The federal government should have invested more in Indigenous people, critics and advocacy groups said about the budget released Tuesday.
This year’s federal budget includes investments in Indigenous Peoples’ housing, economic participation, health care and child welfare. It also contains funding for the $2.8-billion Gottfriedson Band class settlement agreement and Ottawa’s plan to end the tragedy of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls (MMIWG). However, critics say that’s not enough.
On Wednesday, Assembly of First Nations National Chief RoseAnne Archibald said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has failed to create economic opportunities for First Nations. Indigenous advocates said the budget lacks sufficient investments in Indigenous youth and its action plan to respond to the crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous people.
“There was a bit of shock,” Lynne Groulx, the CEO of the Native Women’s Association of Canada, said. “We are more than disappointed.”
Ottawa announced about $145 million towards its MMIWG action plan, including $95.8 million over five years to help Indigenous families find information about their missing relatives.
The federal government will also spend $2.5 million over five years to establish a federal-provincial-territorial committee to respond to the crisis, according to the budget. Efforts will include discussing how best to launch an alert to find Indigenous women and children when they go missing.
“It's such a small amount,” Groulx said. “It's like a drop in the bucket in the scale of what's needed to really address the issue.”
Jocelyn Formsma, CEO of the National Association of Friendship Centres, said she had requested funding for friendship centres, which offer community, cultural and support programming for Indigenous people across Canada. When she saw the budget on Tuesday, she was “underwhelmed” by the lack of investment in youth programming.
The federal government proposed $171 million in funding for Jordan’s Principle, a legal rule that ensures Indigenous youth have access to the products, services and support they need. Ottawa also announced it would provide $444.2 million over three years to support the Peguis First Nation in Manitoba and Louis Bull Tribe First Nation in Alberta, which took control over their child welfare systems this year.
Advocacy groups say the federal government should have spent more on MMWIG and programming for Indigenous youth. #Budget2023
Formsma said these investments in child welfare were positive, but she wanted to see the federal government invest in programming for Indigenous children in urban environments to help them network, find mentors, develop leadership skills and have fun.
“(Ottawa) stated their priorities and their goals around reconciliation, and the well-being of children and youth really needs to be a cornerstone of that,” Formsma said. “We want to see them going up front and helping to build and support folks early on.”
Formsma said she was “encouraged” by the $4-billion investment over seven years in housing for urban, rural and northern Indigenous communities, but the money is “nowhere near the amount that's needed to fill the gap in housing.”
Formsma and Groulx both said they had hoped Ottawa would budget more to ensure Indigenous people had equitable access to the same services and amenities as other Canadians.
“We think they could do better,” Groulx said. “That's not what this reconciliation is about.”
Isaac Phan Nay / Local Journalism Initiative / Canada’s National Observer