We share a desire to see a Canada where all First Nations people participate fully – Minister Duncan

John DuncanOTTAWA – Leader’s Ledger – Good morning everyone and you’re so much on time and so attentive. I’m pleased to be here with you and proud to be a part of this historic event. Before I begin I would like to take a moment to acknowledge the tragedy that’s occurring in Burns Lake British Columbia. I think I can speak for all of us in saying that our thoughts and prayers are with the people from Burns Lake from that community.

I’ve had a long history with First Nations, first in opposition then as a government member and now as Minister. I have seen a lot of change over the years and I’m encouraged to see firsthand many examples of strong First Nations leadership driving positive change. Importantly I’ve also seen a strengthening of the relationship between the Crown and First Nations and I believe this gathering is an important part of that process.

We are working together because we share a desire to see a Canada where all First Nations people participate fully in our social, economic and cultural prosperity, a Canada where strong healthy self-sufficient First Nation communities are full participants will benefit all of us. We acknowledge the many challenges still before us. There are many success stories but there are still many communities that are still struggling to break down the barriers of poverty and dependency.

We want to move past those barriers. It will not be easy and it will require all of us to work together. Before we can move forward we must recognize the importance of coming to terms with the past. The Prime Minister’s statement of apology on behalf of all Canadians to former students of Indian residential schools was an important part of this process.

In 2010 our government endorsed the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. We support the principles of this aspirational document and believe that they are consistent with the government’s approach to working with aboriginal peoples. Our government has also continued to work with First Nations across the country to negotiate treaties and self-government agreements. To date 23 comprehensive land claims and 2 self-government agreements have been brought into force.

We’ve also worked together to develop modern First Nations legislation, governance legislation. Recently we collaborated with the Atlantic Policy Congress and the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs by introducing the First Nations Elections Act. It will develop options for more modern accountable and stable electoral processes for First Nations. We will continue to work with First Nations to develop the modern governance structures that will support future prosperity for their communities.

Another critical building block of prosperity for First Nations is the management of lands and resources. Our government has undertaken a number of initiatives aimed at releasing First Nations from the limitations imposed by the Indian Act while still respecting the unique needs of First Nation peoples. The First Nations Land Management Act provides signatory First Nations with self-governance over their lands and the revenue derived from their use.

This allows them to move at the speed of business. Yesterday I announced that 18 First Nations had been added. They will join the 37 First Nations that are already operating under their own land codes. These 55 First Nations will no longer be held back by the multiple land management challenges of the Indian Act. That’s about one quarter of the Indian Act that they will be out from under.

Our government has also undertaken historic steps to improve and expedite the resolution of specific land claims. Our initiatives are working. Since 2007 over 65 specific claims have been settled, many of which had been unresolved for more than 20 years. Economic prosperity will come from unlocking the potential of First Nations and will require unleashing the potential of First Nations people.

Education and skills training are keys to taking maximum advantage of economic opportunities and continuing to build capacity within First Nation communities. We’ve launched or extended several programs designed to improve education results. We have established five tripartite education agreements. These agreements foster collaboration and tripartite decision making on shared priorities.

Our government has also made significant investments in school infrastructure. We have invested more than $800 million which includes the construction of more than 20 schools and the completion of more than 250 school infrastructure projects. In order to further our efforts to improve education outcomes our government and the Assembly of First Nations jointly launched the work of the independent national panel on First Nation elementary and secondary education in June of last year. Their important report is anticipated soon.

Our work on lands and education is only part of what we are doing to advance the economic development of First Nation communities. We have signed important tripartite agreements in six provinces for an enhanced prevention approach to First Nation child and family services. We have established the federal framework for aboriginal economic development in an effort to focus and coordinate the government’s efforts to improve economic outcomes.

We have worked with First Nations to establish the First Nations Finance Authority which improves access to the capital and financial services that First Nations communities need. They expect to be issuing their first bond later this year. We have undertaken a number of investments designed to increase aboriginal participation in the Canadian labour market and economy. Recently we signed a tripartite agreement in Saskatchewan to find new approaches to income assistance that include active measures such as training and skills development.

These initiatives benefit all Canadians because Canada will increasingly need First Nations to fill skilled jobs. This is something we all know and it’s a unique opportunity. Much has been accomplished together in the last six years. We believe in making targeted investments in shared priorities and we believe in getting results. Economic independence cannot be imposed by a government program. It is something that must be built from the ground up.

It requires dedication and hard work. It requires focused and responsible governance at every level. Most of all it requires leadership. This event has brought together hundreds of leaders who have the power to change Canada for the better. Every one of us has the responsibility to work together to build a future where First Nations share fully in the prosperity of this great country. Ultimately history will judge the significance of this event not by what is said today but by what is done and what results we achieve together. Thank you one and all.

John Duncan
Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development