Saik’uz First Nation’s federal funding continues to decrease and Chief Stanley Thomas is worried the latest drop may force him to make severe cutbacks.
“The band is already stricken by poverty and this means pure poverty. How do I make a life for people when there’s no jobs and the funding keeps getting less and less,” he said.
In 2008 the band received more than $3 million in funding but this year the contract between the First Nation and Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada (AANDC) is just shy of $1.8 million.
Saik’uz did receive an initial $2.2 million for 2014-2015 and this amount increased to $2.5 million later in the year due to additional proposal-based funding secured by the First Nation. However, an audit of the 2013-2014 fiscal year indicated $386,000 provided by AANDC for social programs was not spent, Susan Cuthbert, AANDC communications officer, said in an email.
“Due to the timing of the First Nation’s audit submission and AANDC’s processing time, the funds will be recovered in fiscal 2015-2016. The $386,600 being recovered will be deducted off funding to the First Nation this year,” she said.
Sandra Harasin, finance manager for Saik’uz, said half the amount received this year will go toward social assistance, the other half to everything else.
“We don’t have money for housing, or recreation for the kids, anything considered a luxury,” she said. “The band is a municipality, we have water and sewer, a social services department, education department, housing department, there are all these departments but with such little money people have to wear five hats.”
Excluding social assistance, bands must now apply for additional funding due to changes made by AANDC in their money-funding process. In some cases the band must match dollar-for-dollar to receive funding and any money not used must be returned back.
“We must meet their rules and regulations, they don’t just give us money. There’s more than 200 First Nations in B.C. and many of them have economic opportunities. We’re 14 kilometres away [from Vanderhoof] but we still don’t have any rental properties or economic development up here so we have no way of getting our own source of funding.”
A single person on assistance at Saik’uz makes $235 dollars a month for living expenses.
“And to get that they have to follow rules too. They’re not allowed to make more than $200 a month extra or their amount is reduced and if they make $435 they get cut off altogether,” Harasin said.
Quarterly reports from AANDC showed the number of Saik’uz members needing social programs has decreased over the past two fiscal years and as a result funding for the First Nation has also decreased, Cuthbert said.
Yet Harasin says Saik’uz has a growing population.
“The number [of people on assistance] has decreased from last year but we are still one of the highest case loads in the province,” Harasin said.
So far this year about 110 people are on social assistance at Saik’uz, down from about 130 last year.
Through the Transparency Act, First Nations were also required to reveal their chief and council expenditures and all other financial records online.
“We can’t even pay ourselves and after comparing online we are the second poorest administration in all of Canada,” Chief Thomas said, adding he will need to get creative in these tough financial times.