Spending cuts to ISC a ‘grave disservice’ to First Nations people: AMC

The Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs (AMC) say they are concerned about proposed spending cuts at Indigenous Services Canada (ISC) and about what those cuts could mean for people they say are already struggling to receive adequate and equitable services in First Nations communities.

“Our people are already grappling with chronically underfunded and understaffed service delivery systems,” AMC Grand Chief Cathy Merrick said Monday in a media release. “Further cutting this funding would be a grave disservice to the very people that need these services to survive.”

Merrick’s comments come in reaction to recent projections that show that ISC is expected to drop total spending at the department from $23.6 billion in 2022-2023 to $16 billion by 2025-26.

“The estimated drop in spending sends a clear message that First Nations well-being is not a priority,” Merrick said

“The proposed cuts, if implemented, will not only hinder the progress toward reconciliation, but also perpetuate the cycle of challenges faced by First Nations.”

During a media conference held in Prince Edward Island last week, Minister of Indigenous Services Patty Hajdu told reporters that any cuts made at ISC would not have an effect on the delivery of services in First Nations communities, but would instead be made to cut down on bureaucracy within the department.

"That's my commitment to First Nations people, ensuring that service delivery won't be impacted,” Hajdu said.

But Merrick said she and other Indigenous leaders do not believe that the cuts could be made without negatively affecting federal services in First Nations communities.

“The assertion that the proposed cuts will exclusively target bureaucratic inefficiencies and not affect service delivery is a gross mischaracterization of the reality on the ground,” Merrick said.

Cost cutting at ISC is expected as part of a larger effort by the federal Liberal government, as they look to shave approximately $15-billion in existing federal spending.

“It is disheartening that the broader government directive to seek cost savings often comes at the expense of First Nations people,” Merrick said.

Merrick said AMC would also like to see First Nations leaders have more of a say and more control over how and where money is spent to deliver federal services to Indigenous communities.

“The AMC advocates for granting First Nations governments in Manitoba oversight and direction over the administration of long-term and predictable funding for services,” Merrick said.

“The AMC calls upon the federal government to reconsider these proposed cuts and engage in meaningful and ongoing conversations with First Nations leadership.”

— Dave Baxter is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the Winnipeg Sun. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.

Dave Baxter, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Winnipeg Sun