The federal government is looking to overhaul the ways it doles out public funds to Indian governments, documents leaked from Indian and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) indicate.
The documents, marked "secret" and published on the Globe and Mail's website, show that INAC Minister Chuck Strahl is recommending a "new program to foster more effective and accountable First Nation governance."
The current structure, he writes, is an "out-dated suite of programs" that needs to be re-designed in order to provide Band and Tribal Councils with federal funding for "core governance programs."
INAC currently doles out money to band councils through five programs:
· the Tribal Council Program (TCP), which helps councils deliver programs and services to their communities;
· the Professional and Institutional Development Program (PIDP), which gives $13.5 million in funding for human and institutional development such as governance systems, management education and community awareness;
· Band Support Funding (BSF), which gives $216 million to First Nations to help them meet costs of local government and administer departmentally-funded services;
· Band Employee Benefits (BEB), which helps support employers' shares of costs of pension plans for Band employees;
· Band Advisory Services (BAS), which gives $114 million in funding to First Nations not affiliated with tribal councils to help them access independent advisory services.
Strahl states in a memo to cabinet that the current programs, designed 25 years ago, have not been changed to reflect or fund "new responsibilities facing First Nations." First Nation leaders, he writes, have been seeking to "close the growing governance deficit" prompted by these programs.
Returns on investments in education, housing and utilities are in "peril" if they're being "administered by Councils that are ill-equipped to do the job that all Canadians expect of their government."
In a letter posted on the INAC website, Strahl writes that discussions are taking place with various organizations and groups including the Assembly of First Nations to figure out which reforms would best suit band councils across Canada. His letter also notes that the current programs expire on March 31, 2010, just over a year from now.
A spokeswoman with Indian and Northern Affairs Canada said the re-design of Indian Government Support programs is a chance for the federal government to "modernize and simplify" the programs, but she didn't give any specifics.
She also said that INAC is proceeding with an investigation as to how the document got leaked.
"INAC continues to work with a variety of First Nations organizations in developing capacity within the First Nations to improve the processes used to maintain an accountable government," Patricia Valladao said.
"The re-design of the Indian Government Support programs presents this opportunity to modernize and simplify the reporting process of the programs in a way that supports the efforts of First Nations governments to become modern, effective and accountable."
Mount Currie Band Chief Leonard Andrew hadn't yet seen the documents leaked to the Globe, but he said that Indian and Northern Affairs Canada has long been working to change the funding regime for First Nation governments.
"They've always been attempting to do that," he said. "I guess the accountability comes into play somewhere along the line in regards to how do we govern ourselves, as nations. That attempt has been there for a long, long time."