By Marc Lalonde
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
The lack of funding for Indigenous programs in last week’s 2023 federal budget was criticized roundly by Indigenous leaders across Canada this week, despite government commitments to a number of programs aimed at improving life in Indigenous communities.
Assembly of First Nations national Chief RoseAnne Archibald blasted the budget, calling Prime Minister Justin Trudeau a “performative reconciliationist’ in the minutes following the budget’s reading in the House of Commons.
The AFN, which represents approximately 600 First Nations, said ahead of the budget’s tabling that in order to meet the housing needs of the estimated population growth until 2040, about another $60 billion would be required.
“They certainly talk a good talk about reconciliation,” Archibald said, adding “there is a real failing” when it comes to following through on action.
She told gathered media First Nations are trapped in what she calls a “repetitive injustice” of budget cycles.
“We put forward a number of asks for funding for things like infrastructure, education and so on — and the government turns around and actually deliberately underfunds us,” Archibald said.
Archibald added that the government is perpetuating a cycle of poverty for many of the First Nations she represents.
“They’re perpetuating an ongoing third-world condition for many of our communities,” she told CBC. “It’s repetitive injustice.
It’s a deliberate pattern of harming our communities through underfunding.”
The budget, which offers relatively little new spending for reconciliation, also pledges $4 billion over seven years for a co-developed urban, rural and northern Indigenous housing strategy that will help Indigenous people living outside their home communities.
The budget will top up the Jordan’s Principle program, which ensures Indigenous children and youth have access to essential health services, with a one-year $171-million commitment, as well as an $827-million investment in Indigenous health.
Federal Finance minister Chrystia Freeland also committed $100 million for Missing and Murdered Indigenous women and girls. In addition, $16 million over three years was promised to help fight high rates of tuberculosis in Inuit communities.
It includes a $173-million package over five years for policy initiatives that help “return control and decision-making over the use of First Nations lands back to First Nations communities.”
Indigenous Tourism Association of Canada (ITAC) CEO Keith Henry agreed with Archibald, saying the government’s lack of investment into the industry, which was hard-hit by the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting lockdowns.
“The global demand for Indigenous tourism is growing significantly making it one of the fastest growing industries in Canada,” Henry said. “We’re extremely disappointed to be once again overlooked by the government.”
Marc Lalonde is a Local Journalism Initiative Reporter with IORI:WASE. The LJI program is federally funded.