01/29/2014 08:24 EST | Updated 03/31/2014 05:59 EDT

Federation Of Saskatchewan Indian Nations Hands Out Layoff Notices, Blames Ottawa

young lady being laid off...
SASKATOON - The head of the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations says employees who have been told they could be laid off aren't necessarily losing their jobs.

The Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations told its 66 employees Tuesday that they could be let go March 31.

The federation said that's because Ottawa has cut its funding by $1.1 million.

Federation Chief Perry Bellegarde says the group had $875,000 chopped from its budget last fiscal year, and the new funding cut has forced the organization’s hand.

Bellegarde suggests the federation needs to look for other sources of money.

He says once revenue streams are determined after April 1, laid-off staff will have the first right of refusal for positions that become available.

"We are not laying off or getting rid of 66 employees," Bellegarde said Thursday. "That's not the case. Once the funding streams are identified, the first right of refusal for staff to come back ... is up to them."

Bellegarde predicted that the group's ability to lobby for a better life for aboriginal people will be diminished by a lack of cash.

"This federal government has really weakened that voice by taking away these resources, because that means less policy analysis, less legal work, less communication pieces, less communications strategies," Bellegarde said. "That's going to weaken the messaging."

A former federation chief said the layoffs are symptomatic of problems within a group that has lost its focus.

"We haven't looked after the people that we're supposed to serve," Roland Crowe said.

In September 2012, the federal government announced it would be capping core funding for regional aboriginal organizations at $500,000. Last year, the federal government also cut discretionary funding to aboriginal groups by 30 per cent.

Bellegard has said that funding is often used by the government to retaliate against First Nations organizations that criticize federal policy.

He said his group will continue to exist, no matter what Ottawa does, and the cuts could actually give First Nations organizations freedom to take a stronger line against the federal government.

The federal government issued a statement saying it's trying to ensure that funding for organizations is directed at the delivery of essential services and programs for aboriginal people.

(CJWW, CJME, The Canadian Press)

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