Category Archives: First Nations

'It's a mess': Alexander First Nation finance clerk urges Ottawa to clean up spending rules on reserves

‘It’s a mess’: Alexander First Nation finance clerk urges Ottawa to clean up spending rules on reserves

A whistleblower who went public about an investigation that identified questionable financial activity by former leaders at her Alberta reserve near Edmonton is urging Ottawa to strengthen rules for First Nation bands around financial transparency and accountability.

“When I look at the opportunities lost because of corruption and mismanagement, it’s heartbreaking,” Loretta Burnstick, a finance clerk at the Alexander First Nation band office, told the standing committee on Indigenous and northern affairs Tuesday via teleconference from Edmonton Tuesday.

“Many people from my community are struggling and it’s heart wrenching to see that.”

It’s virtually impossible as a band member to get full disclosure on our finances– Loretta Burnstick

Last September, Burnstick and others made public a forensic audit conducted at her reserve just northwest of Edmonton. The audit identified $2.1 million in “unexplained payments” made to a former chief and some administrators.

The story by CBC News sparked complaints from band members in several other communities across the country. They expressed similar concerns about spending by local leaders and their inability to verify how money is spent or hold leaders to account.

On Tuesday, Burnstick told the committee about the time she was sent to the Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada department for a copy of some financial documentation about her reserve, only to be told to request it from band administrators, who refused.

“So it’s virtually impossible as a band member to get full disclosure on our finances,” said Burnstick.

She told the committee government officials should meet with the grassroots people who have been “kept out of discussions for so long.”

Burnstick is one of 32 witnesses — including government officials, Indigenous leaders and experts — participating in six hearings to review the default prevention and management policy which guides government response to bands that run into financial trouble. The committee will report its findings to the House of Commons. Assembly of First Nations Chief Perry Bellegarde called for more funding and training to improve band finances. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

But Burnstick told the committee the policy appears to deal with “crisis management” rather than tackling the root causes that lead to a financial crisis.

“It’s a mess,” said Burnstick. “We have no policies in place that are enforceable.”

In 2008, she said she was advised by her former chief to take her financial concerns to the RCMP, but they told her there was nothing they could do.

“It’s 2017 and we are still going through the same thing I witnessed back in (2008),” she said.

AFN chief: not malfeasance

Assembly of First Nations Chief Perry Bellegarde, who also appeared before the committee Tuesday, said the main problem is a lack of financial expertise and funding.

“The majority of time when an audit cannot … provide a positive opinion, it’s not because of malfeasance but usually it’s because of lack of capacity,” said Bellegarde.

That results in improper record keeping and an inability to pay for chartered accountants, he said. Then INAC ends up hiring third-party managers for “thousands and thousands and thousands of dollars” who have no incentive to train band members “because that’s their bread and butter,” Bellegarde said.

Bellegarde said band members can hold leaders to account during elections every three years. He ruled out blanket, top-down legislation, noting many reserves are developing their own rules governing financial transparency.Conservative MP and committee member Cathy McLeod said band members need better access to financial information.

“Some are really advanced, others aren’t,” said Bellegarde. “So focus on the ones that aren’t.”

But Conservative MP and Indigenous affairs critic Cathy McLeod told CBC News band members require access to financial information to make informed decisions about their leadership.

“Like any Canadian, whether it’s your mayor, it’s your MLA, it’s your MP, you’re given basic information about the finances of your organizations,” said McLeod, a member of the committee. “I think we’ve heard through the testimony that the current system is broken.”

McLeod said she’ll be recommending improvements to better support bands struggling with financial problems and ensure grassroots members can access and understand their band’s financial information.

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Financial certification will give First Nation access to preferential interest rates

Financial certification will give First Nation access to preferential interest rates

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 17/3/2018 (1193 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Long Plain First Nation plans to start construction on two hotels on urban reserves in Winnipeg and Portage la Prairie this summer, thanks to federal legislation that gives First Nations access to capital markets.

Long Plain recently became the 21st Manitoba First Nation to receive certification from the Vancouver-based First Nations Financial Management Board. That’s the second-highest total of First Nations to be certified in a province in the country.

