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Researchers protest cuts to aboriginal organizations

Effect on research into urgent issues 'just awful'

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OTTAWA -- Cutting up to 80 per cent of the funding for aboriginal organizations will set research on aboriginal issues back by a generation, a group of university professors told the federal government last week.

More than 120 researchers from across Canada, led by the Manitoba Research Alliance, wrote to Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Minister John Duncan Nov. 22, asking him to reconsider "ill-advised" cuts.

The researchers say the cuts will leave most aboriginal organizations without any capacity to lead their own research or partner with research projects at universities, which will cut a big hole in the amount of research being done on issues such as health care, violence against women and water.

"It's just awful," said Karen Busby, a law professor at the University of Manitoba and one of the lead researchers behind the letter to Duncan.

In September, Duncan adjusted the way Ottawa funds national, provincial and local aboriginal organizations. The six national aboriginal organizations, including the Assembly of First Nations, will have a 10 per cent cut in 2014-15 to their $9.6 million in core funding.

The 39 regional aboriginal organizations, including the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, will see either a 10 per cent cut or a cap of $500,000 applied to their core funding. For the AMC, that means an 81 per cent cut from more than $2.5 million to $500,000. The Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak will be cut nearly 70 per cent.

Busby said it is part of the university code of ethics that whenever research involving aboriginal Canadians is being done, aboriginal people be part of the project. That includes designing the question, the methodology and the research, and they must have access to the results. With these federal cuts, most aboriginal organizations will have to lay off all their researchers and staff hired to work with university projects.

"The potential loss of expertise is staggering and could take a generation to recover," the letter says. "Canada cannot afford to wait another generation for solid research on urgent issues."

Busby also said many aboriginal organizations were just getting to the point where they could take the lead on research projects or do them on their own. This will end that completely.

Jason MacDonald, director of communications for Duncan, said the government has funded 1,028 researchers and 609 graduate students since 2006.

"This research will help contribute to a healthy, prosperous future for Canada's aboriginal people."

MacDonald also said First Nations want to see improvement on key priorities such as education, water and economic development.

"In a period of fiscal restraint, responsible choices need to be made to continue our work to create the conditions for healthier, more self-sufficient aboriginal communities," he said. "Changes to the funding model for aboriginal representative organizations will ensure that funding for core programs and direct services to aboriginal peoples -- such as education, economic development, and infrastructure -- is protected."

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 24, 2012 A18

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