Nova Scotia

Federal budget leads to optimism among Nova Scotia aboriginal leaders

Mi'kmaq leaders in Nova Scotia are confident Tuesday's federal budget is a significant step towards bringing First Nations education and drinking water standards nearer to the Canadian average.

Money for education and clean drinking water highlighted by local leaders

Potlotek First Nation has suffered ongoing problems with its water. Last winter, an ice dam in the tower cut off the community's water supply. (CBC)

Mi'kmaq leaders in Nova Scotia are confident Tuesday's federal budget is a significant step towards bringing First Nations education and drinking water standards nearer to the Canadian average.

"I'm very pleased with the investment," said Dan Christmas, senior advisor for Membertou First Nation.  

"I think that's the proper way to think of it. The government of Canada is reinvesting in First Nation communities. And the two areas that have been the greatest concern has been the education of our children, and of course the safety of our water."

The Trudeau government's first budget includes $8.4 billion over the next five years to address those issues and others, such as social services.

Christmas singled out Potlotek First Nation — one of the five reserves in Cape Breton — as a community that will feel a significant impact from the funding. Potlotek has been struggling with poor water quality for years due to an aging water system.

'We're optimistic'

Mi'kmaq leaders also have high hopes for education.  

"We're optimistic," said Eleanor Bernard, the executive director of Mi'kmaw Kina'matnewey, the governing body for education in Nova Scotia's First Nation communities.

The federal government has eliminated the two per cent cap on aboriginal education funding, which Bernard takes as a sign of good things to come.

"If we're gonna close the gap in education we need to really have a major infusion of funds," she said.  

Some schools are overcrowded and need to be expanded, major repairs are needed on others, and some — such as the school in Pictou Landing First Nation — must be replaced with a new building, said Bernard.

'Step in the right direction'

The dean of the Unama'ki College and Aboriginal Learning at Cape Breton University, Stephen Augustine, shares Bernard's optimism in terms of the future of education services.

He looks forward to more "in-community" delivery of Mi'kmaq science and business programs, which he hopes CBU and other universities will "reinvigorate with new monies."

At the same time, Augustine cautions that funding won't completely wipe out suicide and poverty on reserves. He encourages First Nations communities to be "innovative" and vigilant as they work towards a solution.

Overall, however, the budget is a big improvement over previous ones, he said.  

"It is a step in the right direction," he said.

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