THUNDER BAY – Solving problems takes more than just words. It takes firm action and determination. Words are an important part of moving toward a solution. However often it seems that mere words are all that are produced when it comes to making positive moves forward for Canada’s Aboriginal people.
Speaking in Edmonton on September 11th, Minister of Aboriginal Affairs, John Duncan stated, “senior officials from my department have completed a series of six regional roundtables that brought together senior leaders from Canada’s Aboriginal communities, natural resources industries, and provincial, territorial and federal governments to identify and discuss obstacles to greater Aboriginal participation in major mining, oil and natural gas projects. At these regional roundtables, including one held in Calgary, participants shared best practices and developed solutions to help eliminate barriers to better economic and labour outcomes.
“Together we are making progress in creating the conditions for Aboriginal people to achieve the prosperity they seek and that Canada needs. But our work is not done.
“Together, let’s make sure more Aboriginal teens graduate from high school and move on to higher education and to programs that provide the skills they require for the jobs they need.
“Let’s empower more First Nation communities by removing obstacles that prevent them from playing their vital role in our country’s long-term prosperity.
“Let’s help more Aboriginal people get fulfilling jobs and start meaningful careers.”
Minister Duncan is stating the right kinds of words and the right direction.
But the real issue is what is really happening to make a solid difference in the lives of Aboriginal youth. There is a real gap growing from the words of the politicians and the real needs of young people.
Here in Northwestern Ontario the ‘Ring of Fire’ is presenting a massive economic opportunity for young people in terms of careeers. Yet time after time talking to young people who were planning to go to college or university, the word is ‘my funding fell through’.
While many people seem to hold to the myth-busted stereotype that Aboriginal youth all get ‘free education’, the reality is quite different.
The money that the federal government, and to be blunt the provincial government invests in Aboriginal education is far less than the demand, and doesn’t reach the need. Until that changes, the graduation rates will never be what they need to be.
Education is the key, and it likely is going to take partnerships from industry and government.
For example, instead of the province and federal governments talking about it, why not start acting.
For students attending high school in Northwestern Ontario, mining companies could start engaging with students, sharing with them the kinds of jobs and the careers that they could have. Students could be assisted with summer jobs, and help for education with companies interested in developing mines in the north.
Think of it, if a company started engaging with a young person in Grade Nine, guiding and assisting them with summer jobs, with their education, and their post secondary education, those students could gain valuable skills.
The company would have a long-term relationship building with the youth, their families, and with their communities.
Governments at the provincial and federal levels could make tax incentives possible based on the companies participation in these training and mentoring programs.
At the government level, it is time to put an end to the ‘education gap’ in funding that is currently in place. The funds for education for an Aboriginal student are far less than for any other student in Ontario. That is a situation that is not acceptable. It leads to the problems we are facing today.
Minister Duncan should be stepping up, working with his provincial counterpart, Kathleen Wynne, Minister of Aboriginal Affairs in Ontario along with all concerned partners to make this kind of a reality possible.
The opportunities to make a real difference are there. The alternative is for the status quo, something no one is happy about to continue.
Ball is in your court Mr. Duncan.
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