Ed Kaiser Photo

We’re into the second week of the election campaign, and parties from all sides are touting their vision of Canada and announcing their various campaign promises.

Which raises the question:  What do First Nations want?

Some requests are quite specific.  Many First Nations leaders would like to see the Kelowna Accord be brought back to life in some form or another.  Others would like to see a new deal for First Nations, exclusive of the Indian Act based on a new nation-to-nation relationship.  Some would like to open up treaty discussions to address outstanding matters like compensation, revenue sharing, self-government and jurisdiction.

But the answer is far simpler: First Nations want the same opportunities as every other Canadian, including more jobs and a better economy.

That being said, I feel the two most important needs for First Nations are both related to the economy.

First, there is a need to address poverty in First Nations communities. We can’t continue to throwing money at the problem by addressing the symptoms.  We must move beyond that to addressing the root causes.  The Closing the Gap campaign is calling for a First Minister’s Meeting on Aboriginal People with the goal of developing a comprehensive strategy to “close the gap” between First Nations people and all Canadians.  The campaign would also like to see increased support to First Nations families through budget investments to reduce child poverty and address housing and overcrowding.

Secondly, it is critical that government and First Nations work together to improve education outcomes in First Nations.

Here is my three point formula for overcoming First Nations poverty, mitigating deplorable social conditions, enabling economic development and being able to look after your family: (1) go to school; (2) stay in school and; (3) succeed in school.

The last census indicated that only 60 per cent of First Nations youth between the ages of 20-24 completed high school.  Perhaps the reason is because First Nations schools, on-reserve, are so poorly funded. The government estimates it spends $5,500 and $7,500 to educate each First Nations student, while the average spending on a non-Aboriginal student in a provincially-funded school is $6,800 to $8,400.  The solution to improving success rates starts by addressing this chronic underfunding.

The Liberal platform announced yesterday is a huge commitment to addressing these issues.  This is a tremendous start and shows great leadership.  However, every party must make a similar commitment to First Nations.  Addressing poverty and support education is the key to improving social conditions in First Nations.