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Citing federal cuts, Saskatchewan First Nations group lays off dozens of staff

Chief Perry Bellegarde says funding is often used by the government to retaliate against First Nations organizations that criticize federal policy.

LIAM RICHARDS/The Globe and Mail

A Saskatchewan First Nations group is cutting dozens of staff because it says Ottawa has cut its funding by $1.1-million.

The Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations told employees Tuesday that 66 of them will be laid off by March 31.

FSIN Chief Perry Bellegarde said the group had $875,000 chopped from its budget last fiscal year and this new round of cuts has forced the organization's hand.

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Bellegarde said the cuts will diminish the FSIN's ability to analyze legislation and get legal opinions.

He says it will also mean the organization will have to reduce its number of vice chiefs.

In September, 2012, the federal government announced it would be capping core funding for regional aboriginal organizations like FSIN at $500,000.

Last year, the federal government also cut discretionary funding to aboriginal groups by 30 per cent.

"You basically weaken the voice of First Nation people across Canada," said Bellegarde.

Bellegarde said the cuts could also give First Nation organizations freedom to take a stronger line against the federal government.

He said funding is often used by the government to retaliate against First Nations organizations that criticize federal policy.

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The group will continue to exist, no matter what Ottawa does, he said.

"We have seen the ebb and flow of funding to organizations," he said. "Our FSIN will always be there. Sometimes its shape and form will change and evolve."

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