorne was always remembered by gold rush veterans as the ‘Klondike Nightingale’. (Yukon Archives/Maggies Museum Collection)
History Hunter: Beatrice Lorne — The ‘Klondike Nightingale’

In June of 1929, 11 years after the end of the First… Continue reading

Samson Hartland is the executive director of the Yukon Chamber of Mines. The Yukon Chamber of Mines elected a new board of directors during its annual general meeting held virtually on Nov. 17. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
Yukon Chamber of Mines elects new board

The Yukon Chamber of Mines elected a new board of directors during… Continue reading

The Yukon Hospital Corporation has released its annual report for 2019-20, and — unsurprisingly — hospital visitations were down. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Annual report says COVID-19 had a large impact visitation numbers at Whitehorse General

The Yukon Hospital Corporation has released its annual report for 2019-20, and… Continue reading

Whitehorse City Hall. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
City hall, briefly

A look at decisions made by Whitehorse city council this week

Most Read