by Lloyd Dolha
Angered by the lack of new initiatives for First Nations in the recent Tuesday, February 26th federal budget, AFN leader Phil Fontaine has called for a second national day of protest by First Nations across Canada which may lead to another summer of unrest for the nation.
Fontaine said the Harper government’s latest budget leaves First Nations bitterly disappointed in a budget that does not represent responsible leadership.
It is not responsible to spend billions of dollars to rebuild Afghanistan while ignoring the poverty of First Nations at home, said the national chief. It is inconceivable that this government has found new ways to spend over a hundred billion dollars since coming into office, and that none of that would lead towards a real, comprehensive plan that would chart a path from poverty to prosperity for First Nations.
Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations (FSIN) leader Chief Lawrence Joseph also condemned the federal budget at a press conference the following day.
This budget is a tool of oppression, and there is nothing in it that could lead to self-sufficiency or economic independence for the First Nation’s people of Saskatchewan or Canada, said Chief Joseph.
The budget presented by federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty provides no incentive for First Nations people to reduce their dependency on government, charged the FSIN leader.
He accused the Harper government of recycling announcements aimed at aboriginal Canadians from previous years, and making two-year funding promises it knows are non-binding.
They have a very crafty way of addressing the funds, of repackaging them, said Joseph. Who knows if this government is going to be alive in two years? So this commitment is not worth the paper its written on.
In his budget speech, Flaherty said that the government wants to do a better job of bringing aboriginal Canadians into the skilled work force.
In addressing the House of Commons, the minister recounted a conversation he had with Chief Clarence Louie of the Osoyoos First Nation in British Columbia, who pointed to the large number of aboriginal Canadians out of work.
He suggested the government’s focus needs to shift from social services to economic development and skills training, said Flaherty. Mr. Speaker, our government could not agree more.
The Harper Tories are providing $70 million over two years to support aboriginal economic development that will help aboriginal Canadians better match their training with the needs of the nation’s labour market. The budget also includes an additional $70 million over two years to be supplemented with money from the provinces and First Nations to develop more effective aboriginal education.
In addition, the budget provides $147 million for band and Inuit health programs, $43 million for child and family services on reserves, and $330 million to improve access to safe drinking water – all over the next two years.
Through the range of new initiatives, the total amount of new money directed to aboriginal Canadians amounts to $135 million in each of the next two fiscal years. Those monies are in addition to the $330 million annually that the government has previously committed.
Flaherty declared that improving the lot of aboriginal Canadians is one of his government’s core responsibilities.
Speaking for the Chiefs of Ontario, regional chief Angus Toulouse said the federal budget fails to respond to the crisis situations that are the reality in far too many First Nations communities across Ontario.
This Harper government shows blatant disregard for the most basic health and safety needs of our communities, said Chief Toulouse. The Harper government has focussed on issues that relate to their own ideologies and Conservative voter base in an effort to score political points.
The regional chief said Ontario First Nations have been advocating targeted funding to meet the backlog on housing and improve educational outcomes for First Nations. Toulouse went on to point out that the Ontario regional office of Indian and Northern Affairs Canada is forecasting a shortfall of $142 million over the next five years.
What this means is that the federal government cannot even maintain the infrastructure that exists in First Nation communities in Ontario, declared Toulouse. They certainly will not be able to respond to the new and growing list of needs.