Calgary Herald

Budget impasse threatens jobs for tribal staff

Stoney Nakoda federal funds frozen by dispute

- JaMie koMarnicki jkomarniCk­i@CalgaryHer­ald.Com

For the second time this year, leaders with the troubled Stoney Nakoda First Nation are warning of mass layoffs, claiming cash will dry up due to a budget impasse.

And in a statement on the Stoney Nakoda website, Bearspaw Chief David Bearspaw and Chiniki Chief BruceLabel­leplacethe­blame—again — with their outspoken counterpar­t, Wesley Chief Ernest Wesley.

Wesley’s refusal since March to sign the First Nation’s 2011-12 budget has “jeopardize­d the tribe’s credit rating and has forced the June 13 issuance of 450 layoff notices, effective June 27, 2011,” according to an online statement.

The cash in question amounts to roughly $29.5 million of the tribe’s own funds held in trust by the federal government. The Stoney Nakoda must issue a band council resolution — signed by at least two chiefs and three council members each from Chiniki, Wesley and Bearspaw tribes — to the federal government to get access to the funds.

The Wesley chief and council, however, are refusing to sign the document until a co-manager is put in place to oversee spending.

Stoney Nakoda has been dealing with governance issues for several months that have played out internally and through the courts.

The current situation has echoes of a stalemate in March. Wesley held off signing a federal funding agreement — worth $33.95 million in the 2011-12 fiscal year — until his concerns about financial misman- agement were addressed.

At that time, tribal administra­tors warned of layoffs; in the current situation, however, the 450 layoff notices have been issued.

Wesley band CEO Hopeton Loudon said a meeting is scheduled for later this week with the Department of Aboriginal Affairs and the three Stoney Nakoda member tribes where an agreement could be signed to put a co-manager in place. At that point, Wesley would put his name to the budget documents, Loudon said.

“Clearly, we don’t want folks to get laid off and not have employment,” said Loudon. “There’s a window of opportunit­y for folks to sit down and negotiate in good faith, look at win-win and conclude this.”

According to the online statement from Bearspaw and Chiniki officials, Wesley’s claims of financial mismanagem­ent have been refuted in tribal council meetings.

In a June 14 elders meetings with the Chiniki and Bearspaw Nations, the elders “drafted a resolution to declare a state of emergency and for the suspension and removal of Wesley for his failure to deal with governance issues.”

The two chiefs say the layoffs could lead to loss of heating, electricit­y and sewage services because bills can’t be paid.

Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Developmen­t Canada, (formerly Indian and Northern Affairs Canada), however, can only release the funds when the department is supplied with an appropriat­e band council resolution, said spokesman Glenn Luff.

“It’s their own rules. It’s up to them to resolve it.”

The escalating situation is raising some concerns, Luff said. The government would only step in if there’s evidence federally funded services aren’t being delivered.

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