One key component of the social safety net in Canada is assistance to families that cannot afford to meet their basic living needs. All provinces and territories provide income support as a last resort source of funds; this funding provides the minimum resources necessary for people to take care of fundamental living costs such as food, clothing, and shelter. This is usually combined with an array of related tax credits, services and programs to both meet needs and assist in becoming self-reliant once again. As a result the support system looks slightly different in each province and territory.
Since the 1960s, Canada has assumed financial responsibility for on-reserve Income Support programs. With some exceptions, Canada’s policy has been to fund First Nation organizations for on-reserve delivery of income support services, provided that the services are aligned with the rates and eligibility criteria of the provincial system in which the reserve is located.
Successful First Cheque Run for Innu Income Support. Pictured: Innu Round Table Secretariat Employees – Kylie Rose, Stella Rich, Bernice Penashue and Alicia Penashue). March 16, 2016.
Until Labrador Innu reserves were created in the early 2000s, the Innu were only eligible for income support services provided by the province of Newfoundland and Labrador (NL). After reserves were created, they became eligible for on-reserve supports from Canada. However, Canada asked NL to continue its program and be reimbursed for its costs on the Innu reserves by INAC. At the same time both governments recommitted to talks to have Innu take over the federal program.
For a long time, the Innu were aware that they were underserved by income support services provided by NL. Language barriers and other reasons made it hard for Innu people to access the program. For several reasons, the Innu people often looked to their Band Councils to help with meeting their basic needs, even after the federal government began funding the Income Support program through NL. As a result, Innu leadership sought to receive federal funds for the Income Support program directly from the federal government, as most other First Nations do, so that income support services can be delivered by an Innu Income Support program to their own residents.
Official transfer of Income Support program from Province of NL to the Innu Round Table Secretariat. Pictured: Federal Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs, Carolyn Bennett, Member of Parliament, Yvonne Jones along with Innu Round Table Secretariat Employees, Kylie Rose, Melinda Osmond, Bernice Penashue and Winnie Gregoire. April 4, 2016.
On April 1st, 2016, by signing a funding agreement between the Innu Round Table Secretariat and INAC, the Innu took over delivery of Income Support services in the two communities. Initially, funding terms still required services to be fully aligned with provincial rates and conditions. Yet still, in its first four years, the program expanded significantly. It proved true that prior to Innu delivery, there were many Innu families not receiving Income Support to meet their basic needs even when they were eligible. Innu delivery proved far more effective and efficient, even under the same provincial rules.
As of July 16, 2020, the program entered a new phase that advances Innu self-determination. The Province’s income support law still applies, but the Province has removed the Innu program from its detailed regulations. See the Income and Employment Support Regulations, NLR 144/04 at section 2.1. Instead, an Innu Income Support Law, passed by both Band Councils, took effect to replace the regulations. Both the Government of Canada and the Province of Newfoundland & Labrador have been supportive of this new innovative model.
The Innu Income Support Law applies the provincial regulations with specific differences set out. The new model means there is a little more flexibility for Innu governments, in consultation with Canada as funder, to address Innu needs and realities.
The Innu Income Support program is but one part of support for Innu families in need. IRT Secretariat staff work closely with First Nations staff as well as various federal and provincial departments, to offer full support to Innu families. Any Innu family facing financial hardship is encouraged to contact IRT Income Support staff to ask about eligibility for financial assistance and related programs.