First Nations Leaders OK With Some Parts Of Budget

Wednesday, January 28, 2009 at 15:12



National Chief Phil Fontaine likes what the federal budget provides for First Nations infrastructure, but says it needs to do much more to strengthen First Nations economies.


The Assembly of First Nations leader says the budget “falls far short” in addressing the need to build First Nations skills and First Nations economies.


Fontaine says without those investments, First Nations “will fall further behind and be forever in need of fiscal stimulus”.


Specifically, he is disappointed that there was no response to the AFN’s calls for investments in education and a proposed repayable loan fund for First Nations economic development.


Fontaine argues First Nations governments should have access to credit to spark their economies and develop partnerships with the private sector.


He also says the request for the loan fund amounts to 0.5 percent of the $200 billion this budget puts into the credit system.


Fontaine says the repayable loan fund proposal received wide support at the January 15the meeting between Aboriginal leaders and First Ministers — and the AFN will continue to push for it.


However, he says the budget does provide what he calls “a fair and helpful response” in terms of First Nations infrastructure, because there is a need to build houses and schools on reserves.


The AFN had put forward proposals for $3 billion in additional spending for First Nations, mainly through investments in infrastructure, housing and economic development.


What it got was a commitment of 400 million dollars toward on-reserve social housing.


Other First Nations components in the budget include:


-$305 million over two years to improve health outcomes and $20 million over two years to improve child and family services on First Nations.


-$100 million over three years toward an Aboriginal Skills and Employment Partnership initiative, with a goal of creating 6,000 jobs.


-$75 million in a two-year Aboriginal Skills and Training Strategic Investment program.


-and $515 million toward “ready-to-go” community infrastructure projects, including school, water and community projects.


The chief of the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations says he’s mildly encouraged by the Conservative budget.


Lawrence Joseph says the Tories seem to have recognized that funding is needed for projects on reserves, as well as in cities.


Joseph notes $325 million has been set aside for First Nations health and another $165 million for water and sewer projects.


Still, he wants to know more details about how and when the money will be spent.


On another front, Joseph says he is expecting to receive a letter from Indian Affairs Minister Chuck Strahl on the future of First Nations education funding.


There have been some rumblings that Ottawa is thinking of replacing post-secondary education grants with repayable loans.


Joseph says that would be a violation of treaty if it were to happen.