By Shari Narine
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
The executive members of the Metis Settlements General Council
(MSGC) are not doing “high fives or belly bumping,” says president Dave Lamouche, but the budget brought down by Alberta’s United Conservative Party government on Feb. 28 is something they can work with.
“We were hoping that we would get more funding and operational funding for the settlements themselves, but I think that’ll be in the works and we’ll still continue to work with the province on that,” said Lamouche.
The MSGC will receive $1 million for operations to support its central organization, an increase from the previous year, says Lamouche, but still unresolved is what replaces the long-term funding agreement which expires in 2023. That agreement between MSGC and the province provided $85 million to the eight Metis settlements over 10 years. Indigenous Relations Minister Rick Wilson has previously indicated it will not be renewed.
“We have other stuff we are working on with the provincial
government?(but) there is no funding attached to what we are working on right now. It just provides opportunities to talk about the needs and sustainable stuff for the Metis settlements in the long term,” said Lamouche.
He points out that the Metis settlements have access to other funding streams, “like every other municipality does.”
The budget provides Metis settlements with $2 million in funding for continued policing (through the Department of Public Safety and Emergency Services) and $2.5 million through the Aboriginal Business Investment Fund (ABIF). The money dedicated to the Metis settlements through the ABIF is on top of the $5 million that has annually been allotted to the fund.
“I think it’s a good start for us,” said Lamouche.
“We’re going to be working very closely with them to see if we can get some agreements on the go to really develop a great working relationship with the Metis settlement,” Wilson told Windspeaker.com.
As for the Metis Nation of Alberta, there is $1.5 million that will go toward the self-governance framework agreement.
“They had taken bit of a decrease when we first got started, just because I didn’t have the funding. Now I’m stabilizing and brought them back up to their initial funding so they’re intact and can run (their) programs,” said Wilson, who sat on the Treasury Board, marking the first time his department had been represented in the budget process in this manner.
“It’s a balancing act to try and keep the communities happy and still be fiscally responsible with taxpayers’ money,” he said.
Lamouche and MSGC vice president Brenda Blyan were among the Indigenous representatives invited by Wilson to the budget presentation Feb. 28.
The Indigenous Relations department saw a 10 per cent increase in funding worth about $20 million.
One quarter of that increase will be used to move forward the work to be undertaken by the Premier’s Council on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, which was created last year.
“I made that a priority for my ministry this year. I want to make a difference,” said Wilson. “I had no funding before. I was just scrambling everywhere. Now we went from no funding to $5 million.”
Also, a priority is “a whole new reconciliation initiative” which sees $3 million added to the budget to provide grant funding to Indigenous communities that want to undertake projects.
Other Indigenous initiatives have been allocated funding through other departments as well.
Public Safety and Emergency Services is providing $65 million over three years to enhance First Nations policing services by Lakeshore Regional Police, Blood Tribe and Tsuuti’ina Nation. That funding will also help bring back policing service for Siksika Nation.
Family, Social Supports and Housing sees an additional $54 million included for the Indigenous Housing Capital Program.
However, despite a recently released summary report of 10 years of investigations by the Office of the Child and Youth Advocate, which indicated the over-involvement of Indigenous young people in the childcare system, there is no increase to the Indigenous Partnerships and Strategic Services budget line in the Children’s Services Ministry.
Indigenous people and communities are also receiving funding through general programs offered in other departments, such as education, tourism, rural economic development, continuing care facilities, and labour.
Overall, the budget released by Finance Minister Travis Toews outlined spending of more than $68 billion in 2023-24, which will be funded by non-renewable resource revenues, with a $2.4 billion surplus.
“This is just a good news budget whether we have an election or not,” said Wilson. “We were able to pay down the debt. To balance the budget and paying down the debt is huge for Alberta. We were starting to build up a pretty bad deficit here.”
Wilson confirms he will be running for a second term in the upcoming May provincial election. He says he has strong support from his constituents.
He says he has also heard feedback about some of the more recent comments made by Premier Danielle Smith, including what’s been described as a whitewashed history she recounted about Indigenous peoples and settlers having “united to tame an unforgiving frontier.”
“I got some feedback of course? They understand she’s new to the position. So we’ve being working close with her people on some of the wording. Her intent was good, honourable. It’s just a matter of understanding the culture better,” said Wilson.
Smith did hold the portfolio as Aboriginal critic when she led the Wildrose Party in 2012 as the Official Opposition.
“I thought I knew a lot, but I didn’t know anything? I found the best way to learn is to keep my mouth shut and listen,” said Wilson, who has held the position of Indigenous Relations minister since he was elected in 2019.
Shari Narine is a Local Journalism Initiative Reporter with the Windspeaker.com. The LJI program is federally funded. Turtle Island News does not receive LJI funding.