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by The Honourable Rod Bruinooge, M.P. Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development and Federal Interlocutor for Métis and Non-Status Indians
Halifax, Nova Scotia
July 12, 2007
Check against delivery
Before beginning, I would like to thank you for welcoming me to the Mi’kmaq Nation and thank you for that kind introduction.
I am very pleased to be here today on behalf of Minister Prentice who has asked me to give you his regrets as he could not attend the Assembly this year.
As some of you may know, Minister Prentice is in Belgium to take part in ceremonies marking the 90th anniversary of the Battle of Passchendaele.
In particular, the Minister wants to commemorate the courage of one of Canada’s finest soldiers, Corporal Francis Pegahmagabow of Wasauksing First Nation. Corporal Pegahmagabow, who had already been awarded the Military Medal, earned his first of two bars for his service at Passchendaele. I am told that the Corporal’s son, Duncan Pegahmagabow, remembers that his father was always saying we have to live in harmony with all living things in the world.
When the Minister asked me to attend this year’s Annual General Assembly he urged me to carry on Corporal Pegahmagabow’s message of respect and collaboration to the Assembly of First Nations and its executive and member communities, so that we may work together harmoniously.
Canada is a prosperous country which respects and protects rights and freedoms, providing a wealth of social, economic and cultural opportunities. You know as well as I do that not all First Nation peoples, not all Aboriginal peoples have the opportunity to fully participate in what Canada has to offer. For too long Aboriginal people have lived on the margins.
From the outset, Prime Minister Stephen Harper recognized this fact. Canada’s New Government also recognizes that to achieve real, tangible, measurable differences in your life and the life of your community members, we need to work in partnership - in partnership with provincial and territorial governments, with the private sector and with you, the AFN, and First Nation communities.
It is only by working in a spirit of collaboration that we will be able to reach our common goal: a better quality of life for First Nations.
Over the last 18 months we have secured partnerships with a number of key groups, including the AFN. And this collaboration along with many others is producing concrete results.
Let me mention a few:
The quality of drinking water available to residents of First Nation communities is a case in point. The action plan, developed and implemented in cooperation with the AFN, has significantly improved the quality of water in dozens of communities across the country. The number of high-risk water-treatment systems has been cut in half; round-the-clock technical support is available to the men and women who operate water and wastewater treatment systems
Perhaps the most compelling accomplishment of the partnership is the collaborative effort to overhaul the specific claims process. The overhaul will not only produce just and equitable settlements but will also lead to a stronger, more respectful relationship between Canada and First Nations.
We are still a long way from the harmonious relations intended by our predecessors when they entered into treaties. And a lot further away from clearing up the backlog of unresolved claims.
We must work together to come to grips with the past and create a brighter future. A new specific claims process and the residential schools settlement—the largest in Canada’s history—are big steps in the right direction.
Settling claims and building a new relationship are central components of this government’s Aboriginal agenda. We are looking forward to working together with the AFN to develop legislation that will accelerate the resolution of outstanding claims.
Another collaboration has already begun to deliver impressive results on the other side of the country. The new approach to improve the quality and timeliness of child and family services in First Nations communities in Alberta is now underway. And two weeks ago, Canada and Nova Scotia agreed to work alongside Mi’kmaw Family and Children’s Services to provide prevention and early intervention services in this province.
These are critical initiatives that support a third component of this government’s Aboriginal agenda—protecting the vulnerable and empowering individuals. Achieving results in this area will require effective partnership, targeted investments and legislative reforms.
Last month, Canada’s New Government extended the mandate of the Family Violence Prevention Program through 2012 and committed more than $50 million in new funding over the next five years. The program maintains a network of 35 shelters serving approximately 265 First Nation communities. The new money will support existing shelters and help fund the construction of new ones.
Two legislative projects are also underway that will better protect the rights of residents of First Nations communities. When Parliament resumes, a House Standing Committee will review legislation that proposes to repeal Section 67 of the Canadian Human Rights Act. Minister Prentice plans to introduce legislation during the fall session to resolve the issue of on-reserve matrimonial real property.
Parliament played a key role in making progress on another component of this government’s Aboriginal agenda—education. Late last year, Parliament unanimously approved legislation that enables First Nations in British Columbia to take greater control over on-reserve schools. At the heart of the legislation was a tripartite agreement between Canada, British Columbia and the First Nations Education Steering Committee.
Our government continues to actively recruit partners to generate additional economic opportunities for Aboriginal peoples, another key component of our agenda.
Aboriginal Workforce Participation agreements have been signed with several employers, including the Nova Scotia Nurses Union, the Nova Scotia Trucking Human Resources Council, Capital Health and the City of Edmonton.
In addition, Budget 2007 committed $105 million over five years to more than double the size of the Aboriginal Skills and Employment Partnership initiative. The investment will fund skills training for approximately 9,000 Aboriginal people and job opportunities for another 6,500.
The investments, agreements and initiatives I’ve highlighted today share an overarching goal: to remove the barriers that prevent First Nation peoples and indeed all Aboriginal peoples, from participating fully in the social, economic and cultural life of this country.
However to achieve this goal, Canada’s New Government needs dedicated, hard-working partners such as the Assembly of First Nations. On behalf of all Canadians, I salute the AFN, and its member communities, for your vision, support and commitment. And I urge the AFN to continue to expand its partnership efforts. Together, we can arrive at solutions that improve the lives of all citizens, First Nations and non-First Nations alike.