From battling TB to improving infrastructure, federal budget falls well short of Indigenous needs

Wednesday, March 29th, 2023 5:53pm



“…substance for Indigenous families is flimsy.” —tweet from the National Indigenous Collaborative Housing Inc.
By Shari Narine
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

“This budgetary process is sort of like a memory replaying,” said Assembly of First Nations (AFN) National Chief RoseAnne Archibald about the new federal budget announced March 28.

“First Nations make requests—reasonable requests by the way—and the government denies many of those reasonable requests and gives a minimal amount. And we go back and forth and talk about what works and what doesn’t in the budgetary cycle,” said Archibald.

The AFN, along with the Métis National Council and the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, provided the federal government with pre-budget submissions.

The AFN itemized 10 areas for funding, including education, health, environment and governance, and laid out a need for close to $160 billion over five years.

The MNC’s budget requests are spread over health, infrastructure, education, governance and self-determination and a variety of other areas. The highest costs are $1.31 billion over six years for housing; $1.17 billion over 10 years for education; and $893 million over five years for extended health benefits.

The ITK itemized five categories, requesting in the billions of dollars: infrastructure at $75.1 billion over 35 years; school food program at $1.66 billion over 15 years; and Inuktut language revitalization at $1 billion over 10 years. ITK puts the cost of eliminating tuberculosis at $131.6 million over seven years. The federal budget has offered $16 million over three years to tackle TB in Inuit communities.

The budget delivered yesterday by Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland directly targets Indigenous peoples with $700 million in new spending in 2023-2024 and a total of $1.2 billion projected from 2023-2028. There is also $4 billion committed over seven years for housing but that does not kick in until 2024-2025.

There are more dollars directed for Indigenous initiatives as part of other larger programs, such as the Local Food Infrastructure Fund, tourism, and addressing wrongful convictions.

“As national chief I would like to move away…from these existing budgetary cycles toward a new economic deal for First Nations,” said Archibald.

Last year, the AFN chiefs-in-assembly passed a resolution to establish a national prosperity table. The resolution stated that “for true prosperity building for First Nations, revenue and benefit sharing agreements are necessary to ensure that Canada shares the wealth derived from and upon our lands, territories, and resources whether they are treaty or unceded territories.”

Such a prosperity table, says Archibald, would break away from the budgetary cycles.

“We actually deserve a share of that wealth, and a share of the wealth isn’t little parcels of budgetary allotments; it’s a share of the wealth,” she said.

Archibald says discussions with Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Marc Miiller on such a proposal has been positive, yet nothing concrete has come from the much-needed different approach.

Federal Budget 2023 was no exception.

But it isn’t the AFN alone that wants the federal government to approach financial support to Indigenous peoples in a different fashion.

“So much optimism leading up to (the budget), but substance for Indigenous families is flimsy,” tweeted the National Indigenous Collaborative Housing Inc. (NICHI).

In an interview earlier this month with, Jeff Loucks, interim CEO and lead consultant with NICHI said he was hoping for “additional significant dollars” in the budget to support the more than 80 per cent of Indigenous people who live off-reserve. To meet those housing demands $6.3 billion would be required per year for five years. Loucks also said NICHI wasn’t in favour of co-developing a housing strategy with the federal government.

But Budget 2023 falls well short. It proposes to commit only $4 billion over seven years to implement a co-developed urban, rural and northern Indigenous housing strategy.

The Indigenous Resource Network had been advocating for a National Indigenous Guaranteed Loan program which would allow Indigenous communities to invest in equity deals with resource projects.

The budget includes only $8 million for Natural Resources Canada to support Indigenous economic participation in major projects, all of which is slated to come in 2023-2024. There is no other money allotted in this budget line for the next four years.

While the government has hinted at exploring “additional federal support to increase access to capital for Indigenous groups to invest in major resource projects” there needs to be more details on how this support will benefit Indigenous communities, said John Desjarlais, executive director for the Indigenous Resource Network.

The First Nations Financial Authority (FNFA) has been urging the federal government to make a structural change in how it finances infrastructure on reserves calling for a commitment of $200 million in the federal budget for each of the next 20 years. That commitment would allow the FNFA to issue a debenture of approximately $3.6 billion which would allow First Nations to begin to meet the larger priority infrastructure needs in their communities.

Budget 2023 directs the Canada Infrastructure Bank (CIB) to provide loans to Indigenous communities to support them in purchasing equity loans in infrastructure projects in which CIB is also investing. There is no dollar figure attached.

In its pre-budget submission, the First Nations Financial Management Board (FMB) called for the government to undertake several measures to support economic growth in First Nations communities, including the creation of an Indigenous Development Bank to address financing gaps, and the creation of an Indigenous Investment Commission to act as an investment asset management regime for First Nations, through which nations could pool their investments, achieve economies of scale and receive better rates of return.

The FMB is pleased with the announcement of $5 million in support for the co-development of an Economic Reconciliation Framework, said executive chair Harold Calla, but says “more substantial action” is required in the next budget.

The Native Women's Association of Canada (NWAC) says it is “disheartened” by the budget.

Instead of setting Indigenous women, girls and gender-diverse people as a top priority, said NWAC CEO Lynne Groulx, there “is a lack of investment to end economic marginalization of Indigenous women in order to end the violence against them to ensure full participation in the Canadian economy.”

The budget commits $123 million over the next five years to implementing the missing and murdered Indigenous women and girl’s national action plan. Each year is allotted no less than $21 million.

Budget 2023 also provides $21 million over five years for increased Indigenous participation in northern environmental decision making; $19 million over five years for negotiating and implementing Indigenous rights; and $3 million in 2023-2024 for implementing the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

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Local Journalism Initiative Reporters are supported by a financial contribution made by the Government of Canada.