Federal government commits billions more to Indigenous initiatives

Justin Trudeau addressing the audience in the Health Sciences Building of the University of Saskatchewan. Photo: Arthur White-Crummey/Daily Herald.

The 2019 federal budget included billions in funding destined for First Nations, Inuit and Métis communities and initiatives.

The funding includes expanded services, housing supports and dedicated infrastructure.

The biggest single announcement was an additional $4.5 billion over five years to “close the gap” between living conditions of the Indigenous and non-Indigenous population.

According to the federal government, the planned investments in programs to close the gap in living conditions will total more than $17 billion by 2021, a 50 per cent increase from spending levels when the Liberals came to power in 2015.

Another significant announcement was a policy decision to forgive all outstanding comprehensive claim negotiation loans and to reimburse Indigenous governments that had already repaid the loans.

Last year’s budget ended the practice of funding comprehensive claims negotiations through loans, replacing them with non-repayable contributions.

“The use of loans has been a longstanding barrier to Indigenous participation in negotiations and to concluding subsequent agreements, as debts from prolonged… negotiations can make it difficult for Indigenous groups to move forward with other priorities,” the government wrote in the budget.

Forgiving the loans will cost $1.4 billion over seven years. It will allow more than 200 communities to reinvest in governance, infrastructure, economic development and other priorities instead of in the loans.

The government also provided an additional $40 million over five years to help First nations research and develop their claims, while also promising to renew and replenish funding for the Specific Claims Settlement Fund for three more years.

Specific claims deal with past wrongs, such as the failure to provide enough reserve land as promised or the improper handling of money in the past.

Comprehensive land claims are based on the traditional use and occupancy of land by Indigenous peoples who did not sign treaties and involve the territories and the northern parts of some provinces.

Other funding from the federal government consists of additional funds provided for previously-made commitments.

That includes $1.2 billion over three years to ensure First Nations children have equal access to services, based on Jordan’s principle and an additional $739 million over five years to eliminate and prevent long-term drinking water advisories.

Other funding commitments in 2019 include:

$362 million over ten years for a Métis-led post-secondary strategy, with ongoing funding of $40 million per year

$327.5 million over five years to renew and expand funding for the First Nations post-secondary support program while reviewing the model to ensure it works for First Nations peoples

$125 million for the Inuit-led post-secondary strategy and $21.8 million on an ongoing basis

$333.7 million over five years to launch a distinctions-based approach for Indigenous language revitalization projects, including the creation of an Office of the Commissioner of Indigenous Languages

$211 million over five years to support increased resiliency and emergency management on reserve

$126.5 million to establish a National Council for Reconciliation in 2020-21 and provide initial operating capital

$78.9 million over five years to support Indigenous entrepreneurs and economic development

$78.9 million over seven years to fund surveys in Indigenous Peoples and First Nations regional health surveys

$60 million over five years to support capital infrastructure investment in friendship centre and other providers of urban Indigenous services

$50 million over five years to enhance funding of Métis corporations to support start-up and expansion of Métis small and medium-sized businesses

$48 million over two years to support communities who wish to obtain expertise, advice and tools on governance and service delivery

$48 million over four years starting in 2020 to renew funding for projects protecting Indigenous communities from climate hazards

$17 million over three years to expand the Aboriginal Entrepreneurship Program

$9 million in additional funding for Indpsire’s bursaries and scholarships.