Federal budget 2016: 4 things First Nation leaders are watching for
National chief 'optimistic and hopeful' Liberals will make significant investments in schools, water
When the Liberal government's first federal budget is revealed on Tuesday, First Nation leaders will be watching with anticipation.
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"I'm optimistic and hopeful," said National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations Perry Bellegarde. "A little nervous as well, I want to make sure that things we focused on very hard and strategically with this government is resonating."
During and after the Oct. 19, 2015, general election, the Liberals made sweeping promises to indigenous peoples, including vows to fix water problems on reserves, lift a much maligned annual two per cent funding cap and implement all 94 calls to action issued by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
As the plan for Ottawa's spending is laid out, here are four items First Nations hope are included:
Advocates say First Nations students on reserve receive half the funding afforded to students anywhere else in the country.
"There is no better way out of poverty than an education," Bellegarde said.
During the election, the Liberals pledged to invest $2.6 billion in First Nations education over four years and $500 million over three years in infrastructure for First Nations schools.
While $1.7 billion of that money is no longer available, a casualty of doomed Conservative legislation, leaders are still expecting a significant investment.
"It's not our fault or our children's fault that the $1.7 billion was spent elsewhere," said Chief Bobby Cameron, head of the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations. "It won't stop us from continuing to lobby and advocate to ensure education investment is there tomorrow."
Cameron said First Nations in Saskatchewan and across the country are also expecting more money to fix housing and build new homes, something he said is directly tied to poor educational outcomes.
"Those two go hand in hand," he said.
Water, wastewater and housing
As of Jan. 31, Health Canada said there were 135 drinking water advisories in effect in 86 First Nation communities across the country. Some have been in place for over two decades.
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"This is no time for broken promises," said Sheila North Wilson, grand chief of Manitoba Keewatinook Aski, which represents northern First Nations in the province.
North Wilson also points to an ongoing crisis of overcrowded, run-down housing in the North, which she estimates will cost $2 billion to fix in Manitoba alone.
In January, the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal ruled that the federal government failed to provide First Nations children the same level of welfare services that exist elsewhere, contrary to the Canadian Human Rights Act.
It will take an additional $200 million a year just to close the funding gap on child welfare, according to the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada, which along with the AFN, spent nine years fighting the case.
But with accusations that the federal government is still stalling on improving child welfare, advocates will be keeping a wary eye on tomorrow's budget.
With several health-related crises happening across the country, First Nations are expecting a significant increase in funding for health care.
From states of emergencies called over suicide, to multiple drug-related deaths, First Nation communities are hoping for immediate help.
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However, North Wilson said the root of the problems go much deeper than just mental health.
"Youth in our communities cannot have positive mental health when the basic necessities of life such as shelter, food, and education are not being provided due to decades of underfunding."
With files from Cameron McIntosh, Angela Johnston