Equality, Indigenous equality

Letter from chiefs applauds efforts being made with federal budget

“Federal Budget bodes well for change in relationship status between government and Indigenous peoples.”

There has been some criticism that the recent federal budget does not build a foundation for a strong sustainable Canadian economy. In this regard, the fiscal burden of continued indigenous poverty is a threat to Canada’s future productivity and social programs.

This is why we were pleased with the recent federal budget because from our standpoint it begins to address the root causes of indigenous economic disparities – a poor investment climate. In particular, the budget focuses on Indigenous institutions currently building the strong foundations for First Nations well-being. Those foundations include good fiscal stewardship, autonomy, and economic independence. It’s unfortunate and somewhat understandable that “Indigenous fiscal management” and “capacity building” are overmatched by shinier objects in the juggernaut of budget news coverage.

The federal budget got it right on Indigenous fiscal management.

Building fiscal capacity and capability is about knowledge, skills, the self-efficacy required to make money management decisions and have access to financial services like capital markets.

In the budget chapter dealing with the new fiscal relationship with Indigenous people, close to $130 million over two years is set aside to build this internal and administrative capacity. There is another 50 million over five years to increase the services to First Nations provided by the First Nation Financial Management Board, the First Nation Financial Authority, and the First Nation Tax Commission.

These Fiscal Management Act (FMA) institutions are making tremendous and real progress in helping participating First Nations build new infrastructure, increase revenues, improve governance, and implement innovative approaches to default management. In short, they are helping interested First Nations build a better investment climate.

On collaboration with self-governing Indigenous governments, the budget allocates $190 million to close socio-economic gaps by supporting key priorities such as infrastructure and data collection.

The budget also provides another $100 million over five years for First Nations to create their own governance structures outside of the Indian Act which has long been criticized as restrictive and paternalistic. 230 First Nations get it. The Federal Minister of Indigenous Services gets it. It’s time for Canadians to take a closer look at the transformational work which has begun.

A change in the relationship status between Ottawa and First Nations is imminent. In any good relationship, we strive to better ourselves and to do right by each other. That ideal was voiced by Finance Minister Bill Morneau during his recent budget speech when he described the relationship goal with First Nations in Canada. We know it’s not perfect and where there are gaps in jurisdiction we will work with Canada to fill them.

“Our responsibility to do better, to do more” was the way Morneau worded it.

For too long this relationship has endured a debilitating power imbalance. It has been called dysfunctional and has seen its share of hardship.

While it’s too early to shed the relationship status as “it’s complicated,” progress is being realized with communications and understanding. The budget offers a promise, a promise of an equal stake at the table, economic freedom, and empowerment. We believe when it comes to this fiscal union, the government appears comfortable with a long engagement.

The FMA Institutions and participating First Nations are working at long term solutions, reconciling, building trust and bridges (literally and figuratively), and supporting economic self- sufficiency, minus the paternalistic escort.

The budget offers yet another proposal for a true nation to nation relationship. It proposes a pathway for First Nations autonomy, investments, taxation and economic growth. It provides a blueprint to transform a possible fiscal burden to an engine of growth.

Harold Calla, Squamish Nation, Executive Chair, First Nations Financial Management Board

C.T. (Manny) Jules, Tk’emlúps te Secwepemc, Chief Commissioner, First Nations Tax Commission

Ernie Daniels, Salt River, NWT, Chief Executive Officer, First Nations Finance Authority

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