More than 90 per cent of First Nations governments are now complying with a federal financial disclosure law after a several last-minute submissions came in to Ottawa ahead of the Wednesday night deadline.
The dozens of remaining First Nations include Onion Lake Cree Nation, a community with territory in Alberta and Saskatchewan that generates oil revenues and is suing the federal government, the Queen and the Governor-General for $50-million over the new rules.
Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt issued a statement Thursday afternoon confirming the latest number of communities that are in compliance with the First Nations Financial Transparency Act. The minister said he is "pleased to report" that 529 of 582 First Nations now have their financial documents published.
He says these First Nations are "providing their members with more transparent and accountable governance and in turn helping to ensure band revenues are being used for their benefit."
The minister's statement suggests there are 53 First Nations that have not complied with the new law. However the department briefly published a list of 55 First Nations that were not in compliance. The list was then taken offline and replaced with a list of 52 First Nations.
A spokesperson for Mr. Valcourt could not immediately explain the discrepancy.
The act was originally scheduled to take effect in July, but the minister approved a 120-day extension for compliance that ended on Thursday. The act requires First Nations to publish reports showing an overview of annual expenses, including specific salary figures for chiefs and councillors.
Many First Nations have criticized the government for imposing the changes without consultation and argue the level of disclosure goes too far, placing on-reserve businesses at a competitive disadvantage by having to disclose potentially sensitive information.
The minister's statement said the government will take several actions regarding non-compliant First Nations, including withholding funding for non-essential programs, services and activities and seeking court orders against First Nations indicating they have no intention of complying.
Grand Chief Bernice Martial of the Confederacy of Treaty Six First Nations, which includes Onion Lake, issued a statement Thursday condemning the government's plans to impose penalties.
"Halting funding to First Nations will place the lives of residents on-reserve in jeopardy," she said. Chief Martial encouraged all Canadians to review the disclosureshttp://pse5-esd5.aadnc-aandc.gc.ca/fnp/Main/Search/SearchFF.aspx?lang=eng, which she said show most First Nations officials are paid in the range of $30,000 to $40,000 per year.
"Contrary to popular belief, and the messaging of the government, not all First Nations elected officials are paid enormous salaries," she said.
In a statement of claim filed Wednesday in Federal Court, the Onion Lake Cree Nation said these federal actions will mean a loss of housing and capital funds of $963,000, a loss of social and welfare programs, a loss of salaries for the approximately 800 employees of Onion Lake and a loss of education funding to build four schools.
According to a report by APTN, Onion Lake band member Clayton Tootoosis said he has been asking the chief, Wallace Fox, to disclose his salary, expenses and travel spending but has not received the information.
Mr. Tootoosis told APTN that he was "outraged" that community leaders would use band funds for the legal challenge.