“For as long as we are able” Support Inspires NCFNG Staff to Continue Delivering Services
There has been an outpouring of support and concern about cuts to the National Centre for First Nations Governance’s (NCFNG) funding and what it means for the development of self sufficient, independent First Nations in Canada. In response, the staff at the Centre will continue to deliver its governance rebuilding services where it can and for as long as it can operate.
The Department of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development notified the NCFNG in April that its federal funding would be cut by 50% for 2012/2013 and that the Centre would no longer be funded after March 31, 2013.
The cuts come in the face of growing demand for the Centre’s governance rebuilding services, and at a time when many First Nations are making significant progress in restoring effective, self-determining governance.
“It’s unfortunate the funding has been cut because we’re on a trajectory of working in partnership on these issues at a community level.” said Cheryl Knockwood, Governance Coordinator with Membertou, a First Nation located in Nova Scotia, “We feel disappointed because other communities who are not in our situation and (who) will require a few services to be able to do similar things we’re doing, won’t have the option or support from the national centre, so that’s not a good thing.”
Chief Douglas White, of Snuneymuxw (Nanaimo) First Nation, located in British Columbia, and a member of the political executive of the BC First Nations Summit Task Group, pointed out “The Prime Minister, at the Crown-First Nations Gathering in January, depicted the Indian Act as a living tree with deep roots. It is time to chop down this anachronistic, bent and grotesque tree that has borne nothing but, in the words of the old African American spiritual - “Strange Fruit” - and tear its roots out with our bare hands. All Canadians should do this together, working diligently to not just tear down what is unjust, but to imagine and create together a new tree of life, whose only fruit is justice and hope. The National Centre was aimed at exactly this work.”
No other organization in Canada provides the same services or uses the unique approaches developed by NCFNG. The Centre services are highly participative and are delivered in First Nations communities. These services inspire citizens to move beyond the Indian Act and develop a new future based on their own community vision and strategic plan. Communities begin creating their own culturally relevant policies and laws, and leaders learn how to reach beyond the reserve to access and manage traditional territories so that their communities can grow their own economies.
Leading academics on First Nations issues and the Centre’s university partners have expressed considerable concern about the opportunity that all Canadians will lose and the gap that will be left if First Nation communities lose the ability to access the Centre’s services.
“NCFNG has been a bright light in the dark story of Canada’s relations with First Nations. All of us should be concerned about a decision that pulls the rug out from under one of the few strategies that actually works.” says Stephen Cornell, co-director of the Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development, a research program headquartered at Harvard University.
Frances Abele, Professor at the School of Public Policy and Administration and Academic Director, Carleton Centre for Community Innovation emphasizes, “The Centre is Canada’s best hope for a positive, peaceful transition from the Indian Act to a better form of governance for First Nations across Canada. It deserves the strongest possible support and a secure budget.”
Dr. Ken Coates, a Canada Research Chair and faculty member in the Johnson-Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy (JSGS) at the University of Saskatchewan maintains, “The most important transformations are silent and largely unknown, as people of passion, commitment and ability focus on addressing the underlying issues of education, training and professional development. The National Centre for First Nations Governance is just such an undertaking, providing guidance and preparation for the men and women charged with managing First Nations governments across Canada. “
From the University of Toronto’s Initiative on Indigenous Governance, Victoria Freeman, Coordinating Director, writes “The NCFNG has done tremendous work in engaging with over 300 First Nations and instigating training, research, and the sharing of best practices for Indigenous governance among First Nations youth, leadership, and community members. It has attracted many of the best and brightest Aboriginal leaders and academics and held groundbreaking events across the country. I hope NCFNG will find a way to survive.”
Satsan (Herb George), NCFNG President, responds to this support “The Centre still welcomes all requests for its services. In spite of these short sighted cuts, we will continue to help, in whatever way we can, to rebuild motivated communities for as long we are able. Our clients and associates know full well that our approach inspires hope, inspires an inviting future and, above all, inspires action to make that future come true.”
Despite having to lay off over half of its staff within weeks of the announced cut, employees have declared their support to continue the Centre’s work and willingness to throw their time and effort into creating a new Centre free from the instability of government funding. “We had the best of the best working for us and our clients instantly knew it. We had highly skilled, professional aboriginal staff experienced in governance and leadership. And they knew how to connect with the community and leadership”, proclaims Chris Robertson, COO. “Fortunately, the outpouring of support and offers of help from our associates, clients and former staff will ensure our work continues.”