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A Communiqué from National Chief Shawn A–in–chut Atleo March 2010

by NationTalk on March 23, 20101365 Views

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The Assembly of First Nations is embarking on a strategic and forward looking agenda. I believe this is our time, a time for Indigenous peoples to come together in recognition and respect to lead the change that is required for our people. I am pleased to provide the following update on recent activities.Throne Speech

I am encouraged by statements made in the March 3rd Speech from the Throne signalling that the Canadian government is finally prepared to endorse the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). We’ve been advocating on this issue nationally and internationally for two years and I’m truly pleased that we’ve finally been heard. As you know, this Declaration guarantees a minimum living standard for Indigenous peoples around the world. Endorsing the UNDRIP could be a further step toward reconciliation and signals the potential for real, transformative change in the relationship between First Nations and Canada based on partnership and respect.

There have been some questions surrounding the language used in the Throne Speech, and whether the federal government will fully honour its commitment to endorse UNDRIP. You have my full guarantee that I will work diligently to ensure Canada gives its full support and endorsement to the UN Declaration as soon as possible and in partnership with First Nations.

Budget 2010 and education

We’ve been pressing the federal government for many months on a number of issues, in particular on education. At last December’s SCA, Chiefs stood together calling for a comprehensive funding review of elementary and secondary funding to address the need for fundamental reform. Leadership also endorsed the renewed policy statement ‘First Nation control of First Nation education’ and established a broad national strategy to advance education at all levels.

Budget 2010 does not invest in the change needed in First Nation education. It does support the need to reform and strengthen our education and promises to work with us. The government also committed to moving toward comparable education outcomes for First Nations students. This is welcome and necessary. Clearly, we have much work yet to do, but I assure you, we will continue these efforts. We will continue to bring forward the strongest arguments and we will facilitate every opportunity for First Nations to improve education opportunities and outcomes for their future generations through enhanced commitment, reformed policy and clear guarantees for stable and fair funding.

Specific to the Post-Secondary Student Support Program (PSSSP), the Government has confirmed that there will be a review to ensure that students have the support they need. We’ve said, for over a decade, that this program must be enhanced because it was failing to meet student needs. There are many concerns about how and what this reform may mean. Here again, we need to bring forward a First Nation directed approach ensuring enhanced support for our students. Reform must result in greater investment, must recognize the critical role of our communities and must respect our rights and jurisdiction. We need to ensure the government responds to criticisms from the Office of the Auditor General that INAC’s administration of the program can and should be improved. We are ready to fully engage on this dialogue with a focus on our students as we move toward First Nations control of First Nations education.

Other commitments in Budget 2010

Other important commitments in the budget include the renewal of a number of community based health programs, such as the Aboriginal Diabetes Initiative, the Aboriginal Health and Human Resources Initiative, Maternal Child Health, the National Aboriginal Youth Suicide Prevention Strategy and the Aboriginal Health transition fund.

The budget contained a commitment to extend the funding on water and waste water by $331M over 2 years to help First Nations continue to address water quality issues. Recent reports indicate that there are at least 48 First Nations communities dealing with high risk drinking water and 120 communities under drinking water advisories. This trend appears to be rising. It is clear and well-understood that our communities desperately need critical infrastructure investments.

The federal budget set aside $10M dollars over the next two years to address violence against First Nations women. While we do not know yet how this funding will be targeted, I am hopeful the federal government is signalling it is now ready to work toward meaningful and concrete actions that will bring clear focus, attention and resolution to this issue. More than 500 Indigenous women and girls have gone missing or been murdered since the 1960s. The Assembly of First Nations has joined national and international Indigenous and human rights groups in calling on governments in Canada to develop an inclusive process that will lead to a National Action Plan to address this issue. The AFN and AFN Women’s Council have also recommended the creation of a non-partisan joint Parliamentary committee bringing together membership and resources from existing committees including Justice, Status of Women, the Aboriginal Affairs committee and Public Safety to address the issue.

