Good morning, everyone. Thank you very much.
Meegwetch, Madam Chair, for the opportunity, and committee members for allowing us to be here today.
My name is Andrew Yesno, and I am the manager of the financial advisory services for Matawa First Nations Management based out of Thunder Bay. I've been there since 2015. I'm a member of the Eabametoong First Nation and a former bank manager of that first nation as well.
Matawa First Nations is a tribal council. We have nine member Ojibway and Cree communities. We provide a variety of advisory services and program delivery to our members. We are committed to quality assurance and are responsive to our communities' needs. We have embraced a quality management system, which we continually monitor and try to enhance. We are ISO 9001:2008 registered, and with this system it promises that we provide quality, accountability, and transparency through our enhanced planning, our policies, procedures, and processes, along with appropriate documentation and resources.
In my particular department, financial advisory services, we are available to help provide our member first nations management or leadership in administration by delivering governance and financial advisory services. These services provided include working with the band, finance and program managers, and various administrative staff, and we try to address their financial needs, personnel management needs, governance needs, and to assist where we can in capacity development. We assist them with policy development, financial planning, and try to give them the support we can for the preparation of funding proposals for different community-driven initiatives not of our own.
We maintain a collection of resources, and we continually update them, on governance, management, documentation, template codes, policies, procedures, work instructions, and basically information on best practices.
Our current status right now is that five of our first nations are remote communities. They are accessible only by air or by a continually unreliable winter-road seasonal network. Six out of our nine communities are currently under default management. In previous testimony that I've read it's been said to this committee many times what the reasons are, the factors, and my colleagues here mentioned as well why this has occurred. They are remoteness, lack of own source funding, lack of capacity and its development, the reporting burdens, lack of financial literacy, and of course overall, woefully inadequate funding. The list can go on and on.
Communities that fall under default management are faced with a heavy burden and that includes the additional costs of an RAA or a third party manager, and that stretches out what's already a thin band of support funding. Our particular communities of Matawa surround an area commonly referred to as the “Ring of Fire”. It's been described as one of the most promising mineral development opportunities in Ontario in almost a century. The estimates have suggested that within this area lie a multi-generational potential for chromite production, as well as significant production of nickel, copper, platinum, and other precious metals.
Faced with such enormous potential development with figures in the billions, it's clear that our communities need to have the capacity to move forward to be able to deal with this, if we are to have an active role in proceeding. We lack the expertise and are insufficiently funded to get it. Until then our communities will continue to engage both the province and federal government for solid commitments and adequate funding to see our nations become prosperous.
As a tribal council, as mentioned we have also seen our funding cut. In 2014 the previous federal government changed its policy surrounding first nations tribal councils funding and cut core funding to services being provided to the communities such as financial advisory services, in the thinking that other national organizations would be there to fill in the gap such as AFOA, or FNFMB. In our region, although attempts were made, that has never really materialized and the void is still there.
It's our organization's position that tribal councils have always been underfunded, right from the start. We have always argued that as tribal councils, we were doing the work of three to four bureaucrats for every one tribal council staff member that INAC had before this program even began.
The current system has been a failure. First nations across Canada are spread out over large geographic territories. Many are remote, and this is not adequately addressed in the current funding model. Five out of our nine communities are remote. Return airfare costs range from $420 return to fly to our closest community to over $1,200 to fly to our farthest. It's inconceivable that we are expected to deliver proper services equally to our members when faced with the costs of travel in the north. The formula does not work for tribal councils such as ours.
We feel that member tribal councils should be directly involved and properly resourced to provide training right at the community level. This will require adequate resourcing for both tribal councils and first nations. The current tribal council funding program was created over 35 years ago. Federal programs typically undergo program review every five years. Despite a major review of the program in 2002-04, the tribal council funding has not undergone any significant modifications since 1986, with the exception of the significant cuts in 2014-15.
It's our belief that a new review should be conducted, taking into account the modern challenges and complexities that face tribal councils across Canada. It should not be an INAC-led, top-down approach, but should be in collaboration with existing institutions, tribal councils, and at the grassroots level, hearing from the communities themselves.
Thank you, Madam Chair, for your time.