Regional Chief Stan Beardy is questioning the lack of First Nations capital infrastructure funding in the recent federal budget.
“For most of the Ontario First Nations, especially the remotes, I had hoped that the budget would identify some of the capital expenditures required for our infrastructure,” Beardy said. “I know in a lot of First Nation communities in Ontario, their capital infrastructure is crumbling. You need new houses, you need new water plants, you need roads, you need schools.”
Beardy welcomed the funding for education and for fighting prescription drug abuse in the budget.
“Of course we welcome the funds for education and fighting prescription drug abuse but if Canada wants to build a ‘world-class infrastructure’ as they envision, they must start with basic essentials like housing, water and building a solid infrastructure in our communities,” Beardy said.
Beardy also raised concerns about the federal government’s focus on combating contraband tobacco.
“I am concerned about the RCMP tobacco funding of $91.7 million to combat First Nation economic efforts,” Beardy said. “On one hand we have massive cutbacks to First Nation programs and services making private business even more vital to our survival and they focus attack on our businesses which are only exercising our constitutionally recognized aboriginal and treaty rights of self-determination and self–sufficiency.”
Beardy said First Nations people never gave up the right to govern themselves or to manage their own affairs.
“So when we begin to talk about tobacco that is grown on our traditional homelands, I just feel the governments don’t have any business trying to criminalize First Nations by participating in the global economy,” Beardy said. “On the one hand they tell us to generate our own revenues — we look at tobacco as one of the ways to do it — (and) we get harassed by the RCMP and criminalized under their laws (for doing so).”
Beardy said the treaties were signed on the basis of a nation-to-nation agreement where First Nation laws would be respected.
”We never agreed to be governed by their laws,” Beardy said. “We have every right to generate our economic means as well as to begin to look at what we need to provide the basic essentials for our people too.”
Beardy called for the federal government to recognize First Nations people as equal partners under the treaties.
“It is a top priority for First Nations across Ontario that we will continue to assert our rights and push for an equal partnership,” Beardy said. “We will not continue to live in poverty while billions pour into government coffers for a balanced budget from development on our traditional homelands and we are left without basic necessities and denied our right to self-sufficiency.”
Beardy said the budget was a political document with little to address the essential challenges confronting First Nations.
“This approach of devastating cuts to our organizations and denying our rights to free enterprise fails to respect and uphold Indigenous rights and recognize and support the priorities of our Indigenous communities,” Beardy said.
Beardy said First Nations people need to look at what is required to build a future for themselves.
“The changes will never come from the government,” Beardy said. “The changes will have to come from our people. When I look at the lack of basic essentials, the lack of basic human rights for our people, we’re reaching a stage very quickly that we need to take action to assert our jurisdiction on our homelands.”
I grew up in my home community of Attawapiskat First Nation on the James Bay coast and there were a lot of challenges living in the far north.
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