Sask. chiefs hope federal bureaucracy doesn't delay budget's health, education promises

Sask. chiefs hope federal bureaucracy doesn't delay budget's health, education promises

Saskatchewan's Federation of Indigenous Sovereign Nations wants to make sure the promises in this year's federal budget are implemented quickly.

On Wednesday, the federal budget allocated an additional $3.4 billion over five years for Indigenous communities. That's in addition to the $8.4 billion pledged in 2016.

While FSIN Chief Bobby Cameron welcomes the new money, he hopes the money flows to Saskatchewan First Nations faster than in previous years.

"Some of our communities are still waiting for some of [last year's] dollars to get to their home nations," he said. "It's a matter of implementing, and how soon are these funding dollars going to get to our communities."

He laid some of the blame for the delay at the feet of bureaucrats in Indigenous Affairs.

"We're running into bureaucrats that bog things down, who are not listening to their ministers," he said. "The mandate letters that Prime Minister Trudeau handed to all of his MPs gave clear direction. The most important relationship with this government is the First Nations people of Canada."

The new money will be used for a broad cross-section of concerns, from water treatment to health and post-secondary education. He said there is a great need for money on reserves across the country.

"In Saskatchewan, we need 10,000 new homes," he said. "In last year's budget, it was 600 homes across Canada. That's not enough."

Buses and pastures

As well, Chief Cameron weighed in on the Saskatchewan provincial budget, also announced on Wednesday.

Cameron was most concerned about the province's plan to shut down the Saskatchewan Transportation Company bus service by the end of May.

"People do depend on it," he said. "It's their only means of transportation."

He worried that many elderly First Nations patients will now have a more difficult time getting to hospital, especially from reserves located hours away.

"Seniors who rely on bus services may not get to their medical appointments," he said. "What if one of them dies, because there was no transportation available?"

Cameron was also concerned about the end of the Saskatchewan Pastures Program, which allows farmers access to 780,000 acres of Crown land. At least some of the land will be put up for sale.

Earlier this month, the FSIN threatened legal action against the province for not adequately consulting local First Nations about the sale of Crown land and not giving those communities first right of refusal in any sale.

"Long before any settlers came to this province, long before any building was ever erected, the First Nations people lived and survived off these lands," he said.

"This very land we're sitting on, First Nations people hunted and fished and trapped and gathered. That was reality."