Ontario Regional Chief responds to Provincial Budget

TORONTO, March 26 /CNW/ - Ontario Regional Chief Angus Toulouse responded to the Ontario Budget announced yesterday. He acknowledged that certain aspects of the Budget, such as the renewal of the New Relationship Fund for an additional four years, were positive as First Nation communities have reported realizing some benefits at the community level from this funding.

Further, the Regional Chief said that although the commitment to establish resource benefit sharing arrangements with First Nations is not a new initiative, it is very important and he emphasized the need to get a plan in place that will result in benefits being felt in First Nation communities. "This is a priority for First Nations and it is long overdue for First Nations to benefit from resource development. For too many years, the resources have been extracted without any benefits to the First Nations," said Chief Toulouse.

Chief Toulouse pointed to the need for direct investment in First Nations supporting capacity development essential to their full participation in resource development initiatives. "Ontario is making sure that they have the capability to protect their interests in the Ring of Fire development activities, so they should understand that First Nations need this capacity as well. A significant portion of the funds identified for skills training must be targeted for First Nations to direct as they see appropriate and according to their identified needs," stated Chief Toulouse. He indicated that to make real progress, a comprehensive plan is required that supports skills development and opportunities that directly contribute to building the First Nation economy.

The Regional Chief acknowledged the importance of post-secondary education investments but emphasized that failure to target the First Nations population, the fastest growing segment in this country, is a missed opportunity. Chief Toulouse pointed out that the First Nations population is eight times less likely to have completed a post-secondary education. "There is huge pool of future talent that is not being tapped into. For the future prosperity of First Nations and by extension the prosperity of this province, a solid plan along with targeted investment is required," said Chief Toulouse.

The First Nations in Ontario agree with Ontario that education is the highest priority. Chief Toulouse explained that First Nations have for decades, pointed to the need for investment and strengthening of First Nation education infrastructure, services and programs as the key to overcoming socio-economic gaps between First Nation communities and the rest of Ontario. Chief Toulouse explained that there is a critical role for every level of Government to better coordinate and support First Nation learners and to improve First Nation education outcomes. "Overcoming the mistakes of the past means recognizing that First Nations must drive solutions by and for our communities and that we need a highly coordinated and effective process that is focussed on tangible results," explained Chief Toulouse. "There are a few positive aspects of the Budget, however, there is nothing in it to inspire confidence in First Nations that there is opportunity for genuine progress. We cannot continue to try to address the significant challenges we face with the piecemeal approach favoured by existing policy and approaches. This approach fails to address the overarching issues of First Nation jurisdiction and genuine consultation," said Chief Toulouse. "These are the issues that are fundamental to reconciliation and progress that is needed to benefit both First Nations and the Ontario economy."

SOURCE Chiefs of Ontario

For further information: For further information: Pam Hunter, Chiefs of Ontario, (416) 522-0706, phunter@coo.org

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