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It's the same old, same old, aboriginal leaders complain

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CANADA'S First Nations have suffered for the last 200 years and nothing in Finance Minister Jim Flaherty's federal budget Thursday changed that, Grand Chief David Harper said.

The leader of 30 northern First Nations represented in the Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak organization said the incentives Ottawa threw to Canada's aboriginals fell far short.

"What I've said all along is that First Nations have been in their own recession for 200 years, and we look at the budget every year and there are still problems," Harper said.

"If there was going to be real progress, they would have lifted the two per cent cap on education funding... education is the ultimate goal to reset the First Nations economy."

Education and resource-sharing are demands aboriginal leaders have made for years as keys to a real First Nations economy. Neither was mentioned in the budget.

Ottawa has held the line on funding for aboriginal schools and post-secondary education to an annual two per cent increase for decades. The cap is blamed for schools that are underfunded from 30 to 50 per cent compared to those in provincially run education systems.

Instead of money for education, the budget committed to more consultation and passing legislation by September 2014 to set up a system with regional school boards.

The federal government brought down its budget a day after Chief Arlen Dumas of Manitoba's Mathias Colomb band stormed out of a Winnipeg court during a hearing on a request for an injunction against mine blockades in northern Manitoba, and Harper tried to strike a conciliatory note in his remarks.

Ottawa could have used the budget to present an olive branch on resource-sharing with native people, he said. Instead, it put $241 million over five years into training programs for young people on income assistance.

He said federal and provincial governments could play a valuable role by opening a dialogue with mining and resource companies with interests in traditional lands.

Half the $241 million will go to setting up the program on reserves and the other half will only be accessible if welfare recipients agree to participate in the program.

"That's not much. They're stigmatizing Canadian First Nations youth and they're the fastest-growing demographic. That just perpetuates welfare," Harper said.

Shawn Atleo, the Assembly of First Nations national chief, said the budget is a lot of talk but no action in the form of financial resources.

"Budget 2013 makes reference to First Nations in almost every section, which suggests that the unprecedented attention and engagement of our peoples is beginning to be heard," he said in a release.

"But the investment just isn't there. We will continue to press for direct engagement of First Nations themselves on full implementation of commitments in an urgent manner."

The Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs was equally skeptical.

"This status-quo budget ensures the rich keep getting rich with tax credits and incentives that generally do not help First Nations individuals or communities," said Grand Chief Derek Nepinak.

"A status-quo budget for First Nations people means a continuation of escalating poverty and a continuing failure to meet the basic needs of families in the communities. Announcements on reallocated funding for skills and trade development tied to compulsory program changes is nothing short of coercion and racialized policy implementation."

The money earmarked in Flaherty's budget is divided in two. The First Nations job fund will get $109 million to provide personalized job training for welfare recipients. Benefits cheques will be dependent on participation in the program. The rest of the money will go into setting up the services necessary to deliver such a program, including compliance measures and counselling.

"Funding will be accessible only to those reserve communities that choose to implement mandatory participation in training for young income-assistance recipients," the budget warns. -- with files from The Canadian Press



Federal spending highlights

OTTAWA -- Highlights from the federal budget tabled Thursday by Finance Minister Jim Flaherty:

Revenues for 2013-14 forecast at $263.9 billion, spending at $282.6 billion, deficit at $18.7 billion;

Deficit projected to drop to $6.6 billion in 2014-15 and become an $800-million surplus in 2015-16;

Canada Job Grant program will be negotiated with provinces by next year to replace existing $500-million labour-market agreements;

Measures will be introduced to improve skills training for the disabled;

New programs will promote apprenticeship;

Two-year extension of an accelerated capital-cost allowance to help manufacturers;

Infrastructure spending of $47 billion over 10 years, starting next year;

An improved tax break for families adopting children.

$100 million over two years to support housing construction in Nunavut;

Special tax break for first-time charitable donations to encourage young people to give;

End to tariffs on baby clothes and sports gear, including skates, hockey sticks, skis and golf clubs;

Canadian International Development Agency to be merged with Foreign Affairs.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 22, 2013 B4

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