Federal Budget Shows Promise as First Step Toward Closing the Gap



    WEST VANCOUVER, Jan. 27 /CNW/ - Today's federal budget includes welcome
and overdue measures that, if implemented, could allow First Nations to at
least start addressing historic issues that have left them among Canada's most
disadvantaged, BC Regional Chief A-in-chut (Shawn Atleo) said.
    "There is positive news, but at the same time the budget falls
dramatically short of the commitment and funding needed to ensure Canada's
First Nations share fully in the economic recovery, and we can only pray that
this is but a first step," said the Regional Chief.
    Initial indications are that $1.4 billion is being specifically targeted
to Aboriginal Canadians. In addition it is hoped that First Nations will also
be able to access the $1 billion community investment fund for communities,
such as the 203 First Nations in BC devastated by the mountain pine beetle
crisis.
    "The government deserves some credit for listening and trying to address
some of our concerns by directing significant funding to address them," Chief
Atleo said, "But the reality is First Nations have never benefitted from
previous times of prosperity and we have so much further to go to catch up."
    "The budget measures are a good down payment, and I hope, indicate a
desire to build on the spirit of last year's Residential School Apology, but
the truth is they barely scratch the surface of what is needed," the Regional
Chief said.

    
    To put the $1.4 billion into perspective:

    -   It does not begin to approach the $5 billion that was promised and
        then cancelled under the 2005 Kelowna Accord.
    -   It is barely one third of the $3 billion in funding and $1 billion in
        loans that the National Assembly of First Nations presented in its
        budget submission.
    -   In fact, it is $200 million less than $1.6 billion that the BC First
        Nations Leadership Council identified as the minimum for First
        Nations in this province alone.
    -   The budget provision for $400 million for social housing on reserves
        Canada-wide amounts to only two thirds of the $600 million needed for
        8,000 homes just in BC, and this does not include support
        infrastructure such as roads, water and sewers.
    -   Today's budget provides $200 million for First Nations schools, but
        in BC alone $250 million is desperately needed.
    

    It is also unclear as to how First Nations will be able to access funding
or what the decision-making criteria will be. "First Nations must be fully
involved in setting the criteria and the decision process." said Chief Atleo.
    It is also unclear how much of the funding is actually new money, as
opposed to redirected former commitments.
    For example, the new two-year $1 billion community investment fund now
includes unspecified money for communities affected by the mountain pine
beetle disaster, which appears to mean the government's previous promise of
$100 million a year for 10 years to address the MPB in BC has now been
swallowed up by this new program.
    "The devil is in the details, and we have reason to be cautious as this
budget appears to have abandoned previous promises that First Nations had been
counting on," Chief Atleo said.
    "Equally important, we need to see how we will be able to access this
funding. Here in BC for example, our First Nations Leadership Council, working
under direction from the First Nations of BC in partnership with Premier
Campbell, have developed action plans in key areas such as forestry, mining
and energy, fisheries, education, health, children and families and more. We
are keen to understand how we can access funding quickly and efficiently to
allow the First Nations in BC to implement progressive plans that are key to
building prosperous and healthy communities," said the Regional Chief.
    Chief Atleo called on government and all parties to work with First
Nation leaders to build on the first steps taken in today's budget.
    "I urge them to see this budget not as complete strategy, but rather as
an initial phase that must be improved on quickly and effectively to ensure
First Nations receive their full share of the loaf - not just a few crumbs,"
Chief Atleo said.
    "We are committed to working with other governments to ensure we all
share in the economic recovery. If ever there was a time for hope, inspiration
and a genuine effort to include First Nations in Canada's golden future, it is
now. If ever there a time to provide the funding, initiative and support to
allow us participate as equals in a prosperous Canada, it is now."
    Chief Atleo said such action is in the best interests of all Canadians.
    He noted federal government estimates indicate there are at least $350
billion worth of potential resources development involving First Nation's
territories - much of this in BC, and said, "Ensuring First Nations are able
to build the capacity to participate fully in such projects is crucial to
successful and sustainable development of these opportunities."
    He also noted First Nations are the fastest growing and youngest
population in Canada. Hundreds of thousands of First Nations youth and young
adults offer a desperately needed pool of potential entrepreneurs, skilled
workers and professionals as the country's general population ages and enters
further into the baby-boomer crisis.
    "It is in the country's best interests that we build a culture of
opportunity, hope and capacity for our First Nations. How we respond as Canada
rebuilds over the next two years to help our generations of today will
determine the cycle for our generations of tomorrow," Chief Atleo said, "Will
we continue with a cycle of exclusion and despair, or create a cycle of
inclusion and hope?"
    BC Regional Chief A-in-chut is elected by and accountable to the 203
First Nations in British Columbia.





For further information:

For further information: Ryneld Starr, Communications Officer, BC
Assembly of First Nations, (604) 922-7733 or cell (604) 837-6908 or
communication@bcafn.ca

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BC Assembly of First Nations

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FEDERAL BUDGET 2009

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