Nova Scotia

First Nations funding cap is gone, but more action needed, lawyer says

A Nova Scotia lawyer with a speciality in Aboriginal law said lifting the two per cent cap on annual increases to First Nations budgets is a good start to making sure communities get services they need, but how those services are delivered has to improve as well.

'It's not that this is charity, these are programs and services that every other citizen in Canada receives'

Despite inflation and a fast-growing population, funding for First Nations communities, programs and services could only increase by two per cent each year. (Coleen Rajotte/CBC)

A Nova Scotia lawyer with a speciality in Aboriginal law said lifting the two per cent cap on annual increases to First Nations budgets is a good start to making sure communities get services they need, but how those services are delivered has to improve as well.

Naiomi Metallic told CBC's Mainstreet it's encouraging that the federal Liberal government has reversed a despised 19-year cap on funding for First Nations.

First imposed by the Liberal government in 1996, the two per cent cap was a limit the Department of Indigenous and Northern Affairs placed on annual increases to First Nations budgets.

Naiomi Metallic says the cap was only supposed to stay in effect for a couple of years, but it remained. (CBC)

It meant that despite inflation and a fast-growing population, funding for First Nations communities, programs and services could only increase by two per cent each year.

"The two per cent cap was only supposed to stay in place for a couple of years, but it just remained," Metallic said.

Squeezed finances

Documents filed at an inquest in Ontario shed light on the degree to which basic services budgets for First Nations children have been squeezed by tight-fisted governments.

The inquest is also looking into the deaths of First Nations students who went to Thunder Bay for school.

The documents detail the impact of the two per cent cap and compare funding for First Nations on a per-person basis, adjusted for inflation — compared to other Canadians who get services provided by provincial governments.

The conclusion: over two decades, funding for First Nations dropped by almost 30 per cent, while funding for services to other Canadians increased.

"It's just been a real reduction in the quality and level of programs that they received and it has an impact on the day to day lives," Metallic said.

"It's a matter of fairness and equality. It's not that this is charity, these are programs and services that every other citizen in Canada receives and First Nations are entitled to receive at least the same amount."

Deeper changes needed

Metallic said while it is a good sign that there is political will to make changes, the changes have to go deeper.

"There are lots of wonderful, positive things that are being said by the political leadership and I don't mean to denigrate that," she said.

"However, it's just not the political leadership, there's a whole system, a whole bureaucracy … and there's some reluctance there."

Earlier this year, the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal ruled the federal government discriminates against First Nations children on reserves.

This week the Tribunal ordered the government to immediately enact a policy to correct the problem.

"They're now going to be held accountable, which is, I think, wonderful," Metallic said.

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