Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Budget 2013 & Indigenous Finances: A Paternalistic Black Eye

            As many of you know, the Conservative Government, headed by Stephen Harper, introduced the budget for the 2013 fiscal year. In it will be more ‘belt tightening,’ attacks on the public sector, on provincial finances and ability, and, as usual since, an onslaught on the Indigenous people, more so On-Reserve, who Canadians share this land with.

            Before going into my critique of the negative sides of the budget as well as other financial aspects that have come to light, I will point out one thing that I was happy to see. In the 2013 budget there was a commitment of $10 million to Indspire (albeit over 2 years), an organization that helps offer funding, through bursaries, to various students from all Indigenous backgrounds. I am one such individual who has benefited from Indspire's bursaries while I climb the academic ladder. However, I do this because the lack of funding that is invested into our communities for post-secondary education, let alone elementary or secondary education. I will admit, this angers me – especially when the Kelowna Accord that had been drafted, over an 18 month period and agreed to by all involved, would have helped to rectify the education funding gap by now. However, we will never know if it would have done just that since the first CPC attack on Indigenous people was scrapping the Accord after their 2006 election win.

            When reviewing the budget and comments made by various politicians, First Nations, Metis, and Inuit peoples, it is apparent that the funding gap is not being tended to. In fact, there is little to no change in funding for K-12, mweaning on-reserve education and infrastructure will continue to worsen. Funding has been announced towards items such as entrepreneurial programs ($ 5 million specifically for Cape Breton University, which is in a region of the land with a very small Indigenous population compared to Northern Ontario, the Prairies, the Territories, or British Columbia – but that is pretty much it for any form of funding in a post-secondary sense. However, I would like to express that they have made a commitment that we can learn trades. I guess Indigenous people are only good enough for that, and not to have the choice to study science in University, Nursing in College, or Medicine, Law, and so on, at the levels they are pushing for trade skills.

            Don’t get me wrong - trades skills are important, but for a liberal democracy and a Prime Minister that supposedly believes in what it stands for, I would have believed that it was our right to choose what we seek for a future career with the funding guaranteed for Indigenous people via the agreements that exist. I guess Individuality is only ok if it follows what Stephen Harper and the Conservative Party of Canada wants. Additionally, no increase in funding is going into housing or water treatment centres, both of which have been heavily underfunded for over a decade and are an on-going problem for Indigenous communities.

            The most ignorant part of the budget is the section that allocates $241 million to a program that would force on-reserve youth, between the ages of 18 and 24, to take job training if they want to receive welfare payments. The various First Nation communities can only access this funding if they agree to impose these rules on the youth who would receive the welfare payments. Now, I would have little issue with the idea of training, or forms of workfare at that, but when it is forced on to one specific ethnic group, who has continuously vocalized the need for proper consultation, neem emtrenchedin the Canadian Constitution, and recognition of their inherent right to not be controlled as vassal states, then alarm bells sound off for me and chime colonialism and stereotyping. This program is a complete, abhorrent, and stereotypical imposition on a group of people who clearly need more then job training.

            As Dr. Carolyn Bennett pointed out, the point is to invest in K-12 and assist with education so such things do not have to occur. Additionally, it assumes that those who are First Nation and between 18 and 24 don’t know what it means to work or be trained. When I originally finished my Undergrad Degree in April of 2008, I fought hard to avoid the need of social assistance until it was financially impossible for me to ignore. I had applied to every type of job I could, from within my field of focus to MacDonalds and Tim Horton's. Unfortunately, my degree meant I was over qualified and thus could not obtain those customer service positions. I was fortunate that a week after I had apporached the Social Assistance Director in my community for support that I was offered a good job in my field. If this had happenned with this stereotypical program enacted, Id have felt ashamed, discriminated against, and treated like a lesser then the rest of the people my age who did not have to take such a lesson. This is especially true for me because I have an Honours Degree, had been working since I was 14, and had much training already. This part of the budget is an example of the massive problem that exists with the CPC and its views on Indigenous people, and especially youth. I do not need training, nor will many who this will be forced upon. What we need are proper jobs, proper economic abilities in our communities, the treaties properly respected, proper consideration about resource-sharing agreements, and a future federal Canadian government willing to work with us on a nation-to-nation level.

