02/27/2018 17:00 EST | Updated 02/28/2018 08:30 EST

Federal Budget 2018: Billions Earmarked For Reconciliation With Canada's Indigenous Peoples

It's divide and fund.

The Canadian Press
Indigenous Services Minister Jane Philpott speaks at the Assembly of First Nations Special Chiefs Assembly in Ottawa on Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2017.

OTTAWA — The federal government is putting billions of dollars behind its bid for reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples in Canada as a whole, but also addressing the distinct and individual needs of First Nations, Inuit and Metis.

Tuesday's budget earmarks $4.7 billion over the next five years, the bulk of it aimed at supporting Indigenous children and families, investments in housing and health and propelling First Nations toward self-government.

Improving Canada's relationship with Indigenous Peoples is the most pressing factor to ensure the country's future is better than its past, Finance Minister Bill Morneau said, emphasizing the need to speed up self-determination based on the recognition of Indigenous rights.

"When it comes to renewing the relationship between Canada and Indigenous Peoples, we have a responsibility to do better, and to do more,'' Morneau told the House of Commons in his budget speech, his third since the Liberals formed government in 2015.

Chris Wattie / Reuters
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Finance Minister Bill Morneau walk from Trudeau's office to the House of Commons to deliver the budget on Parliament Hill on Feb. 28, 2018.

"Our shared future is one where Indigenous Peoples are in control of their own destiny, making their own decisions about their future.''

The budget commits about $1.4 billion over the next six years to support Indigenous children in foster care and to promote family reunification.

The money follows an emergency summit on the issue held earlier this year between the Liberals and Indigenous leaders.

Indigenous children under the age of 14 comprise less than eight per cent of all children in Canada, but they make up more than half of all children in foster care.

Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde applauded the hundreds of millions of dollars set aside for child welfare, housing, health services and skills development. "I think it's continued growth and movement in the right direction when it comes to First Nations people.''

Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde discusses the not guilty verdict in the trial of Gerald Stanley at the First Nations University of Canada in Regina on Feb. 10, 2018.

The federal government has finally agreed to honour its commitments to invest in child and family services on reserves, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives said in a statement.

"There is a substantial new commitment to Indigenous health care funding, particularly in remote communities,'' it said. "What is noticeably missing is more detail and funding for on-reserve housing.''

A separation in the types and levels of support for First Nations, Inuit and Metis reflects the Liberal government's shift two years ago to engage with each community and respond to their specific wish lists.

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Inuit communities will see $27.5 million over five years toward eliminating tuberculosis in the North, $82 million over 10 years to roll out a health survey and $400 million over 10 years for housing. Metis will get $10 million to collect and process health data, as well as $500 million over 10 years to develop a housing strategy.

The Liberals have also committed to spend more than $100 million over five years to help Indigenous groups engage with plans to develop a new legal framework for reconciliation based on recognizing rights and reconstituting nations.

A fund set up by Gord Downie, the former Tragically Hip frontman and outspoken advocate on First Nations issues, will receive a one-time investment of $5 million to promote reconciliation and educate Canadians about the legacy of the residential school system.

Parks Canada will also see $23.9 million over five years to integrate more Indigenous content into its material, which the government says follows through on one of the 94 calls to action that came out of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

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