Calgary, Alberta March 29, 2012 – As Ottawa moved to scale back federal spending by $5.2 billion a year; many First Nations expected the announced austerity budget to be loaded with further cuts to already severely underfunded programs and services. However, upon initial review of the March 29 budget, indications suggest Aboriginal people will benefit from the measures announced in Budget 2012 that commits the Government to introduce legislation and explore new funding mechanisms for First Nations elementary and secondary education and invests $275 million over three years to support First Nation education.
“In the time that we’ve had to analyze Harper’s budget, we are pleased with the important investments and commitments for First Nations education and infrastructure, but we remain cautious and steadfast in advancing the implementation of Treaties, resolving land claims, strengthening First Nations governance and better financial arrangements to ensure stable, sustainable funding,” says Blood Tribe Chief Charles Weaselhead.
“We must continue to follow up on the positive outcomes of this budget and the Crown-First Nation Gathering, and continue to be active on reconciliation - consistent with a rights-based agenda and the need for investment across many areas. Not just reforming the status quo, but truly engaging transformational change in public policy and the way governments do business with us.”
Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development has reported that most cuts to its portfolio were internalized, with plans to align other federal departments in order to reduce redundancies. “Savings will be achieved through restructuring, operational efficiencies and changes to business processes, in order to improve service delivery to Aboriginal and Northern communities,” according to its website.
The Economic Action Plan 2012 tabled by Minister of Finance Jim Flaherty, invests $707.7 million over three years for Aboriginal peoples and Northern communities “allowing them to participate more fully in Canada’s economy and benefit from its growth.” Budget 2012 also provides funding of $691.8 million over the next three years for Aboriginal peoples and their communities, including strategic investments in: First Nation education on reserve as well as infrastructure, training that will “improve prospects for employment, improvements” to First Nation water infrastructure and the Urban Aboriginal Strategy.
“Plans to improve education and address economic participation for First Nations are positive steps for our young people, who are emerging as a huge demographic,” says Weaselhead. “However, we are still concerned about the federal government plan to unveil new rules that it says will cut the time needed for environmental assessments of major energy and industrial projects. With more and more exploration, development and production across Western Canada, some First Nations’ territories are affected. Therefore the duty to consult and respect our treaty and Aboriginal rights must be reconciled in order to balance social, economic and environmental needs,” says Weaselhead.
As part of its Economic Action Plan, Ottawa announced its commitment address family violence on-reserve and to improve employment training and incentives to the on-reserve Income Assistance Program. In its 2012 plan, the Government commits to “make progress” by better aligning its on-reserve Income Assistance Program with provincial systems. Chief Weaselhead says he hopes this commitment will mean enforcement of provincial standards on reserve so that many of his people won’t have to leave home just so they can access handicap and mental health programs and other services enjoyed by all other Albertans.
“While many First Nations support commitments to introduce initiatives like enhancing economic potential on First Nations lands and improve water quality in First Nations communities, we must be diligent on the treaty-based agenda and building stronger relationships and reconciliation of critical jurisdictional issues with government. I am encouraged by Canada’s commitment to work with us, especially on proposed legislation because that is another critical concern - such as laws to establish equity, structures and standards to education systems on-reserve; to allow private property ownership on-reserve; improving safe drinking water regulations; and other legislation that must not derogate or abrogate from our treaty and inherent rights.”
“I am all for equity and safe drinking water legislation, but any new laws – such as the push for privatization of reserve lands and conversion of Aboriginal title into fee simple on a small percentage of traditional territories – has to include meaningful consultation to ensure transformational change while respecting and reconciling treaty and inherent rights.”
For more information, please contact: Brent Scout, Treaty 7 Grand Chiefs Liaison:
Treaty 7 First Nations Chiefs Association @ 403.710.9432 or email@example.com