Manitoba’s top Indigenous leaders met face-to-face with the prime minister in Ottawa this week, and say the meeting was an opportunity to let him know they want to see changes in the way the federal government funds and supports First Nations across the country and here in Manitoba.
On Nov. 29, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau met with Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs Grand Chief Cathy Merrick, Southern Chiefs Organization Grand Chief Jerry Daniels, Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak Grand Chief Garrison Settee, and Assembly of First Nations Regional Chief for Manitoba Cindy Woodhouse.
The leaders said First Nations in Manitoba continue to struggle to access adequate housing, and adequate services like health care, mental health and addictions services, and that they let the prime minister know on Tuesday the way that the federal government is currently funding First Nations communities is not working here in Manitoba.
“We articulated to the prime minister that First Nations governments in Manitoba need to be given oversight and control over the administration of funding for services for First Nations in Manitoba,” Merrick said in a joint media release from the four organizations after the meeting concluded.
“There are chronic shortfalls in government services for First Nations, such as health and housing that have been present for as long as Canada has existed.”
But while leaders want to see a change to how First Nations communities are funded, they say the feds also need to be putting up more dollars for those communities.
“We have some of the largest reserves in Canada and 22 per cent of the First Nations population in Canada,” Settee said about Manitoba. “Chronic underfunding has created crises in our First Nations, and we need investments to flow in this next budget that will address the needs and priorities identified by our leadership.
“We need the prime minister to commit to working with us in partnership to ensure the Crown is meeting its constitutional, international human rights and other legal obligations, with respect to Aboriginal and treaty rights.”
Woodhouse said she did give the Trudeau government credit for the work they have done to fund First Nations communities in recent years, even though she said the level of funding is still not where she and others believe it should be.
“I feel First Nations and Canada together have made a start. Over the last six budget cycles, all under the federal government, $55.65 billion of new investments have been committed to First Nations peoples in response to our own budget priorities,” Woodhouse said
“This is a landmark, and represents a degree of responsiveness that no other prime minister has achieved.”
— 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.