AFN calls for urgent investments in First Nation families and communities

Editorial by John Copley; Art by Bill Roy

(Ottawa, ON) – The Assembly of First Nations (AFN) responded to this week’s federal Fiscal Update delivered by Finance Minister Joe Oliver that projects five straight years of budget surpluses starting in the 2014-15 fiscal year.  The AFN is calling for urgent and much-needed investments in First Nations families and communities to address years of under-funding and reallocation of funds for First Nations.

AFN Regional Chief Morley Googoo

AFN Regional Chief Morley Googoo

“Now is the time to commit to working together to target strategic investments that will strengthen First Nation families and communities, including the resources already allocated in the 2014 federal budget for First Nations education,” AFN Nova Scotia-Newfoundland Regional Chief Morley Googoo said.  “First Nations people and programs have been under-funded for decades now and struggling under a 2% funding cap since 1996, a cap that does not keep pace with inflation or our booming population.  As a result we’re falling further and further behind.  We see this in education, employment and health outcomes that are far lower than national averages.  It affects our ability to build our economies and build healthy communities.  The government has been lecturing First Nations about accountability but that’s a two way street.  The federal government knows it is under-funding First Nations and cannot just walk away from its responsibilities. First Nations will not stand for it.  First Nations are the youngest, fastest growing segment of the population.  Investing now will reap massive dividends for all Canadians in the very near future.”

The Nov. 12 fiscal update indicated the federal government will begin showing a surplus in 2014-15.  Recent reports in media indicate that Aboriginal Affairs internal documents show it has reallocated about $500 million dollars intended for infrastructure over a six-year period to try to cover shortfalls in social and education programs.  The documents also indicate that the government knows it is under-funding First Nations education.

AFN Alberta Regional Chief Cameron Alexis

AFN  Regional Chief Cameron Alexis

AFN Alberta Regional Chief Cameron Alexis stated: “Recent information from the Department of Aboriginal Affairs proves that the Department is knowingly under-funding essential programs for First Nations.  Our people live with the results every day in deplorable housing conditions, poor drinking water or no running water at all and crumbling and inadequate schools.  These documents show that Aboriginal Affairs knows it is not investing enough in First Nations education and says the amount should be doubled.  The government should not be knowingly depriving First Nations children of opportunity or our communities of critical infrastructure.  We need to seriously look at all options, including a new approach to resource revenue sharing consistent with the Treaties.  The surpluses projected by the Minister of Finance today provide the opportunity for a new start and new hope for First Nations families and this must be our priority.”

First Nations across the country have called for action to strengthen First Nations education as a priority with First Nations control of First Nations as the overarching goal.  First Nations rejected federal Bill C-33 but continue the call for immediate, necessary investments as well re-engaging with the federal government on education.  The federal government falsely claims it had a “deal” with the AFN on Bill C-33 based on a document signed by former National Chief Atleo.  Atleo himself has stated in recent media reports that he “…did not agree to something on behalf of First Nations chiefs and leaders across the country on their behalf with the federal government, with the prime minister” (CBC report “Shawn Atleo defends his actions over the aboriginal education bill”, October 30, 2014).

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