First Nations in the Northwest Territories say there is no “political statement” behind their failure to file financial statements by a federal government deadline.
Both the Yellowknives Dene First Nation and Hay River’s K’atlodeeche First Nation will miss the cut-off point for publication of audited statements – including the salaries of chiefs and councillors – and stand to lose some federal funding as a result.
They are among 18 First Nations in the NWT on a federal government list of transgressors.
However, both First Nations say the complexity of the government’s demands is behind their missing paperwork, as opposed to any political disagreement.
“Meeting the deadline has been really difficult. It’s no longer just a simple little audit like it used to be – it’s getting more and more difficult for the auditors to be able to complete the work,” said Chief Roy Fabian of the K’atlodeeche First Nation.
“The stipulations of the Transparency Act mean they have to do a lot of extra work just to make sure all the information is transparent. That extra work is costing us more money.
“Over the years, Indian Affairs cut back on our funding quite a bit and then they increased our responsibilities. They’re making it more and more difficult for the auditors to complete the audit on time.”
Federal government: List of First Nations missing the filing deadline
In a statement on Tuesday morning, Aboriginal Affairs minister Bernard Valcourt said: “Beginning September 1, 2015, bands that have yet to comply with the law will see funding for non-essential services withheld.”
Chief Edward Sangris told Moose FM his Yellowknives Dene First Nation is also struggling to meet the federal government’s demands.
Sangris feels the government should assist First Nations rather than issue financial punishments.
“They need to give us more time if they want us to comply, and we shouldn’t have to audit every little pen and pencil we purchase,” he said.
“They give us roughly about $600,000 to operate with and that’s what we should be reporting on. Now, they want everything under the moon.”
‘We’re about a week behind’
Of particular concern to Sangris – and, elsewhere in Canada, the subject of legal action – is the federal demand that money involved in commercial ventures also be included in the statements.
Many First Nations believe commercial revenues, as distinct from public funding, should not be included in information published online.
“We’ve had disputes in the past, where we said we’d only report what the government gave us – and not what the economic arm is making,” said Sangris.
“But we are complying. We complied last year and just made the deadline last year. This year, the government has given us such a short timeline and some of our joint ventures are huge, so it’s putting us in a difficult position to report on time.
“I think we’re about a week behind. All the auditors are in high demand at this time of year and people are going on holiday, so it’s really difficult.”
Fabian added: “There’s no political statement or anything. The only reason we don’t have the audit posted is because it isn’t done.
“Now they’re punishing us because we’re not on time, but we’re doing the best we can. The way it’s set up makes it almost impossible to meet that deadline.”