With contribution from Lucas Holtvluwer.

Somewhat forgotten amidst all the hubbub surrounding the SNC-Lavalin scandal is the fact that the Trudeau government will be rolling out their new Indigenous Skills Employment and Training program in only a month’s time.

This new program replaces the Aboriginal Skills and Employment Training Strategy and is aimed at giving Indigenous people more control and autonomy over where the money is directed.

However, the old system was plagued by a lack of reliable data and reporting measures to demonstrate the tangible results of the billions of dollars that have flowed into the program over the years.

Since 2010, $2.7 billion has been invested into the program with little to no results. The only benchmark data that is available is the Indigenous unemployment rate, which in 2007 sat at 11% and 10 years later, remained unchanged.

In a Public Accounts Committee meeting last Fall, MP’s of all stripes, including Liberal MP Chandra Arya, raised questions and concerns about the additional funds going toward the new program which still did not show any concrete way to measure results.

“Okay, we’re spending $342 million, based on previous commitments and we still don’t know how effective it is. Now, we are putting another $100 million into this. Shouldn’t we hold on until we see how to really set up something to measure it before spending it?” Arya stated at the committee meeting.

Chief Alexis speaks out

MP’s aren’t the only ones concerned with the new program. Chief Tony Alexis of the Alexis Nakota Sioux Nation in Alberta voiced his concerns about the new program and the role of the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) in a statement on Friday.  

“The federal government is failing our communities once again. Service Canada is pressuring First Nations in Alberta to sign a 10 year agreement that would leave thousands of Indigenous people without access to employment and training services, services that are readily available to all other Canadians. We are being forced to give up the control over the success of our people.

The documents provided showed no partnership or act of reconciliation and are expected to be signed by March 29 without ample time to legally review all components of the agreement and its terms and conditions. The Liberal Government has once again failed to work ‘Nation to Nation’ and continues to bypass the legal rights of First Nations.

Service Canada plans to roll out the Indigenous Skills Employment and Training program on April 1, 2019. The agreements were endorsed by the AFN, an organization which does not have the authority to endorse agreements or funding arrangements on behalf of First Nations in Alberta.

In May 2018, the Auditor General found the federal government’s inability to improve the lives of Indigenous people was an ‘incomprehensible failure.’ After many empty promises, First Nations continue to be left behind and not considered equal partners. Once again, I urge Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to call a Crown meeting to show respect for the true government to government relationship he mentions so often.”

Chief Tony Alexis of the Alexis Nakota Sioux Nation

Chief Tony Alexis of the Alexis Nakota Sioux Nation.

Who does the AFN Represent?

Many grassroots and respected Indigenous leaders across the country have felt that the Assembly of First Nations does not always serve the best interests of First Nations countrywide.

The AFN is a federally funded lobbyist organization. They are elected by chiefs from different regions but they are not elected by treaty card holders. The AFN is not a ruling governing body or a nation.

Some members have questioned the commitment of AFN Chief Perry Bellegarde to the grassroots membership accusing him of playing defence for the Liberal government failures to fulfill all of their campaign promises to Indigenous Canadians.

Tellingly enough, when asked in a recent New York Times article for a comment about the resignation of Jody Wilson-Raybould from Trudeau’s cabinet, Bellegarde pointed out that the government only has four months to implement their election promises before they break for the summer saying “We’ve got a lot of work to do and I don’t need a distraction.”

Alleged election interference

In July of 2018, when Bellegarde was re-elected on the second ballot, his four opponents raised concerns about interference from the Liberal Government, specifically the Minister of Crown.

Indigenous Relations Carolyn Bennett, who was present at the meeting the day before voting allegedly telling voters to “stay the course.”

One of the four candidates, Russ Diablo, speaking with Windspeaker.com said “I’m saying her ‘stay the course’ message was a signal. It’s a signal they (the federal government) want a candidate who will go along with their agenda.”

Another one the candidates, former Northern Manitoba Grand Chief Sheila North, told Windspeaker that “The optics were not very good for her even being on the floor at the time. That said to many people, including myself, that they were there trying to remind the chiefs of the Liberal’s presence, the Liberal’s connection to the current, at the time, AFN body.”

North weighs in on AFN election

The Post Millennial had the chance to speak with North recently to get some more thoughts from her on the AFN and reconciliation in light of the resignation of Wilson-Raybould.

Do you feel that the recent AFN election was free from political interference?

SN: Unfortunately not.  

Why was Minister Carolyn Bennett at the AFN election?

SN: Officially, her reason was that she was invited by the Alberta AFN Regional Chief.  But to some, including myself, it seems she was there for her and the Liberals best interests — whatever that may be.

The past AFN election and the appearance of interference by Liberals might not seem like a big deal to many Canadians but losing control over AFN and INAC (Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada) would have huge implications for this country because INAC is the largest bureaucracy directly tied to the Canada’s wealth of natural resources through treaties. The government, no matter who’s in power, doesn’t want to lose control of that. Especially not to treaty rights holders!

Former Northern Manitoba Grand Chief Sheila North.

What does this all mean for reconciliation?

While Trudeau, with the support of Perry Bellegarde and the AFN, continue to throw lots of money into this new program, Canadians of all types are left wondering just how exactly more money will solve this complicated problem.

This new program does not increase the transparency of these dollars and fails to provide any concrete solutions for grassroots band members. Some First Nations bands already struggle with transparency and corruption issues from their leadership, with local membership having issues obtaining financial records from their respective chiefs and councils.

By increasing the funding to this program without implementing new ways to account for the results of the funding, the Trudeau government is foolishly using taxpayer resources and failing to provide tangible opportunities for the First Nations members.

Canadians, especially Indigenous Canadians, should expect better from their government.