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Overhaul of First Nations’ gaming dollars funding on track, says department

Fund comes from slots in First Nations casinos

Since 2006, $1.1 billion has been allotted in grant funding.

By Shari Narine Contributor

Alberta Indigenous Relations assured the Standing Committee on Public Accounts today that two outstanding recommendations from the province’s Auditor General are only part of the overhaul it has undertaken in working with First Nations to effectively deliver the First Nations Development Fund (FNDF), 40 per cent of slot machine revenue from casinos on five First Nations.

“Our goal is to fully implement the Auditor General’s recommendations while honoring the principles of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Doing so will ensure the FNDF grant program continues to be a tool in advancing the economic, social, and community development projects in First Nations,” said Deputy Minister Donavon Young.

Since 2006, $1.1 billion has been allotted in grant funding.

The FNDF is split, with 75 per cent of funding going to the five First Nations with the casinos on their territories, and the remaining 25 per cent available to the other 41 First Nations in Alberta. The money cannot be used for per capita distribution, direct gaming-related activities, or for collateral to securing bank loans.

In his May 2017 report, Auditor General Merwan Saher noted that Indigenous Relations had only dealt with one of three “inadequacies” outlined in his 2013 report.

While the department had improved its communication strategy for letting First Nations know what projects are eligible for FNDF funding, it still had not addressed the other two recommendations: reviewing and approving applications, and compliance monitoring.

Over the 10 years of the fund’s implementation, FNDF Director Arlene Thunder said the program has “evolved … in a very big way.”

She said the amount of money to be generated and the number of projects to be supported had not been anticipated.

The result, she said, has been a learning experience for both the department and the First Nations, who are in full partnership in the program.

“We also learned as we went along as a program that we also needed to do some things differently as well,” said Thunder.

Included in those changes are now First Nations are cut off from their second intake of funding if they have not complied with reporting requirements.

When Saher filed his report in 2017, he found that First Nations receiving FNDF funding had, on average, filed their reports five months late. Thunder said that at this point there were no outstanding reports.

There is more open communication being carried out between the department and various levels of First Nations officials, from chief and council to administrators to field officers to the bands’ auditing firms, said Thunder.

Young said the Auditor General’s recommendations are part of a larger picture of change that the department is undertaking and will complete by March 31, 2018, with updates of the internal FNDF grant program procedural manual and the First Nations FNDF grant program guide. Included in these will be an inventory of supporting documentation to accompany the complex grant application.

A complex grant application involves a gaming-related activity or principal or interest payments over $1 million. He noted that for more than a year now the department had been following a new complex grant application assessment policy.

Saher said he will assess whether or not the department has complied with all of his recommendations after March 2018.

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