AFN national chief says budgetary cycle ensures First Nations remain in perpetual poverty

The head of the Assembly of First Nations says the way the federal government does its budgets continues to leave First Nations people in an endless cycle of poverty.

“The federal government turns around and deliberately underfunds us and keeps us in these cycles of poverty rather than moving us into prosperity,” AFN National Chief RoseAnne Archibald told Nation to Nation speaking about Budget 2023 budget released this week.

“There’s a repetitive injustice against our people rather than lifting up and creating a more just reality. There’s a deliberate pattern of lack when in fact all of the wealth that is built in this country, now known as Canada, is happening on First Nations lands and waters.”

The national chief said every year her organization meets with federal officials to ask for funding in various areas such as health, infrastructure and housing and each year the money that the government actually puts forward in the budget is far below what was requested.

Case in point, housing. Archibald said the AFN has been asking for $63 billion to address First Nations housing needs and the federal government has put forward roughly $8 billion to be spent over seven years for all Indigenous housing in the last two budgets.

She said what is badly needed are more economic development projects where First Nations are equal partners with the government and industry.

Archibald did give credit to the government for targeting $123 million over five years for initiatives to address missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.

But even here, she said, the Liberals need to stop studying ideas such as creating a “red dress alert” system and actually do them.

“We have to move into funding that actually brings action to an issue like MMIWG ensuring that families and survivors see action rather than words and shows of concern,” Archibald said.

Interestingly enough, the 2023 budget does highlight what the government is calling economic reconciliation with $173 million in funding over five years to help First Nations become partners in major resource development projects, capitalize on the economic value of their lands and participate in environmental assessments on proposed projects.

“Moving forward on making sure that Indigenous communities are part and parcel of the future,” Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Marc Miller explained to Nation to Nation. “We talk a lot about the resources and the clean resources that we need to create in this country to combat climate change and that has to be done in partnership with Indigenous communities. Making sure they are part of the consent process but also part of the wealth process.”

Lastly, Nation to Nation also talked to Indigenous Services Canada Minister Patty Hajdu about this week’s budget and the $4 billion over seven years for an urban, rural and northern Indigenous housing strategy.

“It’s something that Indigenous people have been talking about for a long time,” she said. “Although we’ve made historic investments in First Nations communities, we know that many Indigenous people are still struggling in urban and remote settings that are without housing. So, that’s a huge investment.”

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