Federal Budget well received by First Nations, Métis
- John Lagimodiere | April 29, 2021
With a budget this well received by Indigenous leaders, it was no wonder that Indigenous Services Canada Minister Mark Miller was so eager to talk to the media about it. With an investment of over $18 billion over the next five years, the 2021 budget has something for almost every issue facing Indigenous people in Canada.
Miller says they came to this budget with a lot of number crunching and advocacy from people across Canada.
“My job is to close socio-economic gaps that aren’t acceptable in the first place,” Miller said in an exclusive interview with Eagle Feather News.
“We need to look at some of these gaps in infrastructure and housing through a health lens… That’s what made First Nation communities vulnerable to COVID and the devastating affect that can have on their physical and mental health.”
Indigenous leaders from across the country made it clear to Miller, Indigenous Crown Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett and other cabinet ministers that the Government of Canada needs to support communities respectfully in its vaccine deployment and, beyond that, by tailoring financial support for medical personnel according to each community’s needs, he said.
With COVID worsening the mental health of many, Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations Vice Chief David Pratt was happy to see an investment of $597 million over three years, for a mental health and wellness strategy for First Nations, Inuit and the Métis Nation.
“I know that almost $600 million is really good, but there is actually more than that for mental health,” said Pratt,
“There is also an allocation for $760 million for urban Indigenous organizations and that includes mental health money as well, so we can reach our off-reserve members. Our organizations that offer these services tell us that they are maxed out and these funds are going a long way to build capacity.
“We have been working hard over the course of the last year to get more investments in mental health. Evidence shows when investments are made and communities are empowered, the community’s overall health improves,” he said.
Miller knows this won’t be a fast fix and that a long-term plan is needed.
“Vice Chief Pratt has been a vocal advocate for this. We moved swiftly to fund the FSIN locally- developed plan to deal with suicide and mental wellness previously. But it is a larger part of a spectrum of mental wellness including substance abuse, opioid use. The pandemic has made things worse. We won’t be able to quantify the impact of that for some time. It will probably be a legacy of COVID,” Miller said.
“We need to move on this at all levels of government, including provinces, (which) have a great responsibility for health care, including Indigenous people. This is truly the hidden pandemic of COVID.”
The budget includes $6 billion for infrastructure and essential services for Indigenous communities. “Whether this is support for water or infrastructure or housing or roads and schools. It is all comprised in there.”
The budget also provided $1.2 billion for Indigenous education, $1 billion for child and family services, $861 million to improve policing in Indigenous communities, $460 million for culture and language-based programs, $150 million for an Indigenous economic growth fund and $74 million for a new Indigenous justice strategy.
The figures specify certain amounts for the Métis Nation. “We took pains to make sure it was done that way. There are some programs that are strictly for First Nations and Inuit, but it doesn’t stop us from continuing the dialogue as we engage on a nation-to-nation basis with their priorities,” Miller said.
Métis Nation-Saskatchewan President Glen McCallum said the budget demonstrated the strength of the nation-to-nation relationship.
“As a signatory to the Métis Government Recognition Agreement and the Canada – Métis Nation Accord, the Metis Nation–Saskatchewan is pleased to see Canada working with our government to improve the lives of Métis citizens, families and community,” he said in a statement.
“The investments in this budget, including in important areas of early learning and childcare, mental wellness, language revitalisation, community infrastructure, and addressing the need for action on missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls will make real and tangible differences for the Métis across the province of Saskatchewan."
Miller said the actual spend on Indigenous people in this budget is more than the $18 billion earmarked, noting they will also benefit from CMHC housing programs and $460 million for languages through the Ministry of Heritage.
Miller is optimistic about the future in Canada for Indigenous people.
“I wouldn’t be in this position if I didn’t have a lot of hope. We have to be hopeful. We also have to recognize the work that needs to be done. As politicians we have to recognize that reconciliation is not easy and sometimes not necessarily linear. Sometimes we do to take a step back,” he said.
“I think as a country that we have changed the dialogue. I look at the general awareness of the non-Indigenous population that I didn’t hear necessarily a few years ago and I think the conversation has changed. When I hear people that I know have never been seized by Indigenous issues or when non-Indigenous come up to me and start talking about rights and title, about solidarity for the Wetʼsuwetʼen, I take those as positive. It means there is a whole lot of work to be done.
“It also means to me we can’t get anywhere if its only politicians or elected officials or leaders in the community on board. It has to be the people generally and neighbours. That’s a challenge that goes well beyond government. It lies in education and just being relentless that we focus on the truth, as painful as it is, and move forward in knowing this is a path that will survive many governments.”