Federal government needs to honour its obligations to First Nations
On May 3 and 4, chiefs, leadership, and Indigenous organizations met with federal officials at a joint gathering in Toronto to discuss five key areas: a new fiscal relationship; reliable infrastructure; improved health outcomes; quality education; and, most importantly, bringing children and families back together.
This was a good beginning towards ultimately turning over control of funding and services to our own institutions, run by our own Peoples, in the years to come.
In April, I was very pleased to sign a Joint Commitment to Policy and Funding Reform for First Nations Child and Family Services in Ontario – alongside the government of Ontario, and leadership from the Chiefs of Ontario. We must bring our children back to be cared by our Peoples in our communities. The federal government is committed to working with all partners to address the severe overrepresentation of First Nation children in care. This is a crisis that continues to steal children from their families. However, this is now a crisis with an end in sight.
Most importantly, our chiefs have re-iterated that the return of lands and resources is the most critical outstanding issue that must be addressed. There will be no social justice for First Nations, no positive future for our children, if we do not have a sufficient land base to build happy, healthy sustainable communities.
As the youth reminded us, we are the land. The land means everything to us. Our chiefs and grand chiefs have stated that far too many of our Peoples are physically, spiritually, and mentally damaged by colonial dependency trickled down on postage stamp size pieces of land.
In April, at our own special chiefs assembly, we emerged unified on important issues from all regions. This is critical if we want the Chiefs of Ontario to be an organization that responds and serves the leadership in our communities. We are all reminded of the urgency we have in regard to our fiscal relationship with both the federal and provincial governments.
Ontario has 25% of the First Nation national population, but only receives 9-11% of the national federal funding. At this rate, the housing crisis will worsen. We will never be able to address urgent needs from clean water to health. For example, Ontario requires $2 billion to address the housing crisis on-reserve.
The current national funding level of $200 million per year, translates, at best, into $50 million for the Ontario region.
Without significant funding increases as aligning with regional population profiles, this crisis will continue and likely worsen.
We have been reassured by the Ontario Region of Indigenous Services that this funding inequity will be corrected as soon as possible. However, we still need more funding in order to eradicate inequities and poverty.
As outgoing Anishinabek Nation Grand Chief Pat Madahbee stated at the Joint Gathering, we will assert our own jurisdiction, develop our own laws, and develop our own sustainable economies. In less than five years, our Peoples must be ready to assume control of federal funding and assert ourselves as sovereign nations.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced in February the government’s intention to table an Indigenous Rights Framework and Legislation, to be passed before the October 2019 federal election. The current engagement process consists of three hour regional meetings with various interest groups, along with email submissions. At the May 1-2 AFN Special Chiefs Assembly on legislation, chiefs from across Canada passed resolutions to remind the federal government that we – the First Nation communities and citizens – must be fully engaged in developing legislation that impacts upon us.
Specifically: “Government engagement processes with non-rights holders and organizations, such as the Assembly of First Nations (AFN), do not constitute consultation and accommodation and cannot be used to obtain free, prior and informed consent …”
The resolution called on Canada to honour its constitutional obligations and commitments to the full implementation and affirmation of inherent rights, treaty rights and title.
However, by the end of this summer, the federal government will implement legislation to legalize the sale of cannabis.
Currently, there are no provisions in the legislation which address First Nation needs, from health and public safety, to youth education and economic development. Other pieces of federal legislation that will directly impact First Nation land rights include Environmental, Energy, and Navigable Waters.
Again, this legislation requires deep consultation including complete co-development by First Nations.
Remember, there is strength in unity. We cannot – we must not – fall under a “divide and conquer” mentality – whether with governments, or amongst ourselves. We must never back down when colonial governments tell us to how to live our lives.
We will exercise our own laws and our own jurisdictions.
We will continue to advance our Nations in order to secure a better future for our children.
ISADORE DAY Wiindawtegowinini, is Assembly of First Nations Ontario Regional Chief.