KELOWNA, British Columbia – Canada on Friday pledged $4.3 billion in a landmark deal with Indian and northern Inuit communities to help lift them from the poverty and disease that has plagued their neglected reserves for more than a century.
The agreement commits federal funding over the next decade for widespread improvements in housing, health care, education and economic development for the nearly 1 million aboriginal peoples of the North American nation, namely Indian tribes known as First Nations and Inuits, the aboriginal Canadians of the northeastern and Arctic territories.
Prime Minister Paul Martin and the premiers of Canada’s 13 provinces and territories announced the agreement after a two-day summit with five native organizations.
“Aboriginal Canadians have no desire for more rhetoric; they have needs and those needs demand attention. It’s as simple as that,” said Martin.
Canada’s native reserves are dramatically short of housing and safe drinking water, their high school graduation rate is just over half the national average, and life expectancy for Indians is five to seven years lower than for non-aboriginals. The infant mortality rate is 20 percent higher among First Nations, suicide rates are threefold and teen pregnancies are nine times higher than the national average.
Phil Fontaine, national chief of the Assembly of First nations, praised the agreement and said he would demand that federal officials follow through.
“We will close the gap in the quality of life between our people and other Canadians. That will be our legacy for the coming generations,” he said.
Earlier in the week, the Canadian government proposed another $1.7 billion in payments for aboriginal victims of sexual and psychological abuse during forced Christian schooling.