This year, National Aboriginal History Month has been marred by the deep and heartless cuts to everything from the protection of the environment in or near First Nations’ communities to Aboriginal health programmes.
“As with all Canadians, the month of June begins with Canada’s Aboriginal communities wondering about the future of their natural surroundings, their healthcare, and their democracy,” said May. “The National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations Shawn A-in-chut Atleo has denounced Bill C-38 as a disrespectful assault on First Nations’ constitutionally enshrined rights.
“The curtailing of consultation with First Nations in the Environmental Assessment process, gutting the Fisheries Act, decreased monitoring of pulp mill and mine effluent, opening up oil and gas exploration in a fragile section of the Arctic, and, of course, the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline-and-tanker scheme are just a few examples of how the Harper Conservatives are recklessly imperilling Canada’s original citizens.”
Aboriginal Affairs will see cuts of $26 million this year, $60 million in 2013, and $165 million in 2014. Although the budget promised $275 million for education, at least 100 reserve schools are unsafe and in need of renovation – so this is a token gesture at best.
The government has also committed $165 million a year for two years to build or renovate water and wastewater infrastructure, but this is inadequate. There are only 12 water quality stations for Canada’s 3,000 First Nations communities, and just one federal monitoring station operating downstream from the oil sands, which concentrates on pulp mill pollution.
The First Nations Statistical Institute has had its funding cut. It has been a central location for first-nations communities to access and store data securely and confidentially.
Health Canada has cut all funding for the National Aboriginal Health Organization (NAHO) which will close on June 30 after 12 years. NAHO’s mandate was to advocate for and address the health needs of First Nations, Métis, and Inuit.
“Cuts to Aboriginal services and support systems come at a time when the suicide rate is eleven times the national rate among the Inuit and seven times higher among the Aboriginal community,” May pointed out. “One in four First Nations children lives in poverty on- and off-reserve in remote and urban areas.”
Even the Special UN Rapporteur on the Right to Food Olivier De Schutter was shocked after travelling to remote Aboriginal communities in Manitoba and Alberta and commented on the “very desperate conditions and people who are in extremely dire straits.”
“Nationally and internationally, Canada’s treatment of Aboriginal communities is a scandal,” said May.
“Canada signed the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples last year in June. However, that commitment to uphold rights has yielded nothing in terms of results from this government for most of 2011 and 2012,” said Lorraine Rekmans, Aboriginal Affairs Critic for the Green Party of Canada. “The shockingly desperate condition of the people of Attawapiskat last winter was brought to light even after Canada made promises to build a future in which Aboriginal families and communities are healthy, safe, self-sufficient, and prosperous within Canada.
“National Aboriginal History month is an opportunity for us to learn from the past and take lessons for a better future by shifting Canada’s relationship with First Nations, Inuit, and Métis peoples to a positive track. This reflection of the past is a sad look at the racist and colonial policies of yesterday, but it should also be a time for us to hope Canada will stand by its promises to make things right.”