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Feds back down and restore funding for Onion Lake

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    Feds back down and restore funding for Onion Lake BY JEFF DAVIS, THE STARPHOENIXMARCH 30, 2013 9:09 AM
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 30, 2013
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      Feds back down and restore funding for Onion Lake


      Aboriginal Affairs is waving the white flag in its confrontation with the Onion Lake Cree Nation over new financial transparency rules, Chief Wallace Fox said Thursday.

      Fox said his office received an email late Wednesday from the federal department's director general responsible for Saskatchewan, backing down from threats to freeze funding for the reserve.

      "They're going to reinstate our funds April 10, the letter states, as the minister's office has directed," Fox said.

      Bill C-27, which came into force this week, requires First Nation governments to publicize audited financial statements and the salaries and expenses of their chiefs and councillors.

      The new law includes sections allowing the government to cut off funding to any band that fails to abide by the new rules, but Fox said Wednesday that Onion Lake will not comply with the new rules.

      Fox is suspicious of the move to reinstate funding.

      "I don't know what the motive is behind it, but it certainly is not going to be in our favour," he said. "They're basically covering their butts by funding us.

      "Why would they be scared of one Indian band, one chief and council, out of 630 reserves in Canada?" he said. "Why would they be so scared that they'd give the money back? ... They're up to something."

      After many betrayals and games in the past, Fox said, his band has little faith in the department.

      "Thirty years ago one of the elders told me, do not ever trust Indian Affairs or the government," he said. "They cannot be trusted, and there is always an angle."

      Conservative Saskatoon-area MP Kelly Block introduced bill C-27, and said she is "very pleased" it has passed into law.

      "Obviously this is legislation members from First Nations communities have been calling for," she said. "It's important that members of First Nations communities and the public know where funds are being spent."

      Block said that while Onion Lake may indeed have strong financial reporting processes already in place, many First Nations communities do not.

      "This issue is treated very differently from First Nation to First Nation," she said. "There are some that publicly and proactively disclose this information, and then there are those that simply refuse."

      Block would not speculate about what action may be taken against First Nations that defy the new reporting requirements.

      Jan O'Driscoll, a spokesman for Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt, characterized the changes made by bill C-27 as "solely administrative in nature."

      He said no lawsuit has been filed by the Onion Lake First Nation, and that the Aboriginal Affairs department has invited the band's leaders to discuss the issue.

      "Departmental officials are prepared to meet with (the band council) at their earliest convenience to further understand and discuss the exact nature of their concerns respecting the 2013-2014 Funding Agreement amendment," O'Driscoll said.

      Fox said the Aboriginal Affairs department has requested the band meet with junior officials, and that he will request a meeting directly with Minister Valcourt.

      "We want to meet with somebody with authority," he said.

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