Ottawa’s move last week to make peace with Canada’s First Nations peoples is being called a good start—but it’s still only a start.
The federal government issued a “Statement of Reconciliation” last week, along with a $350-million fund to help aboriginal communities address social problems created by decades of child abuse in residential schools.
The government also gave commitments to work with First Nations, improve their governance capacity, provide a framework of principles for dealings between aboriginal and other levels of government, and other statements of goodwill to heal a wound that’s generations old.
Grand Chief Francis Kavanaugh of Treaty 3 said the Aboriginal Action Plan was a “move in the right direction.”
“If it’s going to be the beginning of an ongoing process, it’s a good starting point,” he said yesterday from Kenora.
“We’ll wait and see where it takes us,” he added.
Chief Kavanaugh said he believed Ottawa was