First Nations react against funding cuts

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According to a news release from Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada (AANDC), Aboriginal Representative Organizations (AROs) will be facing cuts in both project-based funding and core funding over the next two fiscal years. The aim of this funding alteration is to redirect financial support “to priority areas.”

These cuts have left community leaders concerned over the potential detrimental consequences. Assembly of First Nations  (AFN) National Chief Shawn Atleo expressed considerable disapproval of these cuts in a statement, explaining, “These funding reductions have the potential to create very serious negative impacts for First Nation families and in turn the broader community and all Canadians.”

Financial assistance to Regional AROs will be decreased by ten per cent. A second possibility is that core funding will be limited to a ceiling of $500,000. Some of the key priorities listed by the AANDC that the redirection looks to support are education, economic development and resolving land issues, among several others.

“To be honest it goes back to the Indian Act, the paternalistic way it governs First Nations communities,” explained Kandice Baptiste, who is responsible for Aboriginalstudents recruitment and retention at the Office of Aboriginal Initiatives at Wilfrid Laurier Univeristy. “I think it’s just a continuation of history perpetuating itself, with the way the funding cuts are coming across now.”

She continued, “It’s just decisions that are being made above everyone’s head and it’s affecting everyone but those making the decisions.”

Baptiste went on to explain that the nature of funding allocation for First Nations communities is problematic in itself, as the government does not allow the people to decide where money should be spent.

Canada’s treatment of its Aboriginal population has come under criticism in the past, such as last fall, when the community of Attawapiskat, located in Northern Ontario, declared a state of emergency due to lack of adequate housing, sanitation facilities and running water.

“The Treaty of Rights said that the Natives were guaranteed education and all these services,” explained Daniel Kennedy, co-president of the Aboriginal Students Association at Wilfrid Laurier University.

He went on to say that there are people in the government that now unreasonably feel that First Nations communities should not go back and support such agreements since they were made quite a while ago.

“It is still a government document, right? So now they’re saying we need to make cutbacks,” Kennedy remarked. “There’s other things they’re spending on that they could cut back on.”

Baptiste went on to explain how serious the consequences of further funding cuts could be, due to the fact that the Aboriginal population is expanding at a rate of 45 per cent more quickly than the non-Aboriginal population.

“If we’re not educated and trained now, we’ll bankrupt Canada, it’s just a certainty,” she argued. “So I think [in the] long-term the Canadian economy will suffer and nobody wants to talk about the statistics now.”

Baptiste added that there are misconceptions about Aboriginal people living exclusively in northern reserves, which allows for the impact of funding cuts to be undermined.

“Toronto has the highest concentration of Aboriginal people in Canada, and over 50 per cent of our people are living in urban centres,” she concluded  “So it will affect people outside the reserves, and outside the Aboriginal people, and I think a lot of people miss that.”

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