ATTAWAPISKAT – I am amazed at how different things are these days in terms of the federal government relating to First Nations. Recently, I got some exciting news from Jennifer Constant of Mattagami First Nation concerning one of their members, Christopher Lefebvre who was part of a youth group that met with Prime Minister Trudeau in early June. In fact, he was one of a group of 20 that was invited to meet with the Prime Minister, as well as Carolynn Bennett, Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada and Jane Philpott, Minister of Health.
This is a big deal as the government is opening up and providing access to First Nation leaders, groups and organizations in an attempt to learn more about the needs and issues affecting Aboriginals right across Canada. In the past there was a feeling of hopelessness and desperation among my people as we were experiencing a lot of negative pressure from the federal government.
During the meeting between the Prime Minister and his ministers the group had an hour and a half to discuss issues such as suicide prevention, proper housing, the right to be protected from all kinds of abuse (physical, mental), recreational programs and facilities, funding for facilities to participate in sport and proper training and secondary education, having equal funding to public schools and consistency of teachers. After presenting their issues and views on a wide range of topics the Prime Minister asked how the government could help. Wow, what a difference a half a year can make with a change of government.
During the same series of meetings the Prime Minister also met with Attawapiskat Chief Bruce Shisheesh, some of his band councillors, National Chief Perry Belgarde and MP Charlie Angus to discuss the concerns of Attawapiskat First Nation and First Nations at large in terms of the recent suicide crisis in my home First Nation.
The best thing about these meetings with First Nation people was that Prime Minister Trudeau and his government actually really made an effort to listen to the needs of my people and then made huge commitments to dealing with them. In other words he really put his money where his mouth was. In my time as a media person over the past 20 years this was the most impressive thing I have seen happen in regards to positive developments and the relationship between the government of Canada and First Nations.
Close to 70 million dollars over three years has been committed by Prime Minister Trudeau to provide services and assistance including: two permanent mental health care workers for†Attawapiskat, a 24-hour culturally sensitive crisis response line, four crisis response teams in Ontario, Manitoba and†Nunavut, an increase in the number of mental wellness teams†from 11 to 43†for communities at risk, training for existing community-based workers to ensure that care services are provided in a traditional way and funds for new housing for Attawapiskat.
I can not believe I am writing such positive words about the relationship between the government and my people these days. It is almost unbelievable how things have changed so much for the better and I am grateful to all those who have put up such a good effort over the years including past Chief of Attawapiskat, Theresa Spence, to bring us to this point of respect, understanding and positive development. I say many thanks to our leaders, youth and elders for making the future of young First Nation people more hopeful. Lives will be saved with these decisions and commitments and I will be eternally thankful for that. Like I said this is a big deal.
by Xavier Kataquapit