Assembly of First Nations National Chief Shawn A-in-chut-Atleo is calling for a new funding approach from the federal government that would ensure equitable opportunity, stability and safety for First Nation citizens and communities.
Atleo, who leads the national organization representing First Nations citizens in Canada, is challenging the logic behind the Canadian government’s proposed 2011 budget of $378 billion, which was announced on March 22. The proposal, an increase from last year’s budget of $376 billion, would swell the federal debt to $586 billion.
“First Nations continue our calls for a new approach that will transform the funding relationship between First Nations and Canada in a way that will support progress and productivity for our citizens and communities,” said the leader of the national organization representing the country’s First Nations citizens, in a statement.
Atleo said the current funding relationship between the federal government and the First Nations undermines the nations’ abilities to plan, predict and effectively oversee critical service areas that provide security and safety in their communities.
“First Nation citizens do not enjoy the same level of service provided to Canadians by their governments, and we do not have the same guarantee of stable funding transfers. Instead we are subject to arbitrary allocations that are not guided by any overall plan and that do not match our urgent, pressing needs. In a budget aimed at ‘stability,’ we still do not see a stable and sustainable approach, and we will continue to advance a First Nations–driven plan for progress,” he said.
Finance Minister Jim Flaherty announced the 2011 federal budget in the House of Commons March 22. The budget included references to a joint effort to arrive at “concrete and positive changes in First Nation education to bring greater success and opportunities for First Nation students” but did not include any investment. The budget committed an additional $30 million over two years to the First Nation Policing Program, a $22 million allocation for environmental safety standards, and $8 million for deployment of clean energy technologies.
The Department of Indian and Northern Affairs (INAC) national funding formula has capped budget increases for First Nations at 2 percent since 1996. In contrast, provinces have statutory guarantees of funding and on average receive a 6% increase each year. The two percent increase cap on First Nations funding does not meet the growth in inflation or the robust indigenous population increases since 1996 and has led to chronic underfunding of Native education, creating a cumulative funding shortfall of almost $1.2 billion. The AFN estimates that the First Nations would have needed average annual increases of 6.3 percent since 1996 to remain on par with non-Native education.
INAC’s K-12 budget totaled $1.56 billion in 2009–2010 and left a funding shortfall of $620 million beyond the two-percent cap. This funding shortfall does not include costs needed to support the educational needs of a 21st-century school, such as school libraries, technology (computers, connectivity, data systems), sports and recreation, vocational training, First Nations languages, and school board services.
The AFN presented a pre-budget submission to the House of Commons Finance Committee in October 2010 that laid out a strategic approach based on setting a solid foundation for growth and development, Atleo said. The plan called for immediate investments in education, health and infrastructure supported by a transformation of the current funding approach to one that would ensure equity and sustainability. Currently there is no legislated guarantee of transfers to First Nations.
“The stark reality is, the gap is actually widening between First Nations and other Canadians,” Atleo said. “First Nations live with the very real and tangible results of a flawed federal approach that focuses on band-aid solutions rather than addressing long-term needs and solutions. We see it in overcrowded, crumbling homes, where people cannot trust the water that comes out of their taps. First Nations will continue to advance our plans to move away from the Indian Act, based on our rights, jurisdiction and treaties, to build our economies, strengthen our governments and create safe and secure communities for our people to live and work.”
AFN supported the Alternative Federal Budget (AFB) released by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives on March 15. The AFB’s proposed 2011–2012 budget includes, among other things, $304 million for First Nations elementary-secondary education; $495 million for post-secondary education; $150 million for new school construction; and $127 million in First Nations language-instruction programs.