The Harper government's 300 plus page Budget 2013 contains 124 references to "First Nations."
Economic Action Plan 2013 includes renewals of First Nations policing and commercial fishing programs and modest spending increases in housing and infrastructure. It also alludes to more consultation on education.
The First Nations program getting the most attention, however, is a skills training scheme being dubbed by some as workfare. As explained by the Globe and Mail, it's a program meant to motivate First Nation youth to get off social-assistance and into skilled-jobs.
The Harper government will provide job-training money to first nations that agree to force young people on welfare to take part in skills-development programs – a new initiative that critics compare to workfare.
The federal budget released Thursday provides $109-million over five years for what the government describes as “personalized skills development.”
But that money will be available only to those first nations that “choose to implement mandatory participation in training for young income assistance recipients.”
Pam Palmater, who was a spokesperson for the Idle No More movement, calls the program paternalistic.
"The Harper government's unilateral amendments to the social program for First Nations peoples living on reserve is another example of broken promises," Palmater, an AFN runner-up, told Yahoo! Canada News in an email exchange.
"At the Crown First Nation Gathering, the AFN-INAC Joint Action Plan talked about the "joint" review of federal funding formulas and mechanisms. This substantial amendment to social assistance on reserve is unilateral and paternalistic.
"It is part of Harper's public misinformation and smear campaign against First Nations. Instead of addressing the purposeful, chronic under-funding of essential human services for First Nations, the Harper government plays on myths and stereotypes of First Nations and creates what amounts to a work-fare program. This also amounts to a breach of their fiduciary duty, treaty and other legal obligations. As government wealth increases, and the crisis in First Nations worsens, Harper will make First Nations bear the burden of his spending."
Palmater says that, overall, the budget is proof that the Harper government has no intentions of fulfilling any commitments from Crown-First Nation Gathering held in 2012, or the "fiasco" Assembly of First Nation/Stephen Harper meeting in January borne by Idle No More protests across the country.
"There is nothing related to treaty implementation, resource sharing, the crisis of poverty in First Nations related to housing, water, education and health, nor does it address the protection of lands and waters or the federal legislative suite opposed by First Nations and Idle No More," she said.
Clearly, if the Idle No More crowd was hoping for immediate results, they certainly didn't get it with Budget 2013.
AFN Chief Sean Atleo took a more guarded stance in a statement released Thursday afternoon but also voiced his disappointment in a lack of First Nation funding.
"Budget 2013 makes reference to First Nations in almost every section, which suggests that the unprecedented attention and engagement of our peoples is beginning to be heard, but the investment just isn't there," Atleo said.
"We will continue to press for direct engagement of First Nations themselves on full implementation of commitments in an urgent manner. Growing awareness of the issues will result, rightfully so, in growing expectations. This will continue until our people see real action and real results."
Atleo added that First Nations will be seeking clarity on the details of the budget.
(Photo courtesy of the Canadian Press)
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