Many non-indigenous Canadians are convinced First Nations communities are living extravagant tax-free lives at their expense. This is a myth deeply rooted in the dominant narrative Canadians have been told and taught from their government, education system and media. Not only is it completely untrue, the facts and figures that sink this ship are readily available. Racism is an extravagant indulgence we simply can’t afford.
For those with an interest in being educated and informed I’m just going to paraphrase a few recent discussions and link to a few articles much better written than anything I could do on the subject.
This is from a recent Media Co-Op article, ‘What if Natives Stop Subsidizing Canada?’
“It’s true that Canada’s federal government controls large portions of the cash flow First Nations depend on. Much of the money used by First Nations to provide services does come from the federal budget. But the accuracy of the myth ends there. On the whole, the money that First Nations receive is a small fraction of the value of the resources, and the government revenue, that comes out of their territories. Let’s look at a few examples.
Overall numbers are difficult to pin down, but consider the following: Canadian governments received $9 billion in taxes and royalties in 2011 from mining companies, which is a tiny portion of overall mining profits; $3.8 billion came from exports of hydroelectricity alone in 2008, and 60 per cent of Canada’s electricity comes from hydroelectric dams; one estimate has tar sands extraction bringing in $1.2 trillion in royalties over 35 years; the forestry industry was worth $38.2 billion in 2006, and contributes billions in royalties and taxes.
By contrast, annual government spending on First Nations is $5.36 billion, which comes to about $7,200 per person. Government spending per resident in Ottawa is around $14,900. By any reasonable measure, it’s clear that First Nations are the ones subsidizing Canada. (These are 2005 figures; the amounts are slightly higher today.)” You can read the full article HERE
Adding to this, Berens River First Nation Chief George Kemp recently said, “Treaties 1-11, clearly state our people are “to count on the benevolence and bounty” of the Crown. If the Crown would share even 1% of the billions upon billions of wealth created for all Canadians since the treaties were signed 140 years ago, the housing crises would be solved. The treaties never gave up the natural resources under ground, only lands to be shared for farming and settlers. So, we are not talking “hand outs” we are talking about we are rightly owed; a share of our own wealth. Then we can solve our own problems!”
There has also been a lot of criticism of Attawapiskat in the media recently, as they repeatedly bandy about a $90 million figure that is supposed to be further proof of the million dollar lives First Nations communities enjoy.
The community of Attawapiskat received $90 million over five years, which equals $18 million per annum. $18 million divided by population of 2,000 equals $9,000 per person. This money is for everything from roads, infrastructure, housing, education and social services. By way of comparison, my home province of Manitoba receives $45,000 per person to operate and provide the same services. Imagine what Manitoba would look like operating on $9000.00 per person. For that matter, imagine what Attawapiskat would like operating on $45,000 per person!
There is one last article by Elyse Bruce, I highly recommend reading regarding the First Nations Trust Fund and the Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada. It speaks in depth to the allegations that any money paid to First Nations people is charity, concluding, “The next time someone says that First Nations peoples are getting a free ride from taxpayers or that First Nations peoples are mismanaging the money the government gives them, step back and share facts with individuals, corporations and government departments who are riding the slammin’ bandwagon. Education is one of the strongest weapons against ignorance.”
Rik Leaf is the Creative Director for Tribe of One, a performance collective featuring English, French, First Nations and Metis musicians, dancers, painters and poets who fuse the rich heritage of indigenous culture with modern forms of artistic expression.