‘We get pennies’: NDP Idlout denounces federal budget for lack of commitment to Indigenous Peoples

Indigenous leaders responded to Tuesday’s federal budget with frustration and disappointment. According to NDP MP Lori Idlout it doesn’t come close to erasing the inequities for First Nations, Inuit and Métis people.

“We know that for too many decades there’s not been enough investments to improve the lives of Indigenous peoples,” Idlout, the MP for Nunavut, told Nation to Nation host Annette Francis.

“And the budget doesn’t seem to indicate there’s going to be that much more investments to ensure that we’re able to lift ourselves up, so that we can help contribute to Canada’s economy.”

Idlout said the investments for Indigenous peoples amount to pennies.

“Less than one percent of the budget will help to alleviate the infrastructure gap. It’s over $475 billion and there’s only about $9 billion in investments, which is less than one per cent of what we need to make sure that indigenous people can live with the same quality of life as other Canadians.”

Idlout said Inuit will continue to be marginalized.

“It keeps us on the fringes, so children, even if there’s the national school program that’s been announced, they’re still going to have to sleep in overcrowded homes. They’re still going to have to sleep in moldy conditions with their homes, so children will still suffer.”

The budget commits to invest $1.3 million to co-develop a first phase of a regional red dress alert system.  It’s the result of a motion put forward by NDP MP Leah Gazan to alert the public when an Indigenous woman, girl or Two Spirit person goes missing.

“Pennies were stopped being produced, yet we get pennies for missing and murdered Indigenous women and for the red dress alert,” said Idlout.

Chippewa community of Aamjiwnaang is advising residents to stay indoors

High levels of the chemical benzene are forcing leaders in Aamjiwnaang First Nation located on the St. Clair River near Sarnia, Ont., to order everyone to stay indoors.

The area is known as Chemical Valley – one of the worst hotspots for pollution in Canada due to the number of refineries and chemical plants in the area.

Just this week, extreme levels of benzene in the air forced the leaders of the community to warn members to stay inside and keep their windows closed.

According to Chief Chris Plain, over the past three years, a leak at one of the refineries has been ongoing.  This week the benzene levels were extreme he said on Nation to Nation.

“They were at the highest point. Yesterday was 150 [ppm or parts per million] and then there was another reading of 115 [ppm] and readings in the ‘70s and ‘80s.”

Complaints about pollution levels in Aamjiwnaang have been going on for years.  Plain said what’s needed is enforcement.

“There’s no serious efforts made to enforce the industry to meet the standards. (INEOS Styrolution) does not seem to have any regard for our community and so, you know, the government allows them to,” he said.

Plain said there have been a lot of studies to support the fact that it’s affecting people’s health.

“There’s a high rate of cancer, we have high rates of asthma. we have high rates of learning disabilities, compared to other children. So some of these are attributed to the exposures to the air by the emissions, but also the mental health aspect of our community, you know, not having anybody there in government to protect us, not having anybody looking out for us.”

Plain and his council met with the Ontario’s ministers of the environment and Indigenous affairs on Wednesday. And while INEOS committed to supplying monitoring systems around the community, his council is seeking legal advice to file an injunction to force the facility to make the necessary repairs to stop the leak.

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