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Funding cuts the correct direction, according to Duncan
Federal Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Minister John Duncan makes no apologies for blindsiding Aboriginal leaders with funding cuts to Aboriginal representative organizations.
“We did not [let them know ahead of time]. That was not a requirement for us to make a major budgetary decision. We are the senior level of government. We have budgetary commitments that we have to make,” said Duncan.
First Nations leaders have strongly made their disappointment known, especially in light of the First Nations-Crown gathering held earlier this year.
“Prime Minister (Stephen) Harper also stated (at the gathering) the greatest respect that we can show to First Nation men and women is to provide them with the tools to credit them with the capacity and then allow them to move forward,” Vice-Chief Morley Watson of the said Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations. His comments came during a press conference held the day after the federal government announced its cuts to core funding to national and regional Aboriginal representative organizations, including treaty councils.
“But all we have seen since these comments is the real agenda of the Canadian government and the continued erosion of our Indigenous rights,” Watson said. For the FSIN, cuts will mean a loss of $1.1 million, dropping their core funding to $500,000.
Duncan said the cuts to AROs were the result of a review. No such review has taken place for 30 years.
“Once we really start looking at it we had regional inequities that were quite extraordinary across the country with no rational explanation and no, in terms of the amount of money they were receiving… apparent correlation with results. So we wanted to make sure that what we were doing did not affect community services in a negative way and I think we’ve accomplished that,” said Duncan. “We believe that the direction is the correct one.”
A formula will now be used to determine the funding for all Aboriginal regional organizations. Based on the level of funding for 2012-2013, AROs will either see a 10 per cent reduction or have their core funding capped at $500,000. There will also be gradual reductions in the amount of funding available for proposal-based projects. Reductions will be implemented over two fiscal years, with reductions in project funding starting next year and reductions in core funding taking effect in 2014-2015.
“The capacity of individual First Nations has increased a lot.
We’re basing all of our decision-making on trying to get community-based services to be the priority. Most of these cuts are to organizations whose role has changed. …. Much of what they have been doing, were doing, is now happening at a different level,” said Duncan.
But that is not the case, insists Regional Chief Stan Beardy of the Chiefs of Ontario. While national and regional organizations have managed to help many bands implement their own programs and services, there are still numerous First Nations who are unable to do it on their own.
“Because the majority of our First Nations don’t have a viable economic base, they don’t have the capacity to fully participate in the 21st century, they need second level services and that was the intent of those regional organizations,” he said.
AROs serve another important purpose, said Beardy.
“Because a lot of those organizations…are getting sophisticated, are getting to be fairly vocal in educating the people on their rights but also begin to mobilize their people to stand up for their treaty rights, Aboriginal rights, legal rights, human rights, they get to maybe be too vocal, too well-organized that they start to impact and influence the government policy,” he said.
Watson goes a step further in his observations.
“We believe that the Government of Canada is attempting to weaken our position to assist our communities in the betterment and the quality of life. The Canadian government is attempting to mute our Indigenous voices collectively by cutting funding to our legislative assembly and our organizations’ ability to provide an effective political voice…. But I am here to tell you that we are not going away nor will we ever give up our inherent and treaty rights,” he said.
Both Beardy and Watson commit their organizations to continuing to provide the services and advocacy at the levels their members have come to expect.
“We’re going to have to look at alternative ways of replacing that money and still offering the service to our people and communities,” said Watson.
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