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Old 12-03-2005, 10:24 PM   #1
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First Nations to receive $5 billion in investments

First Nations to receive $5 billion in investments
Indian Country Today December 02, 2005. All Rights Reserved
Posted: December 02, 2005
by: David Wiwchar / Today correspondent


KELOWNA, British Columbia - Christmas came a month early for Canadian First Nations as former Prime Minister Paul Martin announced more than $5 billion over the next five years to close the gap between aboriginal peoples and other Canadians in education, health, housing and economic opportunities.

The announcement was made at a first-of-its-kind November meeting in which the prime minister of Canada, and premiers from the 10 provinces and three territories, sat for two days of meetings focusing on aboriginal issues.

The meeting was timely, given extensive media coverage of Third World-style living conditions faced by many aboriginal communities despite the many land-claim cases First Nations have won over the past decade in the Supreme Court.

''Our plan is built on a foundation of respect, accountability and shared responsibility,'' said Martin. ''With this plan, we have made an important step forward in honouring our commitment to close the gap in the quality of life that now exists between aboriginal peoples and other Canadians,'' he said before he outlining five-year targets within the 10-year plan to ensure actions remain focused and accountable.

''The prime minister and premiers recognize there is much despair in our communities,'' said Anishnabek Grand Chief John Beaucage from the Union of Ontario Indians. ''Problems in housing, health, education and other social indicators aren't the fault of First Nations; they're directly linked to old government policies based on assimilation,'' he said. ''I'm really pleased with the results of this meeting. It was much better than we had anticipated.''

As the senior First Nations representative for Housing, Beaucage sat at the main table with Martin and the premiers during the discussion in which $1.2 billion was agreed upon specifically for aboriginal housing.

''Housing is one of the best examples of how First Nations have taken the lead in proposing a comprehensive 10-year strategy to improve First Nations housing in Canada, both on- and off-reserve,'' said Beaucage. ''These improvements include over 60,000 new housing starts in the next 10 years.''

The housing strategy also includes the development of a capital fund, a market-based housing approach, addressing the continued need for social housing, but also maintaining the status quo for those First Nations that cannot support or take advantage of these significant developments. First Nations will also make a significant 10-year proposal to administer these housing programs themselves.

''For decades, our leaders have called for solutions to address our housing crisis, to see fundamental change in programs and to lobby for a substantial increase in investment. These achievements are just on the horizon,'' he said.

First ministers and national aboriginal leaders agreed that broad indicators will be used to assess the progress of the Plan. In addition, more specific measures and targets will be developed at regional and sub-regional levels.

Martin acknowledged the Assembly of First Nations for taking the important step of proposing the establishment of a First Nations auditor general and an ombudsman. ''We all need to make an ongoing commitment to openness, transparency and good governance,'' he said. ''The targets we set today must be tracked and measured constantly so that everyone involved in this process is accountable.''

Aboriginal leaders are not concerned Martin's ''ambitious plan of action'' will be dismissed if he loses the upcoming election before supporting legislation can be passed.

''This deal is with the Government of Canada, not the Liberal Party,'' said Phil Fontaine, national chief of the AFN. ''It's going to be very difficult for any government to retreat from any commitments that were made here.''

''I certainly wouldn't want to be a national leader charged with continuing the despair in our aboriginal communities by scrapping any of the commitments made these past two days,'' added Beaucage.

As the leaders gathered in a final press conference, they resolved to hold similar meetings every two years to track progresses on investments.

''Aboriginal Canadians have no desire for more rhetoric,'' said Martin. ''It's time for real results.''

''We've seen how far we can go in two days: imagine how far we can go in 10 years,'' concluded Fontaine.

Planned federal investments for allocated funds

-- Education

Canada will invest a total of $1.8 billion over the next five years in education initiatives at the early childhood, kindergarten - 12 and post-secondary levels.

K - 12: By 2016, the graduation rate for aboriginal students will be on par with other Canadians. To achieve this goal, the Canadian government will invest $1.05 billion over the next five years to promote education innovation on-reserve, including assistance to establish a network of First Nations school systems, with regional school authorities administered under First Nations jurisdictions and enhancements for First Nations basic education services; and $150 million over the next five years for off-reserve initiatives within the public school system, including $50 million to improve education in the North.

Post-secondary education: In 2001, 23 percent of aboriginal peoples aged 18 - 29 reported having completed their post-secondary education, compared to 43 percent in the rest of Canada. The Canadian government will invest $500 million over the next five years, including post-secondary education bursaries, scholarships and apprenticeships. Canada will also undertake a review to identify more initiatives that will help to close the overall post-secondary education gap.

-- Health

The incidence of infant mortality is almost 20 percent higher than in the rest of Canada. Aboriginal people are three times more likely to have Type 2 diabetes. Suicide rates can be anywhere from three to 11 times more frequent, particularly among Inuit. The Canadian government will invest $1.3 billion over the next five years to stabilize the First Nation and Inuit Health Branch, promote transformation and to build capacity.

-- Housing and infrastructure

On-reserve, the estimated housing shortage is 20,000 - 35,000 units and growing by 2,200 units per year. Off-reserve, the core housing need is 76 percent higher among aboriginal households than non-aboriginal households. In the North, housing needs are 130 percent higher among aboriginal households than non-aboriginal households. Canada will invest $1.6 billion over the next five years to support transformative change in housing, with special attention to involving aboriginal people in the development of a strong and effective aboriginal housing system that will build capacity in areas such as land administration and housing and financial management.

-- Economic opportunities

The unemployment rate among aboriginal peoples is 19.1 percent, while the national rate is 7.4 percent. On reserves, the unemployment rate is about 29 percent, four times the Canadian unemployment rate. The median employment income for aboriginal Canadians is $16,000, while the average for non-aboriginal Canadians is $25,000.

Canada will work to increase aboriginal employment levels by 30 percent over the next five years and by 50 percent within 10 years. Canada will invest $200 million over the next five years supporting commercial and industrial activities, and Economic Development Framework initiatives.

-- Relationships and accountability

The Canadian government recognized the importance of respecting the differences among First Nations, Inuit and Metis and of including each group as appropriate in policy. Canada will invest $170 million over the next five years to national and regional aboriginal organizations to assist them in enhancing capacity, policy development and development of indicators and accountability.

The new funding builds on previous investments by the Canadian government in areas of urgent need for aboriginal Canadians, including more than $1.4 billion confirmed in the 2005 budget, and more than $2.5 billion from recent announcements including $2.2 billion in compensation for former students of Indian residential schools.
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