September 18th, 2023
Letter: NDP, Lori Idlout and Niki Ashton call on Minister Patty Hajdu to take Indigenous concerns seriously this new parliamentary session
Dear Hon. Minister Hajdu,
With a new session set to begin, it is important to re-raise issues affecting First Nations, Inuit, and Métis peoples across the country.
We start by making this clear: it is unacceptable that your department is seeking to make cuts to vital services when services to Indigenous peoples have always been underfunded. Especially at a time when housing, clean drinking water, emergency preparedness, and healthcare are major issues still largely unaddressed. They are already underfunded. Of the many issues that plague Indigenous communities, this letter outlines some of the major issues required to be addressed.
We have seen an increasing number of communities declare states of emergencies because of the drug and suicide epidemic, lack of clean drinking water, the housing crisis and climate emergencies. We know that youth programs like Jordan’s Principle are already dealing with severe underfunding and that these cuts will only make things worse. This government should be investing more resources in Indigenous services not making cuts.
If these cuts to Indigenous Services, go through it will amount to a repudiation of this government's commitment to reconciliation.
The reality is that 123 corporations avoided $30 Billion in taxes in one year, twice the amount your government is looking to cut. The money should come from there.
We are more than two years after your government’s self-imposed deadline to end long-term boil water advisories on-reserve with no firm date when they will be eliminated. 27 communities still live under long-term boil water advisories, in addition to communities across the country that are under short-term advisories or don’t have access to clean drinking water. There are Indigenous communities where the water is tested clean at the water treatment plant, but the pipe system is either crumbling or insufficient. Minister, until every home in every community can count on the water coming out of its tap, this government needs to stop patting itself on the back.
The chronic underfunding by the federal government in Indigenous communities continues to fuel a suicide and drug crisis. The harmful legacies of colonialism, the residential school system and an ongoing commitment by successive Liberal and Conservative governments to fundamentally underfund Indigenous communities has left many people struggling with few places to turn. The lack of recreational activities, the reality of overcrowded and mouldy homes and the lack of available addiction and mental health counselling only compound the problem.
There is a healthcare crisis in Indigenous communities. Remote communities are left without reliable health care or need to travel for long periods of time to reach care. Elders in Nunavut, for example, often need to travel to Ottawa for simple surgeries and are forced to spend long periods away from their family and community. Many Nunavummiut have to leave their communities for the most basic of health care services available to the rest of Canada.
In Manitoba, it’s no different. Elders are flying to Thompson or Winnipeg for health care services. Meanwhile the Island Lake Region, with a community the size of Thompson, is still without the hospital your government has promised them. The mental health crisis is particularly pronounced in the North, with suicide rates among the highest in the world for young people. Health care workers are working in chronically understaffed conditions and are burning out. Governments are then paying private for-profit companies millions of dollars to supply outside health care workers making double or triple the pay of northern workers. That money would be better spent on long-term solutions like rebuilding the health care system people desperately need in their communities.
Housing continues to be a marked failure by your government. Across Canada, the AFN estimates $60 billion is needed to get homes on reserve to levels comparable to homes off reserve. While the investments that came out of the NDP-Liberal Supply and Confidence Agreement for a For-Indigenous, By-Indigenous housing strategy were an important starting point, it’s clear more is needed. The Liberals promised to end the housing crisis facing First Nations by 2030 but at the current pace that houses are being constructed, it will take between 58 and 141 years to satisfy current housing needs, needs that will only grow.
And it’s not just housing. Too many Indigenous communities lack basic infrastructure. In many cases, the lack of all-weather roads makes the price of everything higher. Meanwhile, your government is playing jurisdictional games when it comes to the East Side Road in Manitoba while Indigenous communities pay the price. Many communities are entirely cut off from the outside world or rely on crumbling infrastructure like gravel railways at airports or melting ice roads to ship in goods. Furthermore, the lack of Internet and cell phone services has put lives at risk. No one should be in a situation where they cannot call for help when they need it. Your department must prioritize helping communities to prepare for and adapt to the catastrophic impacts of climate change, and help communities phase out of diesel fuels to more sustainable and reliable options.
Furthermore, Northern and Indigenous communities are getting slammed the hardest by the sky-high price of food, fuel for their essential transportation and home heating and rent costs. Your government must reform the Nutrition North program so funds go directly to people, not big box stores, and lower prices in the North by removing the GST on home heating.
Fundamentally, programs for Indigenous peoples should be designed and led by the communities themselves. We must end the patriarchal, colonial systems of administration that dictate to Indigenous peoples what they need instead of listening to them.
We have appreciated how open your door has been to our concerns, and I hope to continue to work together when possible.
MP Lori Idlout, NDP Critic for Indigenous Services
MP Niki AShton, NDP Deputy Critic for Indigenous Services