Ontario Regional Chief calls Ontario Budget positive; Calls for immediate joint action on resource sharing and increasing economic opportunities for First Nations



    TORONTO, March 26 /CNW/ - Yesterday, the Ontario government unveiled
"Budget 2008: Growing a Stronger Ontario". This Budget follows a November 2007
Speech from the Throne that committed Ontario to forging "a stronger, more
positive relationship with Ontario First Nations".
    Ontario Regional Chief Angus Toulouse stated that Minister Michael Bryant
has demonstrated a willingness to work collaboratively with First Nations,
although much work remains. "There is reason to be optimistic, however, there
are serious outstanding issues that remain including the development of a
formal mechanism to ensure First Nations are fully engaged and benefiting from
resource development on their traditional territories" said Regional Chief
Toulouse.
    The Regional Chief pointed out that it was over two years ago that
Ontario committed to engaging First Nations in discussions with respect to
resource sharing. Toulouse emphasized that yesterday's Budget again committed
Ontario to work with First Nations in identifying opportunities for sharing in
the benefits of natural resource development. "This is a matter of utmost
priority to First Nations, and government and industry are starting to realize
that the way of doing business must change. First Nations need to be engaged
from the beginning and have the opportunity to enjoy the benefits resulting
from development on their territories" stated the Regional Chief.
    "What the Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug conflict with Platinex Inc. and
Ontario shows is that First Nations will no longer sit idly by while
development happens without any benefit to the First Nation, and without a
voice in what happens. A new way of engaging and ensuring resource development
benefits all parties is necessary, and I do believe that Ontario does
recognize this necessity" said Regional Chief Toulouse.
    The Budget also announced an increase in funding for the recently-created
Ontario Ministry of Aboriginal Affairs. The creation of a stand alone Ministry
of Aboriginal Affairs was viewed positively by the First Nations in Ontario,
and in fact had been a move advocated for many years by First Nations
themselves. To First Nations the creation of this Ministry represented
recognition by Ontario that First Nation issues are important and that they
require much more attention than have been afforded them in the past. Regional
Chief Toulouse emphasized that the creation and increase in funding for the
new Ministry of Aboriginal Affairs is needed, however, the benefits of such
action must also be felt in First Nation communities. "There should also be
clear benefits at the community level, not just growth in bureaucracy with no
clear results" stated Chief Toulouse.
    The Regional Chief indicated that some recent developments do show that
progress is possible. "I was encouraged by the positive tone of the November
27, 2007 Speech from the Throne presented by Ontario. The First Nations were
also pleased to conclude the Gaming Revenue Sharing Agreement in February.
This demonstrated to me that with commitment and the necessary political will
we can succeed in realizing win-win situations for First Nations and for
Ontario" said the Regional Chief.
    A key focus for First Nations in Ontario continues to be the
implementation of the Final Report of the Ipperwash Inquiry recommendations.
The Regional Chief pointed out that Ontario has clearly indicated that they
are committed to working collaboratively with First Nations on the
implementation of the recommendations. "The commitment to work collaboratively
means joint planning and joint decision-making throughout the implementation
process" stated the Regional Chief.
    The Regional Chief indicated that developing a framework for resource
revenue sharing and the establishment of a Reconciliation Fund are key
recommendations that the First Nations in Ontario feel are matters of
priority.
    "We are not interested in temporary quick fixes. The focus needs to be on
longer term, broader goals that will lead to economic stability and an
improved quality of life in First Nation communities. This means dealing with
the many unresolved land claims, a greater sharing of resource revenues, and
increased economic opportunities. The First Nations in Ontario are interested
in achieving self-sufficiency and economic sustainability. We want to move our
communities out of poverty and toward prosperity, and we are calling on
Ontario to work with us and truly "grow a stronger Ontario" because First
Nations progress is Ontario's progress" said Regional Chief Toulouse.





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For further information: Pam Hunter, (416) 597-1266 or Policy Advisor,
(613) 203-3233

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Chiefs of Ontario

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ONTARIO BUDGET REACTION 2008

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