Posts tagged ‘First Nations poverty’

Day 19: First Nations Poverty Not a Debate Factor

A “tame Indian” is the government Indian who has turned on his tribe and acts as a guide and interpreter for the governor. They usually live just outside the governor’s settlement obediently awaiting their next duties to fulfill. They do this in return for special favours from the governor.  Considered a traitor to his nation, they are not usually welcomed back by their own people.

I’ve been reflecting on the English-language debate that took place last night and wondering if the message of First Nations poverty is getting across to the four main political parties.

Score one for the New Democratic Party in my books.  Last night, NDP leader Jack Layton was the only one who mentioned First Nations poverty in getting across his point that Canada must support crime prevention, not just lock up criminals:

“If you talk to the leadership of Aboriginal communities, First Nations, Metis and Inuit, they cry out for just descent housing so they don’t have three or four families crammed into a competely unsatisfactory house. And basically with no hope for the future.  And where to they find themselves? Drifting into the temptations of crime and ultimately ending up in jail in far too high a percentage   And here’s Shawn Atleo, the national chief, calling for a focus on education, a focus on housing, getting clean water into these communities… dealing with the fundamental poverty and its’ not just in aboriginal communities, but it certainly is terrible severe there.  These are some of the fundamental underlying causes that we have to tackle as a country.”

There was no other mention of First Nations issues by the other leaders.

I know for a fact that First Nations poverty is a priority for the Liberal Party of Canada.  The election platform calls for the development of a Poverty Reduction Plan for Canada, along with an Affordable Housing Framework, an Early Childhood Learning and Care Fund, increases to the Guaranteed Income Supplement for seniors and increased access to post-secondary education opportunities to First Nations and low-income families.  But Michael Ignatieff (Liberal, Etobicoke-Lakeshore) didn’t mention any of these in relation to First Nations people.  Quite disappointing, even for this die-hard Liberal.

National Chief Shawn A-in-chut Atleo summed up our collective disappointment stating: “Our issues matter now and are critical to Canada’s future. I am disappointed that our people and issues were not a substantive part of the discussion in last night’s leadership debate.”

To make matters worse, there is a significant segment of the Conservative Party that thinks that Aboriginal issues have already been dealt with.

Chris Alexander, a so-called “star candidate” running for the Conservatives in Ajax-Pickering stated “we don’t’ have that kind of poverty in Canada” referring to the World Bank standard defining third-world levels of poverty.  Ever since, he has taken a beating for such an ignorant declaration.  National Chief Atleo has called upon Alexander to retract his statement.

Even their own Conservative Senator, their tame-Indian, Patrick Brazeau, claimed the Conservative government has already addressed the situation of missing and murdered Aboriginal women in Canada.  In a Twitter debate with Justin Trudeau (Liberal, Papineau), Brazeau tweeted: “Missing/Murdered already dealt with” in touting his party’s Aboriginal platform.  The reality is the neither the missing and murdered Aboriginal women nor First Nations poverty are dealt with in any way in the Conservative election platform.

As I stated before, First Nations are not speaking about poverty as a metaphor. We’re talking about real child poverty, homelessness and third world conditions right here in Canada. This should be a significant election issue. Resolving First Nations poverty should a priority for each and every party and politician in this country.

First Nations Want Poverty Addressed During Election

Brantford, ON (April 11, 2011) – First Nations across Canada have united in their call to raise First Nations poverty as a significant issue during the federal election campaign.

“It’s unacceptable that First Nations poverty continues to exist in this day and age,” said Bob Goulais, campaign organizer from Nipissing First Nation. “We are not speaking about poverty as a metaphor.  We’re talking about real child poverty, homelessness and third world conditions right here in Canada. This should be a significant election issue. Resolving First Nations poverty should a priority for each and every party and politician in this country.”

The statistics speak for themselves. Campaign 2000 has found that one in four First Nations children live in poverty as compared to one in six for non-Aboriginal children. According to the Status of Women Canada, rates of poverty for Aboriginal women are double that of non-Aboriginal women. The Government of Canada itself has found that Aboriginal people in Canada were found to be four times more likely to experience hunger as a direct result of poverty.

“There is a significant socio-economic gap between First Nation and all other Canadians,” added Goulais.  “Just take a look at health determinants, incarceration rates, unemployment rates, income levels and education levels. First Nations are at a significant disadvantage.”

Specifically, First Nations are calling for three action items:

  • A First Minister’s Meeting on Aboriginal People with the goal of developing a comprehensive strategy to eliminate child and family poverty and to close the gap between First Nations people and all Canadians.
  • Budget provisions to increase support to First Nations families through investments in child poverty, education, housing and homelessness, employment programs as well as skills and training. For 15 years, the funding formula to support First Nations has been capped at 2% per year –while inflation and the growing Aboriginal population would have required an annual funding increase of 6.2%. New investments are needed in order to lift the 2 per cent gap and close the gap.
  • Resolving long-standing issues with First Nation’s labour force. The Canada Revenue Agency is moving on a widespread plan to enforce crippling back taxes and penalties on thousands of Canadian workers who are among Canada’s working poor. The majority are women and many are single mothers.

Through the Closing the Gap strategy, incumbent Members of Parliament, all candidates and their political parties will be reached through a national letter-writing and postcard campaign. The message of awareness will also be spread through social networking.

The Closing the Gap campaign is supported by the Assembly of First Nations, Native Women’s Association of Canada and the Union of Ontario Indians.

“Closing the gap is an urgent priority that will benefit First Nations and all Canadians. During the federal election campaign, we invite all Canadians to learn more about First Nations and the potential we have to support one another.”

– National Chief Shawn A-in-chut Atleo of the Assembly of First Nations

“If we look at our traditions, and the way we treated each other within our families and communities, women had an important and equal say. Today, Canada is not treating us in an equal manner and that is what’s keeping Aboriginal women in poverty. We need work close the gap between Aboriginal women and all Canadians. I would hope that all parties would make resolving First Nations poverty a priority.”

– Jeanette Corbiere-Lavell, President of the Native Women’s Association of Canada.

“The major reason for the gap in living conditions between First Nations citizens and others who live in Canada is that they are enjoying their treaty rights to share our lands and resources, while we are still fighting to have our rights recognized. This injustice must be promptly and adequately addressed by whoever forms Canada’s next government following the May 2nd federal election.”

– Grand Council Chief Patrick Madahbee of the Union of Ontario Indians

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For more information contact:

Bob Goulais
Tel. (905) 581-5594

Day 10: What do First Nations want?

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.