Key recommendations in the recent Truth and Reconciliation Commission involve the need to close the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Canadians’ outcomes in education, health and social indicators. The government has promised to implement all of the TRC recommendations, and these are among the most challenging to meet.
Credit, then, to the government for at least sending a signal that it will begin to address the dire funding challenges by making money for Indigenous programs and infrastructure the Budget 2016’s big ticket item.
$2.6B over 5 years for Indigenous education and another $1B for education infrastructure on reserves.
$635M over 5 years for First Nations Child and Family Services.
$1.2B over 5 years for “social infrastructure.”
Over $500M for First Nations housing.
$178M for Inuit/Northern housing.
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$2.24B for water and wastewater infrastructure on reserves.
Millions in other specific investments, including language and cultural initiatives, support for fishing, etc.
In some areas this funding is less than is needed. And overall, the investments will only serve as a starting point to closing the gap on education outcomes and other social indicators.
Consider that just yesterday news broke about the need to evacuate children from the northern community Kashechewan due to skin lesions/rashes. This is just one example of the result of inadequate housing and health services that plague some reserves.
The government might be criticized for not providing even more funding immediately, but overall it is a positive sign to see these investments stand as a key priority.
In some ways, going forward, the real challenge will not be money but governance. Thus far the Prime Minister has spoken fondly of a “nation-to-nation” approach, but this needs to be more than platitudes about co-operation. It has fundamental implications for governance, jurisdiction, and sovereignty for First Nations, Inuit and Metis over these key social policy areas. Until we see movement on that front – movement that at the very least involves informal constitutional change through reform of the Indian Act or a more robust modern treaty process – the aspirations of many Indigenous nations and of the TRC report itself will not be realized.