Some Indigenous organizations in the NWT feel excluded from the $18 billion earmarked for Indigenous peoples in Budget 2021.

Released by Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland on April 19, the new budget proposes $18 billion in investments to narrow gaps between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples and bring about further reconciliation with First Nations, Inuit and the Métis Nation.

But when it comes to how much the budget allocation will benefit NWT Métis, it depends on which Métis organization will receive funding.

The fiscal arrangement needs to be overhauled so that federal funding goes directly to Indigenous governments and not through the GNWT, said Dene National Chief Norman Yakeleya. NNSL photo

Garry Bailey, president of the NWT Métis Nation (NWTMN), said he doesn’t expect his organization to receive any of the $18 billion.

“We’ve asked for direct funding to the NWTMN. Most of the funding seems to go to the Métis National Council (MNC), which we’re not affiliated with,” Bailey said. “(We) end up falling through the cracks. It’s a big problem for us.”

The lack of specific funding for the NWTMN indicates to Bailey that the federal government still hasn’t acted on the ruling in the Daniels decision of the Supreme Court. In 2016, that case recognized that Métis and non-status Indigenous people are “Indians” under section 91(24) of the Constitution Act.

“We’ve been waiting for five years to have the Daniels case implemented, Bailey said. “The Métis are supposed to be treated equitably with all other First Nations now. We’re supposed to get the same programs and services as other First Nations. Why isn’t the budget reflecting that? I can’t emphasize how important that is.”

Even though Bailey said the NWTMN wasn’t consulted over the budget, he expressed his concerns with Northern Affairs Minister Dan Vandal over the phone just after the budget was released.

“I mentioned the government has been stalling on the negotiation process for years by not having refreshed mandates. There’s nothing in (the budget) about finalizing the land (transfers). There’s nothing in there to support us in the interim. Land transfers would be beneficial for us for economic development.

“The news we got back was, ‘Yes, we hear you and we’re having talks about it but it’s been going on for years. I’ve been bringing the issue up for years. I’ve been involved in this for 25 years. They’ve never changed.”

Congress of Aboriginal Peoples

The Congress of Aboriginal Peoples (CAP), which represents non-status and off-reserve First Nations, Métis and Inuit peoples, was quick to raise alarm over omissions in the budget.

On the same day the budget was published, CAP stated in a news release that the budget ignores the communities that CAP represents and instead channels funding through the “distinctions-based” process that favours larger organizations like the Assembly of First Nations, MNC and Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami.

That process aims to recognize the unique differences and interests between Indigenous organizations and is in contrast to the federal government’s old pan-Indigenous approach.

CAP’s national vice-chief Kim Beaudin agrees with Bailey’s views on the budget and said the federal government’s inaction on the Daniels decision has rendered Métis invisible, especially Métis unaffiliated with the MNC.

While he admits that his organization engages in few activities in the NWT, he points out that the federal government’s distinctions-based approach excludes 80 to 90 per cent of Indigenous peoples living off-reserve.

“I consider myself a non-status Indian. I don’t have a band to advocate on my behalf,” Beaudin said. “There are people in the NWT who need a voice and we’re looking to provide that voice, but it’s hard to provide that when we don’t have the core funding.”

Dene Nation

Dene National Chief Norman Yakeleya is thankful to NWT MP Michael McLeod, Vandal and other Northern leaders for their advocacy that helped bring about the $18 billion allocation for Indigenous peoples.

However, he thinks the CAP and Métis leaders make valid points.

For one thing, he would like more transparency over how the funds will flow into Indigenous governments and organizations in the NWT.

“Sometimes money directed to Indigenous peoples even gets spread around to non-Indigenous people,” Yakeleya said. “Is the GNWT going to put its finger in there and try to take some money? How much of that money is going to be filtered down into the Indigenous communities? Is it going to be dollar for dollar? Or 20 cents of the dollar? The devil’s in the details, as they say.”

Yakeleya also acknowledges that CAP and the NWTMN are right to criticize the funding structure that prioritizes the large, national Indigenous organizations over smaller ones.

Governments, including the provinces, territories, Indigenous governments and land claims settlement organizations want a piece of the budget dollars, Yakeleya said.

“Each community has their own aspirations of how to build their economies. We don’t realize the damage it does to us because we’re thinking ‘win-lose.’ There’s no ‘win-win’.

“I believe the whole fiscal arrangement needs to be overhauled. In the NWT, we have the Tlicho and Deline self-government agreements. They should be on equal par with the GNWT, along with the Gwich’in and Sahtu. The funding should go directly to them and bypass the GNWT. The status quo is no longer working or no longer good enough. The Government of Canada needs to recognize that.”

Yakeleya also acknowledges that CAP and the NWTMN are right to criticize the funding structure that prioritizes the large, national Indigenous organizations over smaller ones.

Governments, including the provinces, territories, Indigenous governments and land claims settlement organizations want a piece of the budget dollars, Yakeleya said.

“Each community has their own aspirations of how to build their economies. We don’t realize the damage it does to us because we’re thinking ‘win-lose.’ There’s no ‘win-win’.

“I believe the whole fiscal arrangement needs to be overhauled. In the NWT, we have the Tlicho and Deline self-government agreements. They should be on equal par with the GNWT, along with the Gwich’in and Sahtu. The funding should go directly to them and bypass the GNWT. The status quo is no longer working or no longer good enough. The Government of Canada needs to recognize that.”

Indigenous Services Canada did not respond to a request for comment by press deadline.

Blair McBride

Blair McBride covers the Legislative Assembly, business and education. Before coming to Yellowknife he worked as a journalist in British Columbia, Thailand and Ontario. He studied journalism at Western...

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