Province reverses its decision on “per-cap” payments
- NC Raine and Kerry Benjoe | November 29, 2023
The Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations (FSIN) frustrated with a new federal and provincial financial policy they say harms the most vulnerable brought it to the public and the province has responded.
“They are taxing the poorest of the poor. My message to [Premier] Scott Moe is this, ‘Why would your government do such a harmful act when our people will spend (money) in your towns and cities anyway?’ ” said FSIN Chief Bobby Cameron during a press conference in Saskatoon on Tuesday.
He added the decision by the province to create such a policy was done unilaterally and without consultation from chiefs.
Per capita distribution payments are made by First Nations to their members resulting from a specific claim within the meaning of the Specific Claim Tribunal Act. Previously, the ministry was exempting per capita distribution payments for First Nations members receiving income assistance up to $15,000 per member, per settlement.
Some First Nations distributed as much as $40,000 to each member as a one-time payment.
According to the proposed policy anyone receiving Saskatchewan Income Support or Saskatchewan Assured Income for Disability benefits would have to claim any additional monies over $15,000 as income and would have their benefits clawed back.
“It’s a terrible move, a terrible act,” said Cameron. “It’s a human rights case in the making. That’s what this is. The $15,000 limit. (We’re) still waiting for a response from Premier Moe.”
FSIN was prepared to take the issue to court.
But on Wednesday, the province responded.
“The Government of Saskatchewan announced today it is updating its approach to Per Capita Distribution payments for First Nations members receiving income assistance,” stated the news release.
Minister of Social Services Gener Makowsky said in the same news release the province was committed to Reconciliation.
“After conducting a policy review, the ministry is exempting per capita distribution payments for First Nations members receiving Saskatchewan Income Support or Saskatchewan Assured Income for Disability benefits,” said the minister.
In a news release FSIN said, distribution payments to First Nations citizens are ‘the recognition of and compensation for harm done, historical grievances, pain, and suffering caused by breaches of promises made under Treaty… [and] the payments can help alleviate personal hardships by providing ‘redress to victims of Treaty breaches.’
Some First Nations have already settled specific claims known as “Cows and Plows” and many more are still in negotiations with the federal government.
FSIN Vice-Chief Edward ‘Dutch’ Lerat said there is unfinished business with Treaty obligations.
“Our Treaty bands were promised agriculture benefits to sustain themselves with the demise of our main food source, the buffalo,” said Lerat. “During Treaty that was negotiated, somewhere along the way these benefits fell off the table.”
Chief Christine Longjohn of Sturgeon Lake First Nation also voiced her opinion on the proposed policy.
“To put caps on the benefits that our membership will receive is not right,” she said. “The province is targeting the poorest of the poor. The ones that are on social assistance. The ones that are on disability.”
She was equally concerned about how the policy would negatively impact Elders and children.
There is no word on whether or not the federal government will follow suit.