            To add insult to injury, the self professed Metis Member of Parliament for Saint Boniface, Shelly Glover stated “Folks do not want a welfare cheque, they want a job, they want to be able to have the skills to be employed in different jobs so they can support their families.” Dr. Carolyn Bennett, the Member of Parliament for St. Paul’s and the Liberal ANAC Critic, responded that the Indigenous people did not ask for workfare. Glover’s response was “You don’t listen.”

            I found it quite interesting that she stated that Bennett doesn’t listen when it has been very clear this government, and its Members – whether ‘Indigenous’ or not, have not been the ones listening. If Glover had, she would learn that she has little right or place to comment about being Aboriginal and what is best for on-reserve First Nations people – her supposed experience is with her Metis background, which is not First Nation. Additionally, had Glover been listening, she would know that the Kelowna Accord is wanted and a plausible answer to educational and economic issues in our communities. Additionally, Glover would have noticed that the various bills her party is forcing down the throats of ALL Indigenous people, and their version of ‘consultation’ is not welcomed. Perhaps its time for her to pay attention instead of just drinking the blue koolaide.

            To add even more lemon juice to the CPC wound inflicted upon Indigenous people, specifically First Nations, the government is now pushing  an additional clause to the Contribution Agreements for the 2013 fiscal year – one that requires the First Nations communities to agree to legislation and that they are prohibited from challenging the federal government in the courts. Various communities are reporting this in the Contribution Agreements and Dr. Bennett took the government to task on this in the House of Commons on March 19, 2013. The response given to her, by Parliamentary Secretary of ANAC, Member of Parliament for Kenora Greg Rickford, is that this was false and it was only an administrative change. However, if it is worded as many have shown it to be, there is reason to be cautious.

            The worst part is that many First Nations communities are already poverty stricken, under funded and in third world conditions that some are doing it in order to not allow their communities to dwindle to an even worse standard. I would say that this tactic is similar to attrition and embargoing in the various wars and conflicts that continue to occur, and have occurred, in present and past times. In other words, as reported by The Hill Times on March 25, 2013: “With a new fiscal year starting, that means as of April 1, some First Nations will have no funds because they did not sign the agreement.”

            Thus, as 2013 continues to get underway it has become clear that the Conservative government of Stephen Harper did not truly mean it would bring forth a new relationship with the Indigenous people, as promised in January of this year. Instead he has opted to continue down the road of the 1950s and 1960s mentality and continue to impose what is quite easily acknowledged and defined internationally, as forms of colonialism and prevention of self-determination. One can never be self-determined without properly having a seat at the table of decision making.

            As for the other political parties, it is easily noticeable that they have spoken out against this. Bob Rae, has spoken out against the 2013 budget and even specifies that the Liberals will not support the budget. Rae highlights the CPC’s lack of commitment to the Indigenous nations as part of the reason. Furthermore, Dr. Bennett has continually showed her strong allegiance to the Indigenous nations, as an ally and friend, in the uphill battle we are all still going through. Beenett also continues to be a strong voice of support for us in the House – whether she is Indigenous or not.

            Additionally, Thomas Muclair stated that “at a time when First Nations are holding out a hand for reconciliation, he’s giving them the back of his hand.” For once I agree with Muclair on his statement, but one must ask, consider, and remind Muclair that if he thought this way why did he endorse the Harper Conservative government’s efforts with First Nations in January 2013? Furthermore, why has he not rescinded this endorsement still? Lastly, what happened to the NDP support for Indigenous peoples gone since Muclair became the NDP leader? It has clearly become noticeable that the issues of the various Indigenous nations have fallen to the wayside of both parties.

            I am proud to say that the Liberals have stood with us through the attacks of the last 6 years and continue to do so by standing with us via IdleNoMore, Meeting and listening to our leaders, and meweting with our people - such as the Cree Youth who Harper recently ignored. Additionally, by Liberals voting against Budget 2013 – especially as they point to Indigenous peoples as one of the reasons for doing so, shows a strong sign of working with us (something that doesn’t seem to have been such an explicit cornerstone of any opposition or 3rd party’s decision in voting against a Federal Budget).