The chief of a northern Manitoba reserve says ending a two per cent cap on funding for First Nations is a great start, but new Liberal government commitments are not enough to address both immediate and long-term problems.

Sapotaweyak Cree Nation Chief Nelson Genaille said the $8.4 billion funding over five years promised in Tuesday's federal budget isn't much when you consider population growth over the past 19 years and that 617 communities fall under Indigenous Affairs and Northern Development.

The budget earmarks $876 million this year for immediate housing, education and clean water needs in First Nations.  

Sapotaweyak, which is 400 kilometres northwest of Winnipeg, would need $29 million this year to meet the standards of a small Manitoba town, Genaille said.

50 homes needed immediately

A study of Sapotaweyak homes found severe mould and structure problems, Genaille said. The community needs 250 homes over the long term, with 50 of those homes needed immediately, he said.

"If we were to catch up a little bit, we'd [need to] build those right now."

It costs $135,000 to build one house in Sapotaweyak, Genaille said.

"You times that by 50, that's a lot of money," he said. "To get that right now? We know we aren't going to get $6.7 million."

Water and waste 

An additional $20 million is needed to repair water treatment and water sewage plants that were based on models from Australia, where the climate and standards are different, Genaille said.

"It never was operational 100 per cent, so we were told to do a feasibility study [by the federal government] and we did," Genaille said. "A sewage lagoon is the design outcome out of it.… That would cost $5.5 million."

The other $14.5 million would cover the cost of repairing the water treatment plant. While Sapotaweyak isn't currently on a boil water advisory, they happen more frequently than Genaille would like, he said.

Sapotaweyak School

Sapotaweyak Cree Nation lacks adequate funding for education, Chief Nelson Genaille says. (Nelson Genaille )

Can't afford teachers

The community also needs more funding for education, he said.

"For a student in our school, we get $4,500 [funding] from INAC. For the same student to go off-reserve to go to a public school, a student gets upward of $13,000."

Sapotaweyak can't afford specialized programs and often has a shortage of supplies such as books, Genaille said.

"We also can't accommodate special needs care … and most of our high school students aren't ready for university, because I can't afford specialized teachers for [subjects] like sciences, math and computer programming."

The community also needs more funds to pay teachers a competitive wage, he said.

"When you only have in the budget to afford a teacher at $26,000 a year, we can't meet education standards that say we are obligated to pay them up to $40,000. You know, we can't afford them."

Chiefs of more than a dozen First Nations communities contacted by the CBC, including Swan Lake First Nation and Brokenhead Ojibway Nation, agreed with Genaille, saying the federal budget won't meet their immediate needs.