Aboriginal Affairs could withhold federal funding from First Nation communities that have not disclosed their financial information.
Under the First Nations Financial Transparency Act, First Nation communities are required to publicly post financial information online every year — including the salaries of chiefs and councillors.
When the Act came into effect last year, nearly all First Nation communities complied. This year, however, 197 First Nation communities had not shared their financial information by the deadline. As of Sept. 1, the figure had been updated by Aboriginal Affairs to 191 First Nations.
The department says those First Nations are at risk of losing funding for “non-essential” programs and services if they do not fall in line.
One of those communities is the Grassy Narrows First Nation in northwestern Ontario. Chief Roger Fobister, Sr. says he did not even know they were on the list. Though he does not agree with the Act, he says the community has been trying to comply with it.
“I think it’s an infringement to our sovereignty rights to be forced to comply,” he said.
“We have very good audits in our community, we handled our money quite well, so to be forced to do something like that I think is against our community’s wishes.”
Last year, eight First Nations that had not complied with the Act were taken to court by the federal government.
The Onion Lake Cree Nation, which straddles Alberta and Saskatchewan, fought back. Last week, they were in a Saskatoon court asking the federal government to drop their case.
After two days of hearings in Saskatoon, a Federal Court justice reserved his decision.
In a press conference following those hearings, Onion Lake Chief Wallace Fox argued that the Act was unconstitutional and violated treaty rights.
“Enough is enough. We have to stand for our rights,” he said. “Silence is deemed acceptance and we’re no longer going to be silent.”
Chief Fox says Onion Lake holds an annual public meeting where the band’s finances, including salaries, are presented to community members. He challenged Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt to do the same.