Forget about government promises of ending Boil Water Advisories by 2021 or finally ending the 25-year-old two per cent funding cap on First Nation programs and services. The number one issue for First Nations in this federal election should be finally asserting our Nationhood and jurisdiction. We need to end our colonial Indian Act state of welfare dependence and build our own sovereign institutions and economies.
Specifically, we must prepare now to take over Ottawa’s multi-billion-dollar “Indian bureaucracy”. This disconnected and disjointed delivery system has been the number one culprit in perpetuating poverty and despair for the past century.
Ever since Prime Minister John A. Macdonald created the Department of Indian Affairs in 1876 (and was its very first minister), our Peoples’ lives have been controlled by faceless bureaucrats in Ottawa. The dysfunctional methods of delivering funding and services to regions and communities have long been a painful process.
Our children’s lives have been reduced to line items in annual budgets and fiscal forecasts. How much money will we get this year for health, education, child welfare, northern food allowance? Far too many mothers are forced to buy cheap soda drinks because they cannot afford milk. Far too many communities lurch from one crisis to another.
When you have no control over your lives, the results are high rates of child suicide, substance abuse, and poor physical and mental health.
Besides the promise of Reconciliation, the one significant step taken by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was the August 2017 announcement that the newly formed Department of Indigenous Services would eventually become obsolete. While there was no consultation on the INAC split, this did fulfill one of the main recommendations of the 1996 Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples (RCAP) —to download bureaucratic authorities to our own Peoples.
The number one question that First Nation leaders, as well as all our Peoples, should be asking federal candidates is “What are your plans to begin the transfer of Indigenous funding responsibilities to our regions across Canada?”
This will not be a simple hand-over of powers and responsibilities. We need to prepare now to have our own Peoples in place to run our own bureaucracies.
Over the next several years, Canada should be entering the true age of Reconciliation. First Nation regions will be receiving transfer payments to run their own affairs, much like the provinces. Our Peoples will be able to respond to our own number one priorities. We will finally begin to address the shameful housing situation that is Ground Zero for breeding poor physical and mental health.
Between now and Oct. 21, First Nations should focus on making sure that the next federal government will be the last federal government that controls the lives of our Peoples from birth to death.