AFN National Chief calls for joint action plan on federal budget

OTTAWA, March 5 /CNW Telbec/ - Assembly of First Nations National Chief Shawn A-in-chut Atleo responded today to the Government of Canada's 2010 federal budget.

"The federal budget definitely falls short of the targets we had set out to improve the situation of First Nations, but we do want to see the federal government move quickly on the commitments to work with us on critical reforms to education which must ultimately translate into more investment," National Chief Atleo stated. "The government announced in the Speech from the Throne that it would endorse the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and we fully expect to work with the government based on the Declaration's principles of partnership, respect and inclusion."

The federal budget included resources to implement education agreements, a commitment to achieve "comparable" education outcomes for First Nations students and to ensure that they receive the support they need to receive a post-secondary education.

National Chief Atleo stated: "The commitment to comparable education outcomes for First Nations students is welcome and necessary. We set a target of graduating 65,000 First Nations post-secondary students within five years, which would bring us up to the Canadian average. We will not achieve that based on this budget but we do have a door open to dialogue and, if we work together as stated in the Speech from the Throne, we may be able to achieve these targets with future budgets. Chiefs have called for current post-secondary funding to be reviewed and strengthened. We do not want to see the program simply transferred to another department nor do we want to see changes that eliminate the critical role of First Nations in this program. We are ready to fully engage on this dialogue with a focus on our students."

The National Chief acknowledged the commitment in the budget to take action to address violence against Aboriginal women: "The plight of missing and murdered Aboriginal women is an important issue and we want to see a National Action Plan developed jointly with the federal government to address this tragic and unacceptable situation."

The National Chief also noted the renewals of critical programs in health, such as health human resources, youth suicide prevention, maternal health as well as child and family services. The National Chief noted that there is already an existing human rights complaint regarding the inadequacy of funding levels for First Nations child and family services and that funding is necessary to support efforts in every province and territory.

"We must ensure that First Nations - especially First Nations youth - are not forgotten, that they do not fall further behind and that we achieve our targets," National Chief said. "What is really needed is a guarantee that health and education spending for First Nations will be stable and sustainable. This is a guarantee enjoyed by all Canadians except First Nations. We must implement a more fair and equitable approach."

The Budget also contained a commitment to extend the funding on water and waste water, which will help First Nations continue to address water quality issues. Recent reports indicate that there are at least 48 First Nations communities dealing with high risk drinking water and 120 communities under drinking water advisories. This trend appears to be rising.

"It is clear and well-understood that our communities desperately need critical infrastructure investments. We saw this in 2009 when funding for infrastructure was announced. Some were struggling to find shovel-ready projects but First Nation communities were ready to go right away. This sends a clear message: Work with us. The needs are great but we can get the job done," the National Chief said.

The National Chief also commented on the resources allocated to address the legacy of the residential schools: "As we look forward we must also remember our history, and this is especially true of residential schools survivors. The resources in this do not specifically reference the Aboriginal Healing Foundation. This concerns us because the Foundation delivers critical programming to help survivors right at the community level. This work is needed now because the Truth and Reconciliation Commission is underway and survivors will be telling their often-times painful stories. I am going to seek clarification and will press for continuation of these important supports."

The National Chief stated that he will seek a meeting as soon as possible with the federal government and Minister of Indian Affairs to discuss a plan of action to implement the budget commitments and to work on other matters in the spirit of partnership and mutual respect articulated in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

"This budget falls short of what is needed, but we do have commitments we can build on," the National Chief stated. "I am hopeful that we work together in the spirit of the UN Declaration to move an agenda for change that will benefit First Nations and all Canadians. But we must start now if we are going to see change tomorrow."

The Assembly of First Nations is the national organization representing First Nations citizens in Canada.

SOURCE Assembly of First Nations

For further information: For further information: Karyn Pugliese, A/Communications Director, Assembly of First Nations, (613) 292-1877 or kpugliese@afn.ca; Jenna Young, Communications Officer, Assembly of First Nations, (613) 314-8157 or jyoung@afn.ca


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