(Treaty 6 Territory, Saskatoon, SK) — The Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations Executive are optimistic about the the 2017 federal budget’s investments in First Nations education, health, justice and infrastructure. These investments could help to narrow the gap between First Nations and the rest of Canada if the funding flows efficiently and effectively out to the communities.

The 2017 federal budget, titled Building a Strong Middle Class, makes respectable commitments to Indigenous health, education and culture, and a few smaller targeted commitments that could make a difference in the lives of Saskatchewan’s First Nations.

“We at the FSIN have always said that making investments in the education and health of our young people must be a priority, and we see some positive commitments from the federal government toward their well-being,” said FSIN Chief Bobby Cameron. “Dollar for dollar, we know that paying for the education of First Nations people is the most lucrative investment you can make, the real test will be to see how much of this flows through the bureaucracy to where it’s needed.”

The $90 million increase over two years to the Post-Secondary Student Support Program and will provide more First Nation youth the opportunity to have a higher education, and there was a small but notable increase to the Aboriginal Skills and Employment Training Strategy. The $5 million per year of funding committed to Indspire will also improve access to post-secondary but that funding is conditional on matching private dollars.

“Education money needs to go to our nations who have waitlists of students, and are not dependent on corporate and private fundraising to fulfill their Treaty right to education,” said Chief Cameron.

The government must ensure those funds get to those who need it and don’t get held up in the system.

“From last year’s budget, we’re still waiting for some of that money to flow through. That’s where we have seen things slow to a trickle or a complete stop, in the bureaucracy. The attitudes of the past have no place in government, especially a government that has committed to building Nation to Nation relationships and reconciliation.”

The $828.2 million in health funding being committed over five years needs to translate into improved capacity to address youth suicide, drug addiction and the transformation of Indigenous health care. The FSIN Executive will work tirelessly to ensure as much of those funds, including money earmarked for mental wellness, primary care, maternal and child health, and palliative care, ends up where they are needed: on the ground, in our communities.

The 2017 budget offers $24 million per year, on an ongoing basis, to ensure the timely resolution of specific claims. The tribunal recently awarded Beardy’s and Okemasis First Nation with a $4.5 million settlement over Treaty payments withheld after the 1885 Riel Rebellion. The new funds could be good news for the 13 other First Nations with claims stemming from the same action.

Provincial funding for Justice intact, SIIT faces cuts

The FSIN Executive is disappointed to hear of the operational funding cuts to its partner institution the Saskatchewan Indian Institute of Technologies. It remains to be seen what effects the cuts will have on its capacity to deliver programming to First Nations students.

The Elimination of the STC service impacts the elderly, those with low incomes and reduces access to health care. It is low and fixed income people of all backgrounds who are going to be hardest hit by this, says Chief Bobby Cameron.”

The provincial budget for community justice – which funds the FSIN’s justice initiatives – remained stable this year. The belt tightening won’t put the squeeze on the Special Investigations Unit, an important service that gives First Nations recourse in addressing questions of police conduct.

The FSIN represents 74 First Nations in Saskatchewan. The Federation is committed to honouring the spirit and intent of the Treaties, as well as the promotion, protection and implementation of the Treaty promises that were made more than a century ago.