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April 14, 2007, 7:04 p.m. EST
Phil Fontaine, National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations spoke to CAW Council in Port Elgin on Saturday, April 14. Chief Fontaine began by saying that “this is a call to action on the single most social injustice in Canada – First Nations poverty. No one has been able to articulate why there is such poverty; but this is an imposed poverty.”
After the Harper government took office last year, it scrapped a $5.1-billion aboriginal spending plan which was a component of the Kelowna Accord, which promised to improve the social and economic conditions of Aboriginal people. Funding caps on First Nations programs and services over the last decade have made impoverished conditions much worse.Fontaine said, “This is discrimination, and it’s racist. We are held hostage and many First Nations people feel they are second class citizens in this country, our homeland. We have been denied the right to our land and traditional territories. We want to be as others are – independent and making a contribution to our society. We want to stand as equals.”
CAW president Buzz Hargrove told Fontaine “I want to ensure you that we recognize that the government of Canada chose to ignore the commitment made by the previous government on the Kelowna Accord. We want to join with the Assembly of First Nations to tell our government that this is unacceptable.”
At the Council meeting, delegates passed a recommendation for CAW Skilled Trades members to work in solidarity with First Nations communities to help improve housing conditions. Another recommendation was passed calling on the Federal government to honour the Kelowna Accord.
The Assembly of First Nations represents more than 630 First Nations communities and some 756,700 First Nations people. These communities represent the youngest, fastest-growing segment of the Canadian population – more than half are under 23 years old.
There are 190 communities on boil-water advisories and there is a chronic housing shortage. The housing that’s available is sub-standard and overcrowding is double the Canadian rate. Poverty among First Nations people remains appallingly high, both on and off reserve. This poverty is systemic and long-standing and requires concerted attention from all levels.
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