Breaking down barriers

03/08/2016

By Marcia Love, Spruce Grove Examiner/Stony Plain Reporter

Friday, March 4, 2016 2:43:07 MST PM

First Nation governments face unique limitations that inhibit their ability to access funding and grants, resulting in a growing need for improvements, according to Canada’s Public Policy Forum (PPF).

The non-government organization released a report earlier this month, which outlined ways to improve access to capital funding from the government in First Nation communities where barriers are faced. It cites an estimated $43.3-billion gap between funding for First Nation and non-First Nation communities.

The PPF consulted with treaty commissioners, bank executives, First Nation chiefs, elders, governments and business leaders to compile its report, Improving Access to Capital for Canada’s First Nations Communities.

Julie Cafley, vice-president of the PPF, said the issue is so complex it is difficult to identify one way to reduce the struggles.

Most public institutions are able to leverage capital by using property as collateral, but First Nation governments are unable to do this.

“Infrastructure deficits are common. Access to cheap loans is rare,” the report says.

These barriers discourage private investment and are the result of chronic underlying socio-economic issues, governance challenges and institutional barriers and biases, it continued.

Even for smaller loans, utility bills with residents’ names may not be accessible by band members because the band pays for this cost, Cafley explained.

The report makes six recommendations, including modernizing the federal-First Nations fiscal relationship, improving First Nation governance processes and capabilities, investing in First Nations’ education and training, fostering and supporting regional co-operation to create a more attractive investment climate, strengthening Aboriginal Financial Institutions, and to improve financial literacy and education opportunities.

“So many of these processes can be complex and confusing for small communities that are trying to access capital, so knowledge sharing is really key,” Cafley explained. “It’s… working with governments, ensuring that we have culturally appropriate financial literacy tools… and ensuring that the communities themselves have champions that can help to spearhead financial literacy.”

She added while there may be capital available, communities can have difficulty finding out where to go and how to “jump through all of the red tape” to access that money.

“Even just the idea of a centralized database that identifies sources of capital or things like that would be important,” Cafley said.

She also noted there is a need to review and modernize the Indian Act.

Overall, Cafley said there is no “cookie cutter approach,” and initiatives and programs need to be developed that might contribute to financial literacy in a different manner.

“There’s a huge need for collaboration… because (the issues) are very complex and there’s lots of issues that overlap each other in terms of access to capital,” she said.

 

The report has been passed on to several government bodies and other organizations, and the PPF will continue to work with its partners on the issues.