It became clear shortly after the federal budget was released that despite an announcement of $199M for residential school survivors, there is no budget allocation for the Aboriginal Healing Foundation (AHF). I , along with the AFN Executive have joined First Nations leaders across the country in expressing concern about the uncertainty this creates for more than 134 projects in communities across Canada, especially as the Truth and Reconciliation Commission begins its work. The AHF is incredibly effective in ensuring community-level programming reaches residential school survivors. On behalf of the AFN and Executive, I have expressed our collective concern to the federal government that ending AHF funding on March 31, 2010 will be detrimental to survivors and our communities. Additional advocacy efforts are currently underway and we will provide regular updates of the outcomes.

Federal Response to the McIvor Decision & Movement to a Broader Process

On March 11, the federal government tabled Bill C-3 in the House of Commons. Under Bill C-3, the eligible grandchildren of women who lost status as a result of marrying non-Indian men will become entitled to registration in accordance with the Indian Act. The legislation amending the Indian Act was introduced in response to a ruling by the BC Court of Appeal in the McIvor case last April, which struck down sections 6(1)(a) and (c) of the Indian Act. The Court gave the Government until April 6, 2010, to rectify the discrimination and amend the offending provisions.

We are urging INAC to provide clear information to First Nation governments and our citizens about the impacts and implementation of this legislation. Also, we continue to advocate that additional and adequate resources are identified for First Nations to respond to increases in their population.

While the legislation will address some inequities in the Indian Act – and ensure that some of our citizens will no longer be denied their rights – it does not address the more fundamental issue of continued federal interference in determining who is or is not an “Indian”. The AFN is continuing to pursue full recognition of First Nations’ jurisdiction over our own citizenship.

Remarks made by the Minister of Indian Affairs upon introducing Bill C-3 indicate that the government is now opening a door to dialogue on this matter. AFN will work with you to ensure your voices are central to this dialogue. Regional Chief George Stanley (AB) and Regional Chief Jody Wilson-Raybould (BC) have agreed to lead this work.

Upcoming Policy and Planning Forum

I would like to invite you to the AFN’s National Policy and Planning Forum, to be held in Saskatoon from March 24th – 26th. The Forum presents an opportunity to engage on issues in an in-depth way with other First Nation leaders and policy makers. The agenda is designed to examine AFN’s strategic priorities and planning requirements, as well as to focus in on specific areas of interest, such as education, citizenship, economic opportunities, sustainable development and environment programs. A draft agenda and registration information is available on the AFN website at www.afn.ca . For further information please call Michele Price at 1-866-869-6789 ext. 204

2010 Olympics Games

I had the pleasure of attending portions of the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver. The opening and closing ceremonies provided the chance for people around the world to witness our Nations and our cultures. I extend my congratulations to the Four Host First Nations who were recognized throughout the Games as heads of state. The partnership between the Four Host First Nations and VANOC embodied the spirit of our original relations and the hope of all of our Nations for a better future. This was a partnership characterized by full respect, a commitment to find solutions, to fully support one another and for both parties to bring to bear all of the energy and effort required for success. This becomes a positive example for all of Canada and the world as to how Indigenous Nations and the broader society can and must work together.

More than 240,000 people visited the Aboriginal Pavilion in Vancouver. Visitors to the pavilion witnessed the celebration of First Nations cultures from across Canada. The AFN and many of our regional organizations were showcased during various special events.

Clearly, there are many ways in which we need to keep the successes from the Olympics alive. Part of this legacy must be securing greater investment and support for our own athletes. Sport has great potential to encourage, to motivate and to create confidence in our young people. In the weeks to come, I will be talking with the many people involved in sports and recreation generally in our communities to find the ways in which we can enhance support for them and build a movement that facilitates and develops opportunity and access to sports and physical activity for all members of our communities.

Assembly of First Nations, 473 Albert Street, Suite 810, Ottawa, Ontario K1R 5B4
Toll-free: 1-866-869-6789 Fax: (613) 241-5808 www.afn.ca

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