In the past three years, Aboriginal organizations have faced $60 million worth of cuts from Stephen Harper’s government. Inuit groups were hit the hardest, according to an internal AFN analysis. The analysis, based on Aboriginal Affairs’ department figures as of January 7th, found Inuit organizations were hardest hit with 71% of funding cuts between 2012 and 2015. First Nations organizations saw their overall funding, including core and project based funding, drop from $69 million to $24 million, or 65.5 % cut. Metis organizations suffered 39% in cuts. Non-status Indian organizations were cut 14% and women’s organizations were cut 7%.
First Nation organizations in Ontario saw the biggest overall cuts to funding. In the 2011-2012 fiscal year, Ontario First Nation organizations received about $20 million in project and core funding. In the 2014-2015 year, the same funding was reduced to about $5 million,(76% cut). Two organizations in New Brunswick and PEI have been hit by 80% in cuts, while in Saskatchewan, the sole regional organization, the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations faced 91% in cuts. In Manitoba, three regional First Nation organizations, Southern Chiefs, Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimankanak and Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs (AMC), were hit with 78% in cuts between 2012 and 2015. Aboriginal Affairs stated Aboriginal organizations would still receive proposal driven project funding as in past years, as long as they were within the firm February deadlines. Meeting the deadline this past February, the AMC submitted eight proposals totalling $2.621 million for the current fiscal year. As of November 2014, well into this fiscal year, Aboriginal Affairs responded with approval of $102,000, which is only half of one of the submitted proposals.
Grand Chief of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs Derek Nepinak stated in a press release, “I feel that we have been misled to think that the Government of Canada, under the Harper regime, would act in good faith and support policy development from local and community based initiatives. Instead we have been forced to jump through hoops, expending our limited resources in order to meet February deadlines for proposals that didn’t get final evaluation until November, which is the end of the 3rd quarter of the fiscal year.”
Three First Nations organizations in BC, the BC First Nation Summit, Union of BC Indian Chiefs and the BC AFN have faced 73% in cuts. The summit was hardest hit with an 82% reduction. Tribal Councils, which are different than regional organizations and represent smaller groups of First nation communities, have also seen their core funding drop 40% from about $49 million in 2011-2012 to $30 million in 2014-2015.
The cuts were initially announced by former Aboriginal Affairs minister John Duncan in 2012. At the time he said Ottawa would be changing the “funding model” for Aboriginal organizations and tribal councils, focusing on areas that matched the Harper Government’s “priorities,” a classic Conservative Party colonial move to dictate the priorities of Aboriginal peoples instead of allowing them to define their own priorities. The Harper government spent $15 million last year promoting “Canada’s Economic Action Plan,” a catchphrase promoting stimulus spending that ended two years ago, which is more than $5 million approved by the Treasury Board. They also spent $2.5 million to advertise a job grant that does not exist.
In an interview with First Nations Drum, NDP MP and Aboriginal Affairs critic Jean Crowder stated that the funding cuts were “really troubling,” because the Harper Government has not been transparent about the cuts. “The government has neither been open or transparent about the cuts, nor have they been open and transparent about the impacts these cuts will have on Aboriginal communities. They have never described how the money would be allocated differently,” said Crowder. “The government has stated that they are going to reallocate the funds towards education and economic development in the Aboriginal communities, but I have not seen any evidence of any funding towards those areas.”
“The Federal Government has continued to deny program access for many Aboriginal organizations who represent legitimate constituents across the country,” said Keith Henry, President of the BC Metis Federation told First Nations Drum. “This is especially true for the Metis, where unless an individual belongs to a handful of Federal government recognized Metis societies such as the Metis National Council and their governing members including the Metis Nation British Columbia, there is no process to apply or be recognized to address the cultural and social well being for Metis people. This has far reaching consequences as these organizations only represent a small portion of the Metis population in Canada, and moreover they only define Metis in Ontario westward and part of BC historically which we know is inaccurate today.”
“These Federal Government cuts make no sense when Metis people and organizations are seeking their Section 35 right to self governance and yet the Federal Government, through Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada, refuses to engage with any one outside the Metis National Council and their governing members,” Henry stated.
“I cannot understand how these cuts to some of our must vulnerable people in Canada can be allowed to occur when Metis organizations such as ours in BC have been calling for new Metis cultural programs as our language and culture is being lost every day,” Henry continued. “We have been denied repeatedly for project and governance funding and it appears that there are very few Aboriginal leaders pressuring the Federal Government to justify such major reductions to the Aboriginal peoples of Canada. It is clear the Government of Canada must respect and follow their own laws which includes the right to self govern. These cuts are irresponsible and Aboriginal leaders should be outraged. I do not see any of this changing and my fear is a passive attitude of acceptance will result in further negative social, economic, and cultural impacts to all Aboriginal peoples in Canada.”