By Shari Narine
A federal budget that has won praise from the Assembly of First Nations and Métis governments in Alberta and Ontario has left the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples dissatisfied.
Even though $3.4 billion of new money over five years, on top of the $8.4 pledged in last year’s budget, was committed to Indigenous-related funding, CAP National Chief Robert Bertrand says the vast majority of that funding is going to on-reserve issues.
That leaves the 70 per cent of Indigenous peoples who don’t live on reserve out in the cold – again.
Bertrand believes that this federal government is following in the footsteps of the Harper government, refusing to deal with either CAP or the Native Women’s Association of Canada. Instead it has thrown its support behind AFN, the Métis National Council and the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami.
“I do not know why, for the life of me, they’re doing that, because in a lot of circumstances CAP is the ideal organization to help them with urban problems with off reserve Aboriginal peoples,” said Bertrand.
He contends that while MNC represents “their group” of Métis in five provinces, CAP represents the rest of the Métis in Canada, non-status Indians and a “whole bunch of other Indigenous people not represented by (MNC).”
Finance Minister Bill Morneau delivered the Trudeau government’s second budget on March 22. Among the funds to go to Indigenous peoples not living on-reserve is an investment of $225 million over the next 11 years for housing. The government also reiterated its commitment of $118.5 million over five years for the Urban Indigenous Strategy, although no new money was added.
Program funding to be shared between non-reserve dwelling Indigenous peoples and those living on-reserve is $50 million in 2017-2018 for Aboriginal Skills and Employment Training Strategy; and, an additional $7 billion over 10 years, starting in 2018/19, for affordable child care, as well as dedicated early learning and child care programs for Indigenous children.
“This budget fell very short to help (off-reserve Indigenous people) out in their needs,” said Bertrand.
The Métis governments in Alberta and Ontario don’t agree with CAP’s assessment, considering Métis make up the largest portion of the off-reserve Indigenous population.
Métis Nation of Alberta President Audrey Poitras commended Trudeau for the budget, saying it was a “more inclusive approach to dealing with all Indigenous peoples.”
The federal budget provides greater support for Métis families and communities, with investments in housing, early childhood development, health, labour market training, and the preservation of the Michif language.
But the strongest commitment comes in the form of $84.9 million over the next five years, as well as ongoing annual funding of $28.3 million, to build the governance capacity of the MNC and its five provincial governing members.
Funding will also support Métis identification registries and the reviewal of existing programs and services.
"We are extremely encouraged to see a significant commitment of funding towards strengthening our governance and the foundation for a new relationship between Métis Nation governments and Canada,” said Métis Nation of Ontario President Margaret Froh.
“This will lay the foundation for a new relationship with Métis peoples, and support collaborative work with the federal government on moving toward Métis self-government and self-determination,” said Poitras.
She said the budget commitment builds on the Memorandum of Understanding on Advancing Reconciliation that the MNA signed with Canada in January.
AFN National Chief Perry Bellegarde says the budget held little surprise for him, noting his organization “lobbied hard” for specific areas that did receive funding, such as post-secondary education and training, housing, safe water initiatives and Indigenous language revitalization.
“I say the government is listening to us. I say we’ve got a collaborative working relationship. And influencing the federal budgets every year is something that really is the work of the Assembly of First Nations as a strong, united advocacy group.
“That’s what it is. We’re advocating for change, we’re advocating for investments,” he said.
But while this budget is another “positive” step forward, Bellegarde believes that more money will be needed to close that gap in the living standard index which sees Canada ranked six but First Nations ranked 63.
“Our challenge right now as First Nations people is to make sure our priorities and issues don’t fall off the Liberal government’s table, because you’ve got an economy that’s closing down … you’ve got all these issues. We’ve got to make sure closing the gap is a priority, not only amongst Prime Minister Trudeau and Cabinet, but amongst Canadians,” he said.
“I believe Canadians are starting to get it, that we’ve got to make strategic investments to deal with First Nations, Indigenous peoples’ issues.”
Meanwhile, Bertrand says CAP will continue to lobby to get the needs of the off-reserve Indigenous people met.
“We will be talking to the ministers, making them aware of this, I call, injustice, and perhaps we will have a better light for the next budget. Maybe it’ll be CAP’s and NWAC’s turn the next time around,” he said.