OTTAWA— Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde is demanding an “immediate meeting” with Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt in the wake of a deadly fire on a Saskatchewan First Nation that left two children dead.
Bellegarde sent a letter to Valcourt via fax on Friday saying he wanted to discuss lifting the two per cent cap placed on yearly funding for First Nations. Bellegarde said the cap has left many First Nation communities struggling with limited resources which creates situations like the tragic one last Tuesday on the Makwa Sahgaiehcan First Nation.
“The situation is at a crisis level and the reasons all point to the fact the government of Canada provides insufficient funds to First Nations to adequately provide their members a safe and healthy environment,” said Bellegarde. “The time is now to work together to address the challenges facing First Nations in terms of fire prevention and protection. Directly related to this is an open and honest discussion on lifting the 2 per cent cap on First Nations funding.”
Valcourt blamed Makwa Sahgaiehcan First Nation for not having the ability to fight the fire Tuesday that killed the two children. Facing questions from the NDP during question period Thursday, Valcourt said his department was giving First Nations adequate resources to deal with things like fire prevention and firefighting.
“This particular band has received consistent funding for fire protection services,” said Valcourt. “And the fact of the matter is that each band council is responsible for fire protection on the reserve…That First Nation, like others, received sufficient funds to deal with fire safety.”
Bellegarde said in his letter there was no point in blaming First Nations.
“It is not the time to play politics or blame First Nations that are trying to do what they can with inadequate resources,” said Bellegarde. “That will not change the outcome of these tragic events.”
The Chretien Liberals imposed the two per cent cap in the mid-1990s. Under the cap, overall funding for First Nations can’t grow more than two per cent a year
In the letter, Bellegarde quotes former Aboriginal affairs deputy minister Scott Searson who told a Senate committee the cap was only supposed to be temporary. Bellegarde also mentioned an Aboriginal Affairs presentation that with tabled before the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal. Bellegarde said the departmental presentation shows the government is aware of the impact the two per cent cap has had on First Nations.
“I am asking for an immediate meeting with you to advance this work. Time is of the essence,” said Bellegarde, in the letter. “The longer we live and operate under these restrictive policies the more we are jeopardizing the health and safety of First Nations citizens.”
The Loon Lake volunteer fire department did not respond to the fire in Makwa Sahgaiehcan because the band was three months behind on its fire bill.
Local RCMP officers were the first responders on the scene and they saw the biological father bring his two-year-old boy and 18-month-old daughter out of the burning home.
Valcourt’s office says the department gave Makwa Sahgaiehcan $34,000 for fire prevention and services in the 2014-2015 fiscal year.