Is there enough community input into how chiefs divide up scarce funds between the communities? Should the decision be based more on the needs of each community, as opposed to backroom haggling?
The debate is growing because of how funds were divvied up in the Quebec-Cree “MOLT deal signed in March. Waskaganish got 13 times more money than Waswanipi per person under the deal, according to documents obtained by The Nation.
Waskaganish also got four times more than Chisasibi and Mistissini per person.
Waskaganish got $3.36 million for the 1997-98 fiscal year, according to the documents. That works out to $1,964 per Waskaganish band member. The money is to be used for community projects, like a police station, riverbank stability, relocation of community towers and a caring centre.
The community’s chief, Billy Diamond, negotiated the deal with Quebec.
Waswanipi got the lowest amount per person, only $ 147, while Chisasibi was next with $404, followed by Mistissini ($449) and Whapmagoostui ($736).
Eastmain and Ouje-Bougoumou got even more this year in the deal than Waskaganish, but that may be largely explained by special circumstances in those communities. Eastmain has been waiting for years for a community arena and now is finally getting some of the needed money. O.J., as the newest Cree community, is still building up its infrastructure.
The documents also contain a breakdown of Cree funding requests to the Quebec government for the next five years (see sidebar, this page). If Quebec agrees to give everything the Crees request, which remains to be seen.
HOW FUNDS DIVIDED
Waskaganish stands to get up to six times more than Chisasibi, Mistissini and Whapmagoostui.
The numbers are causing consternation among some band officials who think there should be a debate on how funding decisions are made in the Cree world.
“Maybe there is a big of conflict-of-interest involved there in the sense that if you’re a negotiator you’re on much more solid ground arguing your community’s needs,” said one band official in Mistissini.
The official also said the way funds are divided up is too subjective. He said chiefs make the decision without enough community input and politics plays a bigger role than actual community needs. There is no objective formula that guides the chiefs’ decision and the chiefs who are most forceful or best prepared walk away with the most.
“That’s part of the process we object to,” said the official. “There needs to be some debate on that. Let’s have some standards instead of deciding at meetings where the rules are unclear.”
The official blamed the huge differences in funding under the Quebec-Cree deal on the power struggles and horse-trading that take place at the chiefs’ meetings.
He said the same type of backroom haggling affects many other funding decisions in the Cree world, like funds for housing.
Mistissini has proposed a formula that the chiefs could use to make sure communities getfunding based on need, not politics. But not all communities agree on the need for change, said the official.
“The positional bargaining that takes place favours certain communities, so they don’twant to adopt objective standards.”