“A gun to our heads” Pressure to sign new funding agreement more widespread than first thought

Published in Windspeaker newspaper | March 27, 2013 | Circulation: 145,000

“Against the wall.” “Despicable.” “A gun to our heads.”

First Nations from coast to coast of Canada are using strong language in reaction to changes in this year’s financial contribution agreements from the federal government, with one Alberta band even planning to take a complaint to the United Nations if Aboriginal Affairs doesn’t budge, Windspeaker has learned.

In a problem that is affecting bands in almost every province, chiefs and councillors say some First Nations are being required to “sign off” or “endorse” controversial omnibus legislation, which has come under fire for gutting environmental review processes, imposing changes to band governance, and easing industrial development of reserve lands.

“Bills C-38 and C-45 are in the Comprehensive Financial Agreements (CFAs),” Chief Craig Makinaw, of Ermineskin Cree Nation in Alberta told Windspeaker. “Right now we’re talking to (Aboriginal Affairs) about that.

“It’s saying that – for the bands that sign off – they’re making reference to both of those bills, and most of us are against that. We’re kind of put up against the wall, especially if you’re a band that really depends on the CFAs… You’re put up against the wall: if you don’t sign off by a certain date, you lose your funding. Our education funding is really affected.”

But the government insists the concerns are misplaced, and that this year’s agreements in no way pressure bands to agree to legislation. As well, several Aboriginal leaders argue the agreements have always been contentious, and some wonder if Idle No More has simply woken up band members to an older problem around funding pressures on their leaders.

Makinaw, whose band receives roughly $13 million through the agreements, told Windspeaker that Ermineskin First Nation is hoping to pressure Aboriginal Affairs into removing the contentious clauses, but if that fails, the chief vowed to take a complaint to James Anaya, the UN’s Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

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