Ottawa has appointed a third-party manager to straighten out Liard First Nation’s financial mess.
Chief Daniel Morris responded yesterday with a scathing news release that blames the Department of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada for avoiding the needs of the community.
He also lashed out at the previous executive director and administration, which he blames for leaving the First Nation’s finances in disarray.
“We were elected to manage the affairs of the Liard First Nation last December, and we are shocked to find the previous administration left us with a financial ledger that borders on bankruptcy,” he wrote in the release.
“We entrusted in the former executive director, AANDC and the recipient appointed advisor to move us forward; yet, found ourselves repeatedly ignored.”
Liard First Nation received a letter on Aug. 26, stating it would be placed under third party management.
Aboriginal Affairs describes this measure as a last resort, to be taken as a temporary measure to ensure the continued delivery of programs and services to the community.
The department uses a competitive bidding process to establish a list of managers and chooses one when it needs its services. Ganhada Management Group won the job yesterday.
Approximately 155 First Nations are currently under third-party management in Canada.
According to the Aboriginal Affairs website, LFN must now develop a repayment plan that is acceptable to the department.
In January this year, about 40 First Nation staff were laid off because of financial difficulties stemming from unpaid debts.
Morris said Aboriginal Affairs has continuously ignored complaints that the previous administration is to blame, and the appointed advisor isn’t working out. “Aboriginal Affairs wrote us a letter and they just look at it as an LFN issue, although they have it on record they’ve talked to the previous administration, which owed funds to the federal government,” he told the News yesterday.
“To me this seems like they are trying to strong-arm a new government in the First Nation.”
Morris and his council were elected in December. He said the advisor was hired without his or council’s approval.
“We talked to the regional director about it, but they didn’t seem too worried about dealing with that,” he said.
“She (advisor) had two previous finance workers that couldn’t work with her.”
The First Nation currently owes Aboriginal Affairs $708,000. Approximately $200,000 to $300,000 has already been repaid, said Morris.
That money can only come from program dollars, he said, and that will continue to cripple the community.
“We are going to look somewhere else to talk about a repayment plan because the region has already set up its mind,” he said.
“We used to have hot meals for elders, they used to have wood to offset their fuel bills. We don’t have that anymore. The hardship is going to be felt by our elders.”
Denelle Spencer, a governance advisor for the First Nation, said it’s important to note that the community has done everything in its power to meet Aboriginal Affairs’ requirements.
“What they’re asking for is the impossible,” she said.
“In good faith, Liard First Nation has been making some payments, a lot more than the previous administration has made in the past. It’s an indication that LFN is doing everything it can under the circumstances.”
Morris said he is disappointed that a federal department would not think of the bigger picture.
“There is a lot of economic development that could happen within the region,” he said.
“A government that acts like this, it’s not reasonable. It’s not helping the cause. They should have come back with a more positive attitude to see how we can develop a better government model, instead of worrying about the money that’s been spent.”
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