Posts tagged ‘funding’

Under Their Thumb

atleoharperToday, we seen some well-deserved backlash against the Conservative government over further cuts to provincial territorial organizations and national political organizations.

But the reality is, this is not news.  It’s been something that many of us have been expecting.

Last year, the Government of Canada arbitrarily reduced core funding – one of the two areas funded by the Department of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development.  Today’s announcement was a reduction in project funding, the other area funded by the federal government.  A letter from the department states: “Project funding in 2013-14 and future years will be allocated only to projects that demonstrate clear and achievable outcomes and that are linked to departmental priorities…”

It’s really part and parcel of the ongoing fiscal assault on First Nations since the HarpCons were elected in 2006.  Now that Harper has his majority, it was just a matter of time that their budget bills whittle down the non-legislative contributions toward First Nations political organizations.

We can all raise our fists, rant and rave, even summon up a summer of sovereignty.  But the reality is, in this bizarro world of Indian politics, the government funds our political organizations.

This funding isn’t linked to a Treaty or Aboriginal rights.  This isn’t about cutting funding to an essential service.  Truth is, the government has all the right in the world to fund or not fund discretionary programs such as Aboriginal organizations.

The solution to this funding predicament is to get out from under the government’s thumb.  First Nations, PTOs and the national organizations need to become self-sufficient, and find new, alternative funding sources to fund our priorities and organizations.

First Nations need to build their economies, plain and simple.  This means developing a strong resource-based, business acumen.  First Nations governments need to develop partnerships and joint ventures and become a growing part of the resource-based economy.

We need to look at economics from a government perspective.  For example, developing new sources of revenue by beginning to tax resources and infrastructure running through our territories.  We need to look at leveraging our existing resources through various partnerships and investments.

First Nation governments need to look beyond the transfer payments agreements, and meager rations that are set before us.  He need to look towards high finance and play hard-core economics.

We need our own financiers and economists just as much as we need elected Chiefs and warriors.

Finally, I want to defend those that work at the Assembly of First Nations, PTOs and other similar organizations run by our Chiefs.

Having worked for Chiefs for most of my career, I can honestly say that they are not only out for themselves.  They aren’t not a corrupt, bunch of crooks trying to get rich off the government dime or at the expense of the poor.

Most Chiefs, and most officials that work for First Nations political organizations work hard and mean well.  They are always thinking of their communities first, and ways and means to better our communities.

If there is one thing that seen over the past few years of social media commentary, is our perpetual self-abuse directed at those officials we elect and organizations they work for.

Yes, it will be Idle No More and the grass roots that will rise up and pressure the Crown to make things right.  I’m more confident of this than ever.  But before the round dances subside and the barricades come down – First Nations will need someone to negotiate our appropriate place in Canadian society.  We will need our own forms of government to sit at the table with the next Prime Minister and make history.  Inevitably, we will need to put our trust in our elected leaders, financiers and economists.  We need to ensure the organizations they represent have adequate resources to do this work we ask of them.

It just can’t be done with government money, tied to government priorities.

Day 10: What do First Nations want?

Ed Kaiser Photo

We’re into the second week of the election campaign, and parties from all sides are touting their vision of Canada and announcing their various campaign promises.

Which raises the question:  What do First Nations want?

Some requests are quite specific.  Many First Nations leaders would like to see the Kelowna Accord be brought back to life in some form or another.  Others would like to see a new deal for First Nations, exclusive of the Indian Act based on a new nation-to-nation relationship.  Some would like to open up treaty discussions to address outstanding matters like compensation, revenue sharing, self-government and jurisdiction.

But the answer is far simpler: First Nations want the same opportunities as every other Canadian, including more jobs and a better economy.

That being said, I feel the two most important needs for First Nations are both related to the economy.