Long Plain Chief Dennis Meeches says the FMB certification gives the projects a green light.

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Long Plain Chief Dennis Meeches says the FMB certification gives the projects a green light.

Certification allows First Nations to access capital market financing and borrow at preferential interest rates similar to those paid by municipalities and other levels of government.

A First Nation must demonstrate sound financial management for five years to obtain certification, following standards set out by the board, which Long Plain has done.

Sod-turning should begin within a few months for both hotels — one on Madison Street near Polo Park that will also be an office complex and the other along the Trans-Canada Highway in Portage, Chief Dennis Meeches of Long Plain said. The two buildings are expected to cost about $20 million combined. The hotel-commercial building on Madison will be about 80,000 square feet and include conference facilities and opportunities for a restaurant.

“We tried to build a hotel quite a few years back and had some challenges on that. Now, with this certification, that project gets the green light,” Meeches said.

Long Plain also plans to build a truck stop along the Trans-Canada Highway in Portage.

Long Plain is a unique First Nation in that it has urban reserves in Portage and Winnipeg. The land is part of a fulfilment of Canada’s outstanding treaty land entitlement to the First Nation.

Businesses on those reserves, operated by the band’s Arrowhead Corp., earn in the range of $7 million per year, said Arrowhead CEO Tim Daniels. Arrowhead, which includes two gas bars and a gaming centre, employs 160 people, he said.

The board was created by the federal First Nation Fiscal Management Act passed by an all-party agreement in 2006. However, the First Nation Finance Authority (FNFA) only started lending out money in 2014.

Manitoba First Nations have done well so far, receiving close to $85 million in loans. That’s out of about $500 million loaned out to First Nations across the country by FNFA.

“For the first time in First Nation history in Canada, First Nations have the same opportunity as other levels of government to borrow capital. They never had it before,” said Ernie Daniels, president of Kelowna, B.C.,-based FNFA.

Banks have their commercial operations that serve consumers, but also have a market side and the FNFA operates on the market side. “The banks go and sell our debenture for us to long-term investors like insurance companies and mutual funds,” Daniels said.

The FNFA has an investment grade rating from Moody’s and S&P bond raters. Some other Manitoba First Nations certified include Opaskwayak Cree Nation, Black River, Fisher River, Ste. Theresa Point, and Ebb and Flow.

Long Plain was on the brink of going into receivership in 2013. Since then, it has put its finances in order and has won numerous awards for its economic development, including the 2017 Visionary Indigenous Business Excellence Award from the University of Manitoba Asper School of Business.

Long Plain has also built four homes on its urban reserve in Portage that will soon be made available for private ownership. Employees of Arrowhead can apply to rent the homes for five years, after which they will have the option to buy and keeping any principal paid down. The homes are limited to Arrowhead employees, so the corporation can ensure payment by deducting rent from the renter’s paycheque.

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First Nation pressures to realize promise of geothermal 'gift'

First Nation pressures to realize promise of geothermal ‘gift’

Breadcrumb Trail Links

Natural gas in Clarke Lake reservoir is almost tapped out, but Fort Nelson First Nation hopes heat underground will keep giving carbon-neutral energy for decades to come.

Author of the article:

Derrick Penner

Publishing date:

Nov 29, 2020November 29, 20204 minute read Join the conversation Fort Nelson First Nation Chief Sharleen Gale. For Randy Shore story. [PNG Merlin Archive] Fort Nelson First Nation Chief Sharleen Gale. For Randy Shore story. [PNG Merlin Archive] Photo by handout /PNG

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For decades, the natural gas pumped from the previously rich reservoir at Clarke Lake always came up with a lot of hot, briny water that now Fort Nelson First Nation Chief Sharleen Gale looks on as “a gift from our ancestors.”

A gift of geothermal power to displace the gas-fired electricity the region relies on, of heat to warm greenhouses and boost food security in a place notorious for high-priced groceries, and a source of diversified economic development for people usually tied to boom-and-bust resource industries.

