Statement on Federal Budget by National Chief Phil Fontaine: First Nations not Included in a "Stronger, Better" Canada



    Another Missed Opportunity: First Nations Remain in Last Place

    OTTAWA, March 19 /CNW Telbec/ - "Today's budget was supposed to contain
something for all Canadians, but today, First Nations are beyond
disappointment. We don't see any reason to believe that the government cares
about the shameful conditions of First Nations. We have tried dialogue and
tabled a rational plan to address it. The only thing missing is a commitment
from the federal government.
    It is encouraging to see this government re-new and expand programs where
First Nations are demonstrating great success such as the Aboriginal Justice
Strategy and the Aboriginal Skills and Employment Partnership initiative.
However, the investments in Budget 2007 fall far short of a comprehensive
plan. Similarly, while we are pleased to see money from last year's budget
confirmed in 2007 for market-based housing on-reserve, the larger question of
the pressing need for social housing remains unanswered.
    It is clear First Nations have been left out of the "stronger, safer,
better Canada" painted by the Finance Minister.
    Today's budget goes far towards cutting taxes and paying down the
national debt -- but there is no mention of dealing with the huge debt to
First Nations in the form of outstanding land claims. I would like to remind
this government of the recent Senate Report on specific claims -- Negotiation
or Confrontation: It's Canada's Choice - the title says it all.
    I am also calling on First Nations leaders - especially women and
youth -- to study the budget carefully, and provide their reactions to the
Minister of Indian Affairs and the Prime Minister. I know that many Regional
Chiefs will provide their own commentaries.
    Canadians believe in fairness, and trust that no one should be left
behind in prosperous times. Some Canadians will welcome this budget, but many
more would be alarmed if they knew about the devastating consequences for
First Nations given the lack of attention that First Nations have received in
this budget. The frustration of First Nations people is only growing, and this
budget does nothing to allay their concerns.
    It is clear that the circumstances of First Nations peoples remain a
black mark on Canada. It's an enormous burden, not just on First Nations
people, but the whole country. We want to turn this situation around so that
First Nations are more effective contributors to Canada's prosperity. First
Nations need to be able create opportunities, not continue to miss out on
them.
    Nowhere is the fiscal imbalance more apparent than in the critical
under-funding of First Nations health, child welfare, education, housing and
infrastructure. No other Canadian citizen has had to endure a two-percent cap
on funding that has now lasted for over a decade. Our population continues to
grow and the poverty gap continues to widen. Today's budget only contributes
to the imbalance by providing $39 billion over seven years to the provinces,
without any comparable attention to First Nations.
    In November 2005, First Nations had a plan that was unanimously accepted
by the Premiers and Aboriginal leaders. As an Opposition MP at the time,
Minister Prentice said: "the fight against aboriginal poverty is the most
pressing social issue that our country faces ... and as Conservatives, we
believe something has to be done."
    Beyond investment that is critically needed, First Nations of this
country seek a commitment to structural change. The First Nations - Federal
Crown Political Accord on the Recognition and Implementation of First Nation
Governments (signed in May 2005) provides an exit strategy from the current
policies and structures that restrict our communities and condemn our people
to poverty.
    Minister Prentice committed to the process established under the Accord
at a meeting of BC First Nations last year. I call upon him to act in
accordance with the provisions of the Accord as a way to replace fundamentally
flawed government processes and policies.
    We have patiently waited a long time for action. This budget only allows
for enough money to continue the management of misery."

    Phil Fontaine
    National Chief
    Assembly of First Nations

    The Assembly of First Nations is the national organization representing
First Nations citizens in Canada.




For further information:

For further information: Bryan Hendry, A/Director of Communications,
(613) 241-6789, ext. 229, cell.: (613) 293-6106, bhendry@afn.ca; Nancy Pine,
Communications Advisor - Office of the National Chief, (613) 241-6789, ext
243, (613) 298-6382, npine@afn.ca


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