by Jeremy Appel, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
(ANNews) – The NDP’s Indigenous relations critic says the 2021-22 UCP budget has done nothing to improve the lives of First Nations, Metis and Inuit peoples in Alberta.
“They have consistently cut,” says Richard Feehan. “There have been some changes — some things are up and down — but they aren’t sections of the budget that are provincial dollars.”
He pointed to the First Nations Development Fund, which consists of revenue from casinos. That budget item is an estimate of how much money will be raised, rather than an allocation of provincial dollars.
“If you eliminate the money that isn’t provincial dollars, then what you see is nothing but cuts — no additional dollars for anything at all,” said Feehan.
While the First Nations Development Fund had $135,000,000 allocated towards it in 2020-21, only $80,000,000 was spent and the 2021-22 budget allocated $127,000,000 towards it.
This is “in spite of the fact that employment was really hard hit this year, so they’re not helping in any way with the community,” Feehan added.
Cuts that were made in the 2019-2020 budget have been maintained, he says.
“We still have none of the urban initiatives that were in the department that they cut out two years ago. They’re all still gone,” said Feehan. “Many of the community groups, like for example the Calgary Metis Family Service, just lost all of their money. The friendship centres, and so on, have all lost money.”
He says he would like to see a greater emphasis on funding for urban services for Indigenous peoples, as more than half live in cities, rather than reserves.
Feehan says the budget demonstrates that FNMI peoples are not a priority for the UCP.
“It really is, truly, a budget of neglect,” he said. “They just decided not to do anything.”
The budget for land-related negotiations and consultations was cut to $15,098,000, less than half of what it was in 2019-2020.
“The only time (the UCP) care is if Indigenous people are investing in their agenda, around oil and gas,” Feehan said. “They’re not interested in anything else that’s going on with the Indigenous community.”
In a statement to the Alberta Native News, a spokesperson for Indigenous Relations Minister Rick Wilson pointed to grant funding that hasn’t been cut.
“Funding is intact for Indigenous women’s initiatives, protocol agreements, economic development through the Aboriginal Business Investment Fund and the Alberta Indigenous Opportunities Corporation,” said Joseph Dow.
The budget lists Indigenous women’s initiatives funding as $1,237,000 for 2021-22, compared to $1,355,000 for 2020-21. The same is true of the Indigenous Policing Services grant, which is $13,576,000 for 2021-22, rather than $13,582,000 for the year prior.
“Changes to the Indigenous Relations budget come from spending dollars carefully while keeping our focus on Indigenous people. We have been able to trim spending internally, so we can keep dollars where they are needed most to support Indigenous communities,” wrote Dow.