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Feds pick fight with aboriginals over budget cuts — Atleo

Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council President Cliff Atleo says that the PM Stephen Harper has picked a fight with budget cuts to aboriginal groups country-wide. The NTC will see a 60 per cent cut to it
Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council President Cliff Atleo says that the PM Stephen Harper has picked a fight with budget cuts to aboriginal groups country-wide. The NTC will see a 60 per cent cut to it's operating budget starting in 2014.
— image credit: WAWMEESH G. HAMILTON/Alberni Valley News

The Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council (NTC) is facing a 60 per cent cut to its federal funding and it’s not going down without swinging, president Cliff Atleo said.

“I think that the federal government has picked a fight with us and we’re prepared to take them on,” Atleo said Thursday outside the tribal council’s office building.

Atleo wasn’t referring to just Nuu-chah-nulth: all aboriginal groups across the country faced cuts.

In a show of solidarity, Atleo was flanked by AFN BC Regional Chief Jody Wilson-Rabould, Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs president Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, and First Nations Summit Task Group member Dan Smith. Their groups are seeing a 10 per cent cut to their funding.

Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Minister John Duncan announced the cuts to aboriginal organizations and tribal councils country-wide last September.

The cuts will trigger in 2014. The NTC’s budget will be reduced from $1.25 million to $500,000. The move will impact program and service delivery to more than 8,000 Nuu-chah-nulth people on the west coast of Vancouver Island as well as those living in urban centres.

The NTC  delivers programs including fisheries, economic development, education, social development and the news publication Hashilthsa. The organization employs 154 people including contractors, and jobs are on the line if cuts proceed.

The tribal council will have to cut at least 25 jobs, Atleo said. “We’re one of the larger employers in the Alberni Valley; this affects all of us,” he added. In a later interview, Atleo said the number was abstract and that nothing was cast in stone yet. “There’s still things being looked at and other considerations to be planned for like severance,” he said.

The cuts to Nuu-chah-nulth represent a 60 per cent reduction in funding, the steepest amount leveled at any aboriginal group, Atleo said.

Nuu-chah-nulth is the home turf of AFN President Shawn Atleo, Canada’s highest profile aboriginal leader. And the Nuu-chah-nulth recently won a key aboriginal rights fisheries case that caused a shift in how aboriginal fisheries are managed. Neither factor is a variable in the cuts to NTC funding, Cliff Atleo said. “There’s a bigger agenda at play,” he said.

That agenda involves the country’s resources and the spectre of aboriginal rights encumbering the extraction of such resources, UBCIC Grand Chief Stewart Phillip said. “We’re the last line of defence between the country’s resources and a federal government that wants to open it up and devastate it.”

Phillip also doesn’t buy that everyone had to sharpen the pencil and prepare to make cuts. “The most vulnerable people in the country are facing cuts, meanwhile corporations are benefitting from tax cuts,” he said. “That makes absolutely no sense to me.”

Nanaimo-Alberni MP James Lunney declined an invitation to attend the press conference, but he did speak about the cuts at a previous engagement. “Every (federal) department is having its challenges right now,” Lunney said. Many services have been reduced, but not cut. “The adjustment process is going to be a challenge,” he said.

Aboriginal leaders met with Prime Minister Stephen Harper in January to establish the begining of a new fiscal relationship. “But our leaders found out about the cuts after reading about it in the National Post,” Phillip said.

The cuts are troubling and disturbing, Wilson-Rabould said. “A new fiscal relationship means sitting down with us to talk about what we can do together and support our First Nations’ re-building efforts,” she said. “It doesn’t mean one party imposing on another.”

B.C. aboriginal advocate Ernie Crey was in Port Alberni the week of the protest for a fisheries meeting. The issue called to mind the words of Pam Palmater, who vied for the AFN national chief’s seat last summer, Crey related.

“I remember her saying about Harper’s government ‘You have to stand up to the bully every time’. “She was right, and they have to do it loudly starting right now.”

reporter@albernivalleynews.com

Twitter.com/AlberniNews

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