First, there is a need to address poverty in First Nations communities. We can’t continue to throwing money at the problem by addressing the symptoms.  We must move beyond that to addressing the root causes.  The Closing the Gap campaign is calling for a First Minister’s Meeting on Aboriginal People with the goal of developing a comprehensive strategy to “close the gap” between First Nations people and all Canadians.  The campaign would also like to see increased support to First Nations families through budget investments to reduce child poverty and address housing and overcrowding.

Secondly, it is critical that government and First Nations work together to improve education outcomes in First Nations.

Here is my three point formula for overcoming First Nations poverty, mitigating deplorable social conditions, enabling economic development and being able to look after your family: (1) go to school; (2) stay in school and; (3) succeed in school.

The last census indicated that only 60 per cent of First Nations youth between the ages of 20-24 completed high school.  Perhaps the reason is because First Nations schools, on-reserve, are so poorly funded. The government estimates it spends $5,500 and $7,500 to educate each First Nations student, while the average spending on a non-Aboriginal student in a provincially-funded school is $6,800 to $8,400.  The solution to improving success rates starts by addressing this chronic underfunding.

The Liberal platform announced yesterday is a huge commitment to addressing these issues.  This is a tremendous start and shows great leadership.  However, every party must make a similar commitment to First Nations.  Addressing poverty and support education is the key to improving social conditions in First Nations.

For our Children, Justice Remains Elusive

Legalities and technicalities carry little common sense and no justice.

Yesterday, the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal dismissed the case brought forward by the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) and the First Nation Child and Family Caring Society of Canada. The decision was based on mere legalities and technicalities.

The Society and the AFN brought forward the case in 2007, alleging that the Government of Canada discriminates against First Nations by providing inadequate child welfare services to communities.

I use the word “alleging” but this is not an allegation. It is reality. Indian and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) does not provide the same level of services on-reserve as provincial governments do for non-native children elsewhere in Canada. The same goes for education, special education services, infrastructure, health care and so many other basic needs for First Nations people. Canada just does not provide adequate funding across the board.

However, the decision by the Human Rights Tribunal wasn’t based on these facts but legal interpretation. The Tribunal could not compare a provincially provided service with a federally provided service. According to their decision, the service provided by INAC to First Nations children cannot be compared to the level of service provided by the Provinces, as they are different and separate service providers and service recipients. The Tribunal questioned whether INAC funding to First Nations could even be considered a service. The decision suggests that the federal government can provide a different, albeit inequitable, level of service to First Nations children as long as it does so consistently to all First Nations children on-reserve.

My questions is: when will these entities of justice, ever give First Nations justice? There’s no question, it is discrimination. But because it doesn’t fall neatly into Section 5 (b) of the Canadian Human Rights Act, or doesn’t conform to the definition of differentiation of services, justice is denied again.

The same goes for government decision-making. Why does every decision made by government have to be cleared by legal? It seems that government must always assess the impact of aboriginal rights and the Crown’s duty and liability? Why can’t government make a decision that is in the best interests of First Nations rather than always protecting themselves? Why should it matter that they end up giving a little, and God forbid, move the yardstick in First Nations favour?

In the meantime, our child welfare agencies are chronically under-funded. Many exist, year to year, with crippling deficits. There are very few investments in prevention programs and customary care programs. Foster programs, many times, are voluntary and provided by relatives with little to no support. The need is tremendous.

The Federal Government will not provide any substantial child welfare funding and direct services. Why? Well, the Department of Justice will advise government not to take on further jurisdiction and liability for child welfare. If they fund First Nations child welfare providers any further, government may open themselves up to further claims of First Nations jurisdiction.

Common sense and doing the right thing are thrown out the window.

I’m sure the Tribunal Chair feels bad. I’m sure the Department of Justice lawyers feel bad. They know the reality. They know the need. But at the end of the day, they make their legal argument, then go home to their children, their dog, their white picket fences and their stately homes, all funded by Canadian justice system.

But for First Nations, and the children who bear the brunt of substandard and inequitable funding, justice remains elusive.