NIPISSING FIRST NATION – First Nations had been expecting some key financial deliverables arising from the November First Ministers’ Meeting including financial commitments to address the elimination of poverty, aboriginal health care, drinking water quality and substandard infrastructure, and housing.
“This budget is a far cry from what was committed by the First Ministers,” said Grand Council Chief Beaucage. “Once again, we’ve been left out in the cold. Like the proverbial poor person looking in through a frosted window watching somebody having a real nice dinner in a fancy restaurant.”
“Addressing poverty and improving the living conditions of First Nations people is arguably the most pressing social issue in Canada today,” said Beaucage. “Unfortunately, the government is laying only a patchwork foundation to Stephen Harper’s aboriginal agenda.”
“This budget will mean First Nations will continue to be marginalized and subject to third world poverty,” he said.
Beaucage expressed disappointment in the $450 million “new approach” plan to improve education outcomes, socio-economic conditions for aboriginal women, children and families and water supply and housing on-reserve.
Beaucage was particularly critical with the lack of any fundamental investment for on-reserve housing. First Nations have long maintained there is a significant shortage of housing in First Nations’ communities across Canada. Needs estimates range from 35,000 to 85,000 new units.
In this budget, the government did committed up to $300 million to address immediate pressures in off-reserve Aboriginal housing.
“I acknowledge the government’s attempt toward addressing housing especially off-reserve and in urban centers. It may not be what was committed by the First Ministers but it’s a start,” said Grand Council Chief Beaucage, who hold the National Portfolio for Housing at the Assembly of First Nations and the Ontario First Nations portfolio for Housing at the Chiefs of Ontario.
These funds, however, will be allocated to the Provinces.
“The Government of Ontario must now begin working with our First Nations governments in addressing off-reserve and urban housing,” said Beaucage. The Grand Council Chief looks forward to working with The Hon. David Ramsay, Minister Responsible for Aboriginal Affairs and The Hon. John Gerretsen, Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing to implement a constructive approach to implementing this new funding commitment for housing.
“Despite our disappointment, we are very willing to work with this government and the Province of Ontario to address our immediate housing needs and demonstrate that our vision of housing can work,” he said
Despite this overall disappointment, Beaucage expressed pleasure in the $2.2 billion commitment to address the legacy of residential schools.
“I am excited to see the Harper government honour the agreement to compensate residential school survivors,” said Beaucage. “Our elders have fought their entire lives, have sacrificed so much in addressing this tragic part of Canadian history. I now look forward to the establishment of a truth and reconciliation commission that will educate all Canadians about Residential Schools and how it has affected all First Nations society.”
The Anishinabek Nation incorporated the Union of Ontario Indians as its secretariat in 1949. The UOI is a political advocate for 42 member First Nations across Ontario. The UOI is the oldest political organization in Ontario and can trace its roots back to the Confederacy of Three Fires, which existed long before European contact.