OTTAWA — The Liberal government budget, which contained $8.4 billion over five years to address First Nations issues, should not be viewed as a "first step" in reshaping the relationship with indigenous peoples, says the only aboriginal member of Finance Minister Bill Morneau's economic advisory council.
Carol Anne Hilton, an entrepreneur recently tapped to offer the government advice, said each federal budget offers a chance to build recognition and understanding of First Nations priorities.
"Every single budget is an opportunity for Canadians to understand the relationship with First Nations people, not based solely on need but on recognition," she said.
The country has a backlog of obligations to deal with dire needs in areas like education, health and water in First Nation communities, Hilton added.
Finance Minister Bill Morneau was urged to spend more on aboriginal issues in the budget by advisor Carol Anne Hilton. (Photo: The Canadian Press)
Morneau's maiden financial blueprint was met with some criticism last week, notably from First Nations child welfare advocate Cindy Blackstock.
As president of First Nations Child and Family Caring Society, Blackstock and the Assembly of First Nations spent nearly a decade fighting the federal government over chronic underfunding of child welfare services on reserve.
The Canadian Human Rights Tribunal eventually ruled against the federal government, saying it had shortchanged native child welfare.
An investment of about $200 million is required this year alone to close the gap, Blackstock said.
"We sometimes don't acknowledge that these poor little kids are still being treated that they are worth less," she said. "I don't think that's OK ... I can't be grateful for a child receiving less because of their race under any circumstance."
Canada would be well advised from a budgetary perspective to spend less money fighting Aboriginal Peoples and spend more meeting its own obligations and commitments, Hilton said.
"The tribunal has named a human rights issue where Canada has continually underfunded First Nation children," she said. "It will be seen very clearly in the next budget if Canada intends to approach the issue as a response to the tribunal's findings."
The federal government decided not to appeal the January tribunal judgment.
"We sometimes don't acknowledge that these poor little kids are still being treated that they are worth less."
The ruling found First Nations are adversely impacted by the services provided by the government and, in some cases, denied services as a result of the government's involvement.
In a post-budget interview with The Canadian Press, Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett said the federal government is determined to overhaul the First Nations child-welfare system, saying $635 million committed to child and family services over the next five years is significant.
"We are very interested in working together to have less children in foster care, get children back to their communities as we've heard time and time again in the pre-inquiry hearings on missing and murdered indigenous women and girls," Bennett said.
The tribunal could end up ordering the government to provide additional funding, Blackstock said, adding it is not the federal government's role to reform the system.
"I think that's the role that's best left to First Nations experts and child welfare experts and something we have been working actively on for the last two decades," she said.
"What we need from the federal government is for them to ensure their funding regimes are non-discriminatory and provide the flexibility in order to achieve those outcomes."