Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

First Nations at mercy of slow cash flow

Officials complain red tape delays some flood aid

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Ottawa is spending $10.2 million to fight flooding this spring on 21 of Manitoba's 63 First Nations, but some continue to complain the program is bogged down by bureaucracy.

One-third of Manitoba's First Nations are receiving some form of financial assistance from Indian and Northern Affairs Canada this spring to fill sandbags, clear culverts and build sandbag dikes, says a summary compiled by the federal department.

The largest recipient of federal flood-related aid is Peguis First Nation, which is slated to receive $3.4 million as part of its efforts to protect itself against the Fisher River. Flooding has struck the Interlake community for the third year in a row, displacing 622 people this spring alone.

Other major recipients of INAC flood-fighting funds include Lake St. Martin First Nation in the northern Interlake, Little Saskatchewan First Nation south of Riding Mountain National Park, Sioux Valley First Nation west of Brandon and the Manitoba Association of Native Fire Fighters, which assists communities with evacuations and other emergency operations.

"We provide the funding. The First Nations do the emergency planning," said Ellen Funk, INAC's regional spokeswoman. "We've been working with them since January."

In order to access these funds, First Nations were required to submit work plans. INAC approves those plans, based on the needs of the communities in question.

Unlike municipalities, which have the ability to front the cost of flood-protection measures, First Nations typically must wait for the funds to flow from Ottawa.

To some, this pace is insufficient. Officials from Roseau River Anishinabe First Nation in the Red River Valley and Peguis First Nation have said they are annoyed some of the funds did not materialize before April 1.

The multi-step nature of the program left the Roseau River community of Ginew with vulnerable low spots in its ring dike, assistant emergency co-ordinator Gerald Tait said Tuesday.

"It's a lot of hoops to jump through," he said at Ginew, which has a ring dike to protect it from both the Red and Roseau rivers. "It's bureaucratic, I guess you can say."

Without taxation powers, First Nations cannot spend as freely as municipalities do on flood protection, added Daren Mini, executive director of the Manitoba Association of Native Fire Fighters. INAC has allocated his organization $1.1 million worth of 2011 flood-fighting funds, of which $250,000 has flowed so far, he said.

It has also proven difficult for First Nations to access money for permanent flood protection, primarily because of jurisdictional issues.

For example, Manitoba's NDP government has pledged to spend $1.5 million in Peguis this year to help the community purchase flood-fighting equipment, but is urging Ottawa to fund permanent flood-protection from the Fisher River.

Peguis Chief Glenn Hudson has also called on Ottawa to fund permanent flood protection that could cost as much as $190 million. Peguis will not find flood protection by accessing $126 million it received in 2009 as compensation for being forced off its former lands east of Selkirk, as that money should not be used to pay for infrastructure, Hudson said last month.

bartley.kives@freepress.mb.ca

Where the money goes

Top five recipients of federal flood-fighting funds devoted to Manitoba First Nations this spring:

1. Peguis First Nation: $3.4 million

2. Lake St. Martin First Nation: $1.5 million

3. Manitoba Association of Native Fire Fighters: $1.1 million

4. Little Saskatchewan First Nation: $990,000

5. Sioux Valley First Nation: $900,000

-- Source: Indian and Northern Affairs Canada

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 20, 2011 A5

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