Wednesday, December 17, 2008

First Nations seek out infrastructure money and fullfillment of past promises

With cities and towns across the nation preparing to approach Ottawa to help fund much needed infrastructure projects during hard economic times, Canada’s First Nations leaders are making sure that Ottawa does not forget about past commitments to their communities.

With a major injection of cash expected from January’s budget from Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, there is going to be no shortage of politicians, provincial and municipal seeking out a share of the financial pie.

The concern of Phil Fontaine and the others with the Assembly of First Nations is that with the economic picture across the nation getting worse, Ottawa may not properly address their needs and requirements, many of which have been long promised in the past.

Their thoughts and concerns were outlined in Monday’s Daily News as the front page headline story.

Chiefs assembly calls for better funding for homes and water treatment systems BY GEORGE T. BAKER
The Daily News
Monday December 15, 2008
Pages one and three

Count the First Nations communities in the group of elected representatives looking for more infrastructural funding from the federal government.

While many municipalities and provinces across the nation are clamoring for help with roads and construction projects, First Nations across the country are expecting Canada not to forget them either.

At the Assembly of First Nations Special Chiefs Assembly meeting in Ottawa last week, the AFN called for an economic stimulus package that would help aboriginal communities.

The first thing the AFN wants delivered - housing and water treatment systems.

"First Nations are tremendously concerned about the current economic downturn because we are the most vulnerable," said AFN National Chief Phil Fontaine.

The AFN called for action on three fronts: infrastructure, ensuring First Nations citizens have necessary education and skills to contribute effectively to economic opportunities in their traditional territories and across the country, and the need to facilitate First Nations participation as partners in projects to create sustainable, long term economic benefits on real consultation and accommodation.

Fontaine added: "It is about taking immediate actions that will be guided by long-term vision of a stable and strong Canada.

"Our proposal is good for First Nations, for all Canadians and must be part of a broader stimulus package."

One North Coast First Nations leader was skeptical if this would even come to pass.

Lax Kw'alaams elected chief councillor John Helin said promises by the federal government have been made before without any follow-through and just because the AFN called for another promise does not mean another fulfillment.

"Funding for infrastructure was announced how many years ago? And still that money hasn't reached grassroots people, and so I don't want to be negative but is this thing set up to fail," wondered Helin.

Helin said he wouldn't make any judgments just yet, but would remain cautious until the federal government proved that it was committed to First Nations in Canada.

In the Lax Kw' alaams village of Port Simpson, infrastructure needs are very evident. The local elementary, that was first built in 1957 and then last updated in 1964, is in bad need of replacement. The roads around the village are tough and in need of repair, and in a community that has been decimated by the decline in the fishing industry, there is more than enough evidence of need for repair.

If the funding did come through, Helin said that would be welcome news.

"Oh it would, definitely. I mean anything that we can get for funding for infrastructure or capacity building is more than welcome. We are always screaming about capacity," said Helin.

Another northern First Nations leader agreed, stating the need for a long term economic commitments were far more useful than federal bail out funding.

"Economic development is generally more lasting than a one or five year accord," said Carrier-Sekani Tribal Council Chief David Luggi.

Currently his nation is battling plans by Enbridge Inc. to construct both a petroleum pipeline and condensate pipeline that would travel from Alberta to Kitimat though his Nation's territory.

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