A historic moment for the federal government and First Nations
NationalPost.com – FullComment
Jan 23, 2012. By John Duncan, Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada
On Tuesday, Canada will witness a historic event that brings together representatives of both the federal government and First Nations. An unprecedented number of federal Ministers and high-ranking officials will engage in focused discussions throughout the day. This meeting will be paralleled by a series of regional meetings across the country.
The Gathering will be a unique opportunity for us all to express ourselves freely, to listen carefully and to identify practical ways in which we can improve the quality of life and long-term economic prosperity of Canada’s First Nations.
This important event is an integral step in forming long-term solutions and delivering tangible results for First Nation communities. It builds on our government’s record of open dialogue and partnership to address issues of shared importance, such as economic development, transparency and accountability, infrastructure and education.
Since 2006, our government has taken action to strengthen the relationship with First Nations through reconciliation and healing. This has been demonstrated by milestones such as the statement of Apology to former students of Indian Residential Schools, and the endorsement of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. We have also made significant and strategic investments in key areas such as water and wastewater, education, child and family services, skills training, and economic development.
Working with willing partners, we have signed five tripartite education agreements between federal, provincial and First Nation governments in New Brunswick, Manitoba, Alberta, Prince Edward Island and Saskatchewan. We also introduced a new Specific Land Claims Action plan which has successfully resolved a significant backlog of specific claims. In addition, our government has committed to providing new investments to the First Nations Land Management Act which provides First Nations with self governance over their lands.
To be clear, Tuesday’s Gathering is more than a symbolic meeting; it is an opportunity for a practical and frank discussion on how we can work together to improve the quality of life and economic prosperity of First Nations in Canada. It is also about moving forward and thinking of the next generation. The First Nations population is young and growing. With upcoming labour shortages, it is imperative that we work together to ensure First Nations are full participants in a strong Canadian economy. It is therefore essential that we continue to strengthen the relationship between the Crown and First Nations and work to remove barriers that limit opportunities for First Nation communities. Our Government and First Nations must both send a clear message in favor of economic development.
I’m optimistic because of the progress we have made thanks to effective partnerships between this government and First Nations groups, such as the Assembly of First Nations (AFN). I strongly believe that this will be a historic event, but I do recognize that history will judge the significance of this event not by what is said that day, but by what is done following it.
Our government will continue to work with First Nation partners across Canada to deliver tangible and lasting results and ensure First Nations are well-positioned to be full participants in a strong Canadian economy.
John Duncan is Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada.
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