Another year, another empty promise

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In Indian Country we often say the trail of broken treaties is littered with good intentions. Many First Nations’ social and economic problems that could have been more easily and cheaply solved in the past have now grown to seemingly insurmountable challenges because intentions and announcements never actually became actions and achievements. And all along, attempts by Native communities to enforce the legal agreements governing their societies are resisted ferociously by governments with unlimited taxpayer-funded resources – or simply ignored.

At federal budget time each year Aboriginal Peoples look with hope to progress from the ruling party. Will it bring some relief to our families, our communities and to our infrastructure that often barely matches Third World standards? Those hopes are often raised but rarely fulfilled. This year’s budget is no exception. Promises of a better tomorrow are delivered with earnest sincerity but no real guarantees.

For example, the Harper government’s Economic Action Plan 2014 proposes to enhance funding for Nutrition North Canada, but doesn’t specify by how much. Currently, the program budget to subsidize essential food items in the expensive north is $60 million, but that is spread, very thinly, over 103 communities.

And if past experience is any guide, the right-wing ideologues populating the Harper government will choose to impose bizarre, harmful rules on the program. For instance, a couple years ago Nutrition North stopped subsidizing flour, a staple food product if there ever was one.

So the pledge to improve nutrition is for now just another vague promise that wins a positive headline but will likely be forgotten or put aside as other priorities are met. After all this is what has happened to many promised renovations or new school buildings for First Nations communities went by the wayside.

Speaking of which, the Economic Action Plan 2014 promises $500 million to renovate or build new schools in First Nations communities, a welcome development after the hostile government reaction to efforts to improve buildings in places like Attawapiskat. But wait: the funding is only scheduled to begin in the 2015-16 fiscal year. In other words, after the next election, when the pressure to follow through will magically disappear.

This vague commitment should be seen through the prism of the unilateral changes the Conservatives are trying to impose on communities in the First Nations Education Act, which is intended to essentially eliminate community control of local education systems.

On-Reserve Emergency Management is another fine promise. The Economic Action Plan 2014 says it will give $40 million over five years for disaster mitigation in First Nation communities, another response to the PR disaster Harper created for himself with his arrogant dismissal of the repeated catastrophes in Attawapiskat and nearby Kashechewan.

The fund is supposed to reaffirm Ottawa’s “commitment to provide stable funding for response and recovery activities.” Again, however, these funds will only be made available in 2015-16. Let’s hope the weather cooperates, a long shot in the era of climate change – which the Harper government will not even acknowledge!

Yet another $323.4 million over two years is budgeted “to continue to implement the First Nations Water and Wastewater Action Plan,” yet another vital program for beleaguered James Bay communities. Let’s hope that these First Nations communities will actually see improvement in their drinking water as a result. But, oops, a little research shows that this is actually a budget cut, as it is $7 million less than what was provided two years ago.

The common phrase is that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Given past experience, forgive my cynicism that this political asphalt even has good intentions. This is a political document intended to manipulate public opinion in the run-up to an election, far more than it is designed to actually improve people’s lives. Nice words, but wait for the action.

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