It’s been six years since the Conservatives scrapped the Kelowna Accord—an important agreement established to begin closing the poverty gap between Aboriginal peoples and Canadians. Since then, the federal government has consistently ignored the disturbing conditions in many First Nation, Métis and Inuit communities, preferring instead to focus on its big oil agenda. The 2012 federal budget continues its record of appalling underfunding for some of the country’s poorest communities, and recent budget cuts have effectively silenced some of the advocacy groups that fight for basic rights for Aboriginal peoples.
Aboriginal youth do not have the same opportunities for learning as other children in Canada. Schools on reserve face funding gaps between $2,000 and $3,000 per student each year compared to provincial schools. The federal government also provides zero funding for things like libraries, computers and extracurricular activities. According to the government’s own records, 48 new schools are needed on reserves across the country, and 29 more are in need of expansion or major repair.
Despite these desperate needs, this budget commits just $275 million to Aboriginal education programs over the next three years—way short of the estimated $3 billion needed to achieve an education system comparable to provincial education systems.
In the post-secondary sector, while more than 20,000 First Nations students wait on lists to receive funding to pursue higher education, the federal government continues to keep funding capped at 2 per cent per year—a cap that’s been in place since 1996. No new money is provided to help these students achieve an education.
Aboriginal people face unique and serious health challenges. The traumatic effects of residential schools must be taken into account, along with substandard housing, infrastructure issues, and impaired access to clean drinking water. Aboriginal people suffer high rates of diabetes, tuberculosis, infant mortality, alcoholism, and teen pregnancy. Rates of suicide in Nunavut – with a predominately Inuit population - are 12 times higher than the rest of the country.
Problems like these would constitute a humanitarian crisis in many parts of the world. So how did the Harper government respond? By cutting one of the few organizations in the country that specifically addresses Aboriginal health; the National Aboriginal Health Organization (NAHO) cost the federal government just $5 million per year and provided vital health services to Aboriginal people. The Harper government also decided to cut the Native Women’s Association of Canada’s one million dollar budget to provide health services for Aboriginal women.
These cuts are a disturbing sign the Harper government not only refuses to address the crisis in Aboriginal health, but seems content to let the situation deteriorate further.
There are over 121 boil water advisories on First Nation reserves. In 2011, the federal government—yes, the federal government—released a report stating that, on average, 490 million was needed annually over the next 10 years to clean up the water supply on reserves. Even with that information, this budget commits just $330 million over two years to water infrastructure on reserves.
Even in the face of the recent declaration of emergency in Attawapiskat, and the housing crises that exist in more than 100 other First Nation communities, this budget does nothing to address the deplorable conditions of basic housing and infrastructure on reserves. And for the majority Aboriginal people living off-reserve, the government has invested just $27-million over two years—far short of anything significant to address the intense poverty, high crime rates, and deplorable conditions that many face in urban centres.
The Harper government has shown their desire to silence Aboriginal groups and environmental advocacy organizations who raise concerns about oil pipelines by fast-tracking regulatory reviews of major projects. Pipelines running across reserves not put the local environment—streams, rivers, lakes and other natural resources—in jeopardy, but pose a threat to the traditional way of life of many Aboriginal communities. Often these communities have been living on these lands for hundreds of years. It is absolutely imperative that the federal government meets its legal obligations to consult and accommodate First Nation, Inuit and/or Métis communities that are impacted by a project.
Despite their commitment to ensure that Métis people fully share in economic opportunities, this budget makes absolutely no mention of Métis people. In the weeks following the budget tabling, 100 per cent of the Métis National Council’s health funding - which had been used towards Métis-specific health research - was cut by federal government.
Inuit youth high school rates are as high as 75 per cent in some areas. The Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami has developed a national strategy for Inuit education, but the federal government has earmarked what little education funding there is in the budget for on-reserve, First Nation needs. Despite having prime access to some of the country’s most valuable resources in the Arctic, this government has deprived Inuit youth the education they need to take advantage of this opportunity.
The Harper government’s systemic underfunding for Aboriginal communities is further evidence that they have no interest in helping underprivileged members of our society. Instead, this government continues to sweep major problems under the rug and silence dissenting voices, so that they can continue to promote the interests of multinational corporations and serve the wealthy.