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AFN budget could swell to $20 million.

SASKATOON

A long list of new (or newly revived) initiatives that the Assembly of First Nations hopes to undertake over the coming months will cost a fist-full of money, some say upwards of $20 million.

Inquiries have shown that budgets for few of the initiatives have been finalized, but there is talk that the money flowing through AFN will again swell to the amount not seen since National Chief Phil Fontaine held office in the late 1990s.

The department of Indian Affairs (INAC), which provides most of the AFN's funding, scaled things down dramatically when Matthew Coon Come was national chief. Coon Come claimed it was a government tactic employed to punish him for criticizing the government for its lack of action on treaty and Aboriginal rights.

The AFN budget provided by INAC when Fontaine was elected in 1997 was just $3.6 million, the highest amount former national chief Ovide Mercredi had managed to negotiate during his previous three years in office.

Fontaine's first budget with INAC in 1997-98 was $6.8 million. It rose the next year to $15 million and then again to $19.9 million the following year.

In his last year before being defeated by Coon Come, the budget was $20.4 million. Coon Come presided over a precipitous drop to $10.7 million and then to $8.9 million in 2002-2003.

Fontaine managed to get the numbers up slightly after being re-elected last July, but there's a huge number of proposals being discussed that could raise the stakes significantly.

INAC sources say 2004-05 funding for the AFN from the department is $9 million, but Dianne Laursen, an INAC communications officer, said negotiation on special programs continues on a project by project basis.

During the three-day confederacy in Saskatoon in May, Fontaine said the AFN will create the following positions or programs: an auditor general for First Nations, a First Nations ombudsman and a chief medical officer for First Nations' health matters. He also said he will reestablish the women's and Elder's councils and create an urban desk, a northern secretariat and a Newfoundland secretariat.

Windspeaker asked Fontaine if the announcements were an indication that the AFN budget had been increased.

"Well, it's an interesting question because it took us a long while to resolve budget-related issues the previous year," he replied. "Because I came in mid-stream, so we had Minister Nault for five months, and we didn't conclude our negotiations until recently. And now we're working on ... well, we have achieved some good success in terms of the current fiscal year. And we' re in a much better position than we were when I was re-elected in July."

During his speech to the chiefs at the confederacy, Indian Affairs Minister Andy Mitchell referred to an AFN document that is currently being developed called Building a Joint Agenda. The minister also said the creation of a joint "AFN/INAC co-ordinating committee at a senior level is, I think, essential."

The national chief also talked about increased AFN activity at international bodies in Geneva, New York and Washington, and said the AFN was planning trade missions to China and India. Any budget that would allow that to happen has not been disclosed.

One additional item that is part of the budget is the AFN renewal process, which has been funded over two years for a total of $2 million.

Don Kelly, AFN director of communications, said there was no money yet allocated to most of the new initiatives announced by the national chief in Saskatoon

He said there were proposals that had been submitted to government for the Elders', women's and youth councils. The women's council "is already active and has been resourced out of our existing budgets" he added, but more money is being sought.

Money for the AFN's health secretariat from Health Canada has not been confirmed and is not included in the global budget figure for this year. In past years, the health secretariat has been funded at about $2 million annually.

Kelly said it was likely that no funding decisions would be made until after the election because bureaucrats do not want to commit the future minister to any agreements.

"They don't want to tie any minister to any process that he or she may not want to pursue," he explained. "There's meetings going on but progress is sort of incremental."

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Money for the planned increased activity at the international level could be sought from the Foreign Affairs department.

Additions to the budget could continue right up to the end of the current fiscal year in April 2005, Kelly added, saying that last year the budget wasn't finalized until the very end of the fiscal year.

BY PAUL BARNSLEY

Birchbark Writer
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Author:Barnsley, Paul
Publication:Ontario Birchbark
Date:Jul 1, 2004
Words:791
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