The Grand Council is criticizing this year’s budget request of the Assembly of First Nations as seriously flawed.
In September, AFN National Chief Phil Fontaine presented a pre-budget submission to the House of Commons for $1.7 billion. But according to Grand Council officials, the numbers don’t add up.
“They portray the AFN as basically the door to which First Nations will get access to politicians and also to business,” says GCC spokesman Brian Craik. “They want to be the First Nation. It’s not spelled out explicitly because I think it’s a method any First Nation would reject outright.” Craik wonders where the AFN gets their numbers to back up the monies requested, especially when it comes to education.
“It says that $500 million is needed to meet the special education needs of our children and will increase participation in post secondary education and training, but where does the number come from?” Craik wonders. “When we (the GCC) come up with numbers, we go through a detailed costing exercise based on the needs and calculate what’s required. The point is he’s throwing numbers at these things and he’s not even coming down to ask some of the First Nations what their assessment of the situation is.”
Craik also says that the agreement is not easy for an average Native person to decipher, because of all the legal jargon. “It’s written in a style that’s not very accessible to Aboriginal people,” he commented. “I think it’s written in a style that hides probably as much as it puts out in information.”
Bill Namagoose, executive director of the GCC, pulled no punches when talking about the budget request. “It was made to put the AFN as the administrator of Aboriginal poverty,” he quipped.
“Studies show that we need over 30,000 houses across Canada (on reserves). The amount required to build the houses along with renovations was around $9 billion,” he said.
According to Norman Hawkins, a chartered accountant who works closely with the GCC, the number of houses needed over the next 20 years is roughly 85,000 units across Canada. “We’re working from a document that Indian Affairs gave us (in assessing housing needs). I would say $5 billion is needed immediately in order to deal with the over-crowding, and those types of things.” Namagoose feels that the lack of funds available to First Nations bands is something Native leaders should be wary of.
“Part of the strategy of the department of Indian affairs is to evacuate the reserves. The way to do that is by holding back housing and infrastructure and make living conditions so intolerable that people actually leave and go into the cities. That has been working now for the past 20 years where we have a majority of Aboriginal people living off reserve,” he said.
The pre-budget submission lacks vision and depth as far as Brian Craik is concerned. “If the AFN takes over the budget for all Natives, what you’ll have is Aboriginals arguing with Aboriginals over money,” he concludes. “What you see throughout the report is that they don’t have a handle on what the needs are. Nor do they have a handle on how they’re going to do what they want to do.”
AFN budget breakdown
The Assembly of First Nations national Chief Phil Fontaine presented a pre-budget submission to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance for $1.7 billion.
“Our issues are critical to Canada’s future, and we wanted to make the point that they’re going to have to take into account what is important to us,” said Fontaine in presenting the budget request. “Poverty is a burden that’s shared by all.”
The budget breaks down as follows:
40% is dedicated to raising the quality of services for First Nations.
20% would go towards enhancing First Nations economies by improving infrastructure, implementing employment strategies and enhancing partnerships with business and industry.
Another 20% would go towards enhancing culture and governing capacity.
A final 20% is designed to expedite land claims settlements.
1% of the 1.7 billion would go to the AFN, restoring its budget to the same levels it enjoyed in 2000.
“All the important issues of the First Nations (across Canada) are covered in this pre-budget submission,” said Fontaine. “It’s important to note that we are requesting new money, in addition to what we have now. This is consistent with the Royal Commission on Aboriginal People’s report that called for $2 billion dollars of new funding over the next 20 years just to make certain that we catch up to the rest of the country.”