APTN National News
NIAGARA FALLS – An agreement that supposedly lifts the two per cent cap on funding to First Nations programs and helps get money flowing into the communities became a source of controversy and heated debate between AFN National Chief Perry Bellegarde and Ontario Regional Chief Isadore Day behind the scenes at this year’s annual general assembly.
Bellegarde signed the fiscal agreement or memorandum of understanding (MOU), with Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett on Tuesday.
But two executive chiefs wanted the signing delayed saying more consultation was needed according to a chain of emails leaked to APTN National News.
According to the emails, the AFN executive saw the document for the first time on Sunday as part of their “executive kits” which were prepared for the 37th annual general assembly.
“Some chiefs concerned about this fiscal relations signing,” wrote Saskatchewan Regional Chief Bobby Cameron in an email to the AFN executive Monday. “Do we as AFN exec proceed and wait for more dialogue from our folks?”
Ontario Regional Chief Isadore Day said the MOU signing needed a special motion to move forward, writing it was being “rammed through”.
“I did not agree to the MOU; we are going to have to address this,” Day wrote addressing Bellegarde. “We did not discuss the MOU specific at the executive table — PERIOD!”
That email followed what appeared to be a heated telephone call between Day and Bellegarde earlier that day that ended with Bellegarde hanging up Day.
“Your tone and questioning my ‘unity being nothing but bullshit’ – is very unbecoming of our efforts to collaborate,” wrote Day. “You indicated that INAC folks are hyped up and excited about signing this MOU and that ‘I’ (you) are going ahead. Perry, we need to examine closer.”
Bellegarde responded that the AFN executive would hold an emergency meeting Monday night to vote on a motion to proceed.
“This is about getting rid of the 2 percent cap and reestablishing our Chiefs Committee on fiscal and getting long term sustainable funding for our first Nations,” replied Bellegarde. “We are on solid ground with this and are proceeding with the signing ceremony.”
Later that night the AFN executive voted to proceed as Bellegarde said they were going to, but Day abstained from voting in protest.
The next day at the opening of the ceremony Bellegarde and Bennett signed the MOU. It’s not clear how the MOU will help with the federal government funding First Nations or what role the AFN will play in doing that. But they did say a working group would be made.
Day avoided questions from APTN Tuesday about the tension.
Bellegarde held a press conference and APTN asked him about what happened the day before.
He said the MOU was the product of chiefs’ mandates and resolutions to get the two per cent cap removed.
“Because there was issues and concerns that we didn’t get a formal resolution (for the MOU signing) I called an emergency meeting to clear the air,” said Bellegarde, who named Day as the single member of the executive to abstain.
On Wednesday, Day spoke to the assembly about his reservations over the MOU that were first reported Tuesday by APTN.
“Not only did the AFN executive not receive time to review this MOU, but many chiefs are still uncertain about the need for an MOU to develop a new fiscal relationship,” said Day before chiefs at the assembly in the main hall.
Bennett told the chiefs the two per cent cap had been lifted but Day called for Bennett to provide proof Wednesday.
“We also need to be informed that the two per cent cap is in fact gone, which includes a cap on base funding. This is an election commitment that must be realized now not through an MOU,” he said.
Immediately after Day was done speaking he and Bellegarde signed a new protocol that will ensure lines of communication are more effective between the AFN and Chiefs of Ontario.
Then they posed for pictures.