Renewing Funding Relationships: Certifying First Nations Social Service Administrators

By Broad, Gayle; Nadeau, Micheal | Canadian Review of Social Policy, January 1, 2012 | Go to article overview

Renewing Funding Relationships: Certifying First Nations Social Service Administrators


Broad, Gayle, Nadeau, Micheal, Canadian Review of Social Policy


Governments have been key funders of both social economy (SE) organizations and First Nation communities, yet the relationships between them have not necessarily been easy to negotiate. Challenges abound for government funders and SE and First Nation recipients in building respectful relations. Some of the key factors contributing to the challenges include:

* Increased demand for accountability in government spending

* Differing perceptions between the parties as to the appropriate roles of each

* SE organizations and First Nations may perceive government-determined funding eligibility criteria and/or priorities as obstacles to responding to community need

* Fear that difficulties in program administration may result in loss of funding or cooptation by funders of programs away from community need

In this article, using a case study approach, we argue that a renewed relationship between government funders and First Nations and SE organizations can be based on an improved understanding of one another's perspective.1 Without such a renewal, vital programs and services shall be leftfloundering without the crucial input of community-based knowledge and needs assessments. We will conclude this article with a number of recommended directions for the development of such a renewal.

Government Funding, Social Economy Organizations, and First Nations

Since significant cuts to social spending throughout the 1990s, SE organizations are facing growing needs in communities and greater challenges in accessing government funding. In response, in the early 2000s practitioners united to obtain federal government support to grow the social economy (Guy & Heneberry, 2009) and found a sympathetic ear in Prime Minister Paul Martin. Recent literature on financing of the SE reveals significant concerns that the substantial cuts in social spending generally, and to voluntary organizations specifically (Elson, 2011), have compromised the sector's capacity to respond to community need. Additionally, the government's own inability to track funding allocations due to reductions of staffin the public sector, have resulted in SE organizations having ".... paid a high price for accountability in terms of below-cost project funding and excessive reporting requirements" (Elson, 2011,p. 102). Elson (2011) points out that underfunded and short-term projects are inadequate to address underlying social issues. Choudry and Schragge (2011) raise concern that policy changes may adversely impact SE organizations' engagement in dissent and advocacy. Indeed, a federal policy change during the 1990s denies charitable status to organizations engaging in advocacy (Elson, 2011).

For First Nations, relationships with government funders are even more complex, particularly since the provision of social services often involves some combination of both the federal and provincial governments. Reporting requirements can be onerous and successful funding proposals must align with government-identified priorities (Frideres, 2011) which are often at odds with First Nations' identified needs (ONWAA, 2011). Further, government's priorities are constantly shifting and programs and funding are rarely in place long enough to achieve the stated objective(s):

In 2008, the First Nations Student Success Program and the Education Partnerships Program were touted as the programs that would solve some of the problems with First Nation students staying in school and graduating from secondary school. Yet these programs only have a shelf life of three years and then they will be abandoned. (Frideres, 2011, p.195)

Frideres further outlines how government funding policy to First Nations is one of control, not respect for autonomy:

...four federal departments....required nearly 170 reports annually from each First Nation community. Indian Affairs alone obtains more than 60,000 reports a year from over 600 First Nation communities. This represents a report from each community almost every three days of the year. …

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