By Shari Narine
The federal government has committed more than $4.1 billion to Indigenous priorities from April 1, 2018, to March 31, 2023—although Canadians will be going to the polls in October 2019.
The figures were released this afternoon when Liberal Finance Minister Bill Morneau tabled his third budget.
“This budget invests in new tools to help (Indigenous) nations rebuild, to accelerate self-determination and self-government based on the recognition of Indigenous rights so that our shared future is one where Indigenous peoples are in control of their own destiny, making their own decisions about their future,” said Morneau in the House of Commons when he revealed the highlights of the portion of the budget document entitled “Reconciliation.”
To that end, $613 million has been budgeted under the category of “Rights and Self-Determination,” which includes helping Indigenous nations reconstitute; creating permanent bilateral mechanisms; creating a new fiscal relationship; and strengthening Indigenous data and research capability. More than half of that money— $320 million—will be rolled out in the upcoming fiscal year.
“The long-term investments in First Nations governments and infrastructure sets a strong foundation for re-building our nations. This is continual movement in the right direction, said Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde. “Investing in First Nations is an investment in the shared future of Canada.”
Child and Family Services is slated to receive $295 million this year, ending with $1.45 billion by March 2023.
“This will give better child and family service supports with special focus on prevention so that Indigenous children are not taken from their families and their communities,” said Morneau.
Francyne Joe, president of the Native Women’s Association of Canada, welcomed the funding.
“My question would be, how soon are we going to get that?” she said, speaking to the CBC just after the federal budget was delivered.
Other big ticket items were health at $1.5 billion over five years and safe drinking water at $1.8 billion over five years, which, said Morneau, would end long-term drinking water advisories by March 2021.
Joe said she was also pleased to see funding set aside for housing, although she was uncertain as to the impact it would have. The government has allotted an additional $1.5 billion over 10 years for housing for First Nations, Inuit and Métis.
“How far is that money going to go in the northern and remote communities? I’ve heard of repair costs being three-four times what it is in the urban centres. So this should be something of interest to our northern communities,” she said.
Joe also applauded the government for funding Indigenous skills and training programs, especially for women, with an investment of close to $1.8 billion over five years, and $408.2 million per year ongoing.
The AFN said the budget marks “continued, sustained investment in First Nations.”
Bellegarde said that First Nations successfully advocated for $11.8 billion over six years in the past two federal budgets. Additional funding allocated in today’s budget brings the total to $16.5 billion over seven years.