With the Liberal government under pressure to increase funding for children in indigenous communities, the prime minister says his government has the money and is ready to act – it’s the communities that need to articulate their needs and establish their ability to deliver the required services.
“A lot of indigenous communities haven’t had the opportunity yet to take that responsibility, to actually think about how they can and must deliver,” Justin Trudeau said Tuesday while speaking with journalists in Ottawa.
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The ruling from the quasi-judicial body, which is legally binding, found the inadequate funding is a form of discrimination.
The tribunal subsequently ordered the federal government to provide detailed calculations on why the $71 million earmarked for child welfare in 2016 was adequate to meet its obligations, and gave Indigenous Affairs two weeks to confirm implementation of Jordan’s Principle — a policy designed to ensure First Nations children can obtain services without getting caught up in red tape.
But last week, Ottawa announced its intention take the Human Rights Tribunal to the Federal Court; the health and indigenous affairs ministers said their intention is to seek “clarity” on two aspects of that order.
The move prompted critics and advocates to accuse Ottawa of delaying implementation of their obligation to indigenous children.
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The prime minister said on Tuesday the relationship his government is trying to build with indigenous communities is unlike those of previous federal governments.
“In the history of the … relationship, it’s been very rare that you’ve had a government say to indigenous communities, ‘What do you need? … We have money there, we’re ready to invest in you. You just need to tell us how you need it spent, where you’re going to spend it and how you can best help.’”
If the Canadian government wants “to be true about reconciliation,” it cannot tell communities what they need and how to spend funding, Trudeau said.
“That’s not a decision for Ottawa to make,” he said.
To some, including NDP indigenous affairs critic Romeo Saganash, the prime minister’s words ring hollow.
“Mr. Trudeau is repeating the mistreatment of the past by blaming indigenous communities for his own failures rather than fund child welfare appropriately,” he wrote in a statement to Global News.
The federal government is responsible for delivering public services – including everything from education, to health care and child welfare – to children in indigenous communities.
All other Canadian children receive those services via funding from provincial governments.
“The Human Rights Tribunal has ruled multiple times that the government needs to equalize the funding for our children. Instead of following the rulings, Mr. Trudeau has decided to fight First Nation children in court,” Saganash said.
Neither the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples nor the Assembly of First Nations was able to provide comment on this article prior to publishing.
With a file from The Canadian Press