In its new federal budget tabled on Tuesday, the Liberal government allocated nearly $5 billion dollars in new spending for First Nations, Metis and Inuit peoples over a span of five years. Funds are earmarked for health services, housing, improving access to clean water, and various other social services. The budget also lays out funding for two new policies to further Indigenous self-governance: the creation of new governance structures outside of the Indian Act, and elimination of the current loan funding program for treaty negotiations in favour of a subsidy program.
The previous loan funding model was a significant deterrent to self-government and treaty negotiations since the negotiation process can be lengthy and can involve multiple parties, compelling First Nations take on significant debts to finance the talks. Funding via non-repayable contribution agreements could thus make the process easier and more efficient and allow more First Nations to access and participate in modern treaty negotiations.
The funding for new self-governance structures is also a part of the government’s plan to introduce new legislation to better define Indigenous rights. Currently, unless band governments negotiate a modern treaty with the government, they are bound by the restrictive and paternalistic governance rules under the Indian Act.
Both policy changes are part of the federal governments objective of indigenous reconciliation and signal a turn away from colonial policies under the Indian Act. However, some experts state that true self-determination would require something akin to a New Royal Proclamation, a federal directive that clearly recognizes Indigenous Peoples as founding peoples and that protects the Indigenous jurisdiction. Others have noted that the budget focuses only on addressing legal liabilities and fails to allocate funds for increasing lands to reserves, the settlement of long-standing land claims, or for the return of Aboriginal title lands and resources.
This blog post was written by a CCLA-PBSC RightsWatch student. Views expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCLA or PBSC.