First Nations chiefs alarmed, disappointed by Canada's 2024 budget

Wednesday, April 17th, 2024 5:56pm


Image Caption

Assembly of First National Chief Cindy Woodhouse Nepinak speaks to reporters in Ottawa April 17. From left to right with the chief is Grand Chief Cathy Merrick of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, Regional Chief for Newfoundland Brendan Mitchell and (far right) Grand Chief Abram Benedict of the Mohawk Council of Akwesasne.


“We were told yesterday that there would be good news and there will be bad news. Good news for Canada and bad news for First Nations.” —Grand Chief Abram Benedict of the Mohawk Council of Akwesasne
By Deb Steel
Windspeaker Reporter
Chrystia Freeland
Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland

After Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland delivered the 2024 federal budget on April 16, Indigenous Services Canada Minister Patty Hadju tweeted her support.

“#Budget2024 is all about a fair future for Indigenous Peoples,” she posted. Well, chiefs of the Assembly of First Nations beg to differ.

“My fear and concern is that we are going to be in a worse position in 2030, 2035, 2040,” said Regional Chief for Newfoundland Brendan Mitchell during a press conference held in Ottawa April 17. He described the budget as disappointing.

Earlier this month, the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) released its Closing the Infrastructure Gap by 2030 report, which identified overwhelming deficits in housing, infrastructure (roads, water/sewer) and digital connectivity in First Nations.

It was determined in a co-developed National Cost Estimate with Indigenous Services Canada that a staggering $349.2 billion would be required to narrow the infrastructure disparity between First Nations and other Canadians by 2030. Housing needs alone would require more than $130 billion in investments, the report said.

“2030 was a commitment made by the government of Canada,” said Grand Chief Abram Benedict of the Mohawk Council of Akwesasne. “We know that the investments that were made yesterday will not help close that gap.”

Budget 2024 “falls far short of closing the long-standing infrastructure gaps,” said AFN National Chief Cindy Woodhouse Nepinak, who led the press conference. Joining the national chief, Mitchell and Benedict was Grand Chief Cathy Merrick of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs and Chief David Monias of Pimicikamak Okimawin Nation.

Canada’s commitment in the 2024 Budget over five years for Indigenous housing, not just First Nations housing, is $918 million in additional monies: $426 million for First Nations on reserve; $62 million for self-governing and modern treaty First Nations; $370 million for Inuit communities; and, $60 million for Métis communities. There was already $5 billion committed in 2024/25 to “narrow housing and infrastructure gaps”.

“We were told yesterday that there would be good news and there will be bad news. Good news for Canada and bad news for First Nations,” said Benedict. “I was hoping for better news when I came here.”

He predicted that First Nations would be fighting amongst themselves over scraps put on the table. He promised he’d be fighting for what pieces he could get for his community.

“The infrastructure in our area continues to crumble. Overcrowding continues to be a reality for our communities. In our remote communities it’s even worse. Access to clean drinking water continues to be a priority for our communities,” he said.

Woodhouse Nepinak said she welcomed and appreciated the new investments proposed for First Nations health, children, education and a new $5 billion fund for a loan guarantee program for large natural resource and energy projects.

In all there’s about $9 billion in new dollars for Indigenous peoples, including $1.8 billion to support Indigenous communities in exercising their jurisdiction under An Act respecting First Nations, Inuit and Métis children, youth and families; a $1.1 billion investment for First Nations and Inuit Health; $290 million in Indigenous-led efforts to reclaim, revitalize, and strengthen Indigenous cultures and languages; $96 million to support residential school survivors, their families, and their communities, and to educate all people about the truths of residential schools, and a $388 million commitment for such business as Indigenous tourism and for clean energy projects. See Canada’s document “A Fair Future for Indigenous Peoples” for more details.

“However, analyzing the budget proposals for housing, policing, roads and water … We did not see the investments called for in yesterday’s budget,” said Woodhouse Nepinak.

Mitchell called attention to two recent Auditor General reports: Read our stories Auditor general slams Canada for lack of progress on First Nations housing and Auditor General says findings on First Nations, Inuit policing program “concerning”.

“The costs of not making investments on behalf of First Nation will have long-term consequences,” said Mitchell. “Adequate housing is a human right and our communities deserve more than failed promises.”

During the press conference, a reporter asked about Canada’s stated intent to use public lands to build 250,000 new homes for Canadians by 2031. Monias said First Nations were not consulted on the plan.

The current policy that exists under divestiture of federal lands, said Monias, puts First Nations third on the list of priorities. “And that’s unacceptable.”

In a press statement, Grand Chief Jerry Daniels of the Southern Chiefs’ Organization in Manitoba, said the “Public Lands for Homes Plan” was “quite concerning”. He reminded Canada about its obligations of Treaty Land Entitlement and called for the government to prioritize First Nations in accessing land.

“First Nations have been waiting for decades to receive the land we are owed by Canada. What I’d like to know is how the government can provide land so quickly for housing, but they have been okay to let First Nations languish as we wait for our Treaty Land Entitlement to be fulfilled,” Daniels said.

Budget 2024 also contained a $1.3 million commitment over three years to develop a Red Dress Alert to be used for when Indigenous women and girls go missing.

Woodhouse Nepinak and Merrick called out a problem with the plan that has yet to be ironed out.

“You go home and there’s still not cell service in some areas,” Woodhouse Nepinak said.

“Not every First Nation has connectivity in the province of Manitoba,” said Merrick. “There’s about 20 First Nations that don’t have that” in the province.

There is also a commitment in the budget of $20 million to search a landfill near Winnipeg for the remains of three Indigenous women, Morgan Harris, Marcedes Myran, and Mashkode Bizhiki'ikwe (Buffalo Woman). It took a year to negotiate, said Merrick.

Woodhouse Nepinak said First Nations had been working with Canada in good faith for years, so the exclusion of the words “Indigenous people” and “reconciliation” in Freeland’s 3,500-word budget speech April 16 was “alarming”. The national chief called on Canada to renew its commitment to reconciliation and keep moving it forward.

The national chief acknowledged that the situation of First Nations people has improved slightly over the years, but it’s not been at a fast enough pace.

She called for “sustained, long-term investments” to close the gaps.

Mitchell recalled that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said multiple times that his main priority is Indigenous people in this country.

“I was expecting to see what I refer to as a reconciliation budget yesterday. I’ll say it this way, what I expected to see is a reconcili-action budget. And we did not see it,” said Mitchell.

“Those are empty words,” said Chief Merrick. “It’s unfortunate that we have to hear the word without any meaning.”

She said the work done by First Nations to help governments understand their needs has been overlooked and given no consideration.

“We do the work, we have experts that do that work, that are able to compile this data, and we send it off to everybody, but it doesn’t seem to reach anybody’s ears. So that has to change.”

PM and DPM
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland before delivering Budget 2024.

Woodhouse Nepinak said she would be reaching out to the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister (Freeland) to explain their budget choices, and next week the AFN will be speaking with opposition leaders and sending them the information they will need going into the next election.

The national chief has also renewed a call for a First Ministers Meeting to discuss concerns about transfers to the provinces. Dollars are used incorrectly or unjustly, or are syphoned off and don’t reach the First Nations people they are meant to serve, said Merrick.

“They can’t just lump us in with the provinces and expect the provinces to do the right thing,” said Woodhouse Nepinak. “Many times they don’t. They want to leave us out and put us in the corner,” she said, leaving First Nations going back and forth between jurisdictions.

“We have to (find) a better way of doing things in this country, because we have so much potential,” the national chief said.

Find Canada’s 2024 Budget at