And Gale’s vision is to capitalize on that gift, starting with a $100 million geothermal power plant to demonstrate its potential, provided the First Nation can fill a $6.3 million funding gap by a Dec. 31 deadline to secure significant support from Natural Resources Canada.

The initial proposal is to build a seven-to-15 Megawatt geothermal power plant on top of the almost-tapped-out gas reservoir to start with, which would reduce the carbon impact of B.C. Hydro’s existing gas-fired generation in a region isolated from its main provincial grid.

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Gale said the plant could also serve as carbon-free power for new industry including a wood pellet plant and greenhouses, which would also tap into residual heat to grow food that is typically expensive and hard to access now.

“I think this would revolutionize our Nation to be able to diversify our economy and add another component of prosperity,” Gale said, provided they can secure that funding, through the province’s Clean B.C. communities fund or other sources.

However, the challenges of dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic have also made it difficult for the Nation to meet membership-approval requirements for help through the First Nation Finance Authority.

“Time is just not on our side,” Gale said.

Another challenge is that B.C. Hydro already has an excess of power generation on the Fort Nelson system, which also ties into Northern Alberta, said spokeswoman Mora Scott, and the utility isn’t looking for new sources of electricity from independent power producers generally.

“We’re currently assessing our needs for new energy through our Integrated Resource Plan,” which Scott said is under development, but “the Fort Nelson region is not expected to be highlighted in the plan as it has sufficient resources.”

Gale, however, argued that if the province is serious about its Clean B.C. objectives to hit net-zero greenhouse gas emission targets, B.C. needs more energy sources like Clarke Lake.

She said it’s also a chance to advance an industrial project in a region suffering from an economic downturn, which has Indigenous support.

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Chief Sharleen Gale of the Fort Nelson First Nation at the test station for the Clarke Lake geothermal resource, which the Nation has a vision to turn into carbon-free electricity and heat to power industry. Chief Sharleen Gale of the Fort Nelson First Nation at the test station for the Clarke Lake geothermal resource, which the Nation has a vision to turn into carbon-free electricity and heat to power industry. PNG

“I just feel like it would just really open the door for the province, for people to really see what can be done when governments listen and start acting on the needs of Indigenous communities and start implementing the principles of (the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples),” Gale said.

And while B.C. Hydro has closed all of its acquisition programs for independent power, Gale said the Fort Nelson First Nation has a memorandum of understanding with the Saulteau First Nation to use that group’s independent power rights that it holds through an impact benefits deal over the Site C dam.

Judith Sayers, president of the Nuu-chah-nulth Nations and former board member with Clean Energy B.C., is betting that the Fort Nelson Nation’s project will go forward, regardless of whether it gets a supply deal with B.C. Hydro.

“Any project that can make communities energy sovereign is a good one,” said Sayers, whose own communities on Vancouver Island are experienced in independent power producer development.

A decision by the B.C. Utilities Commission last year determined that First Nations should be able to act as their own power utilities, though not to sell power off reserves.

Sayers said First Nations don’t know how the province will respond to that, but “I think for us, we’re just going to assert our jurisdiction and do it.”

And data from nearly six decades of gas drilling at Clarke Lake make it probably the best understood geothermal resource in Canada, making it a good location for a demonstration project, said John Ebell, project manager for the proposal at the consulting firm, Barkley Project group.

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“It just needed the right proponent,” Ebell said. “In this case, the proponent that came along was the Fort Nelson First Nation.”

B.C. doesn’t have any geothermal power now and previous editions of B.C. Hydro’s resource plans haven’t included much in the way of potential. Previous attempts to tap heat from the earth at Meager Creek north of Pemberton haven’t worked out.

At Clarke Lake, Ebell said they’re ready to drill a production well in 2021 for a final proof-of-concept test, which is needed before the project can be financed. The goal is to start actual construction in 2022.

The estimate of $100 million to build a seven-to-15 megawatt generating plant would be relatively expensive, but the constant base load of geothermal electricity would help mitigate that along with its economic development potential.

“The social and economic components of this project are extensive,” Ebell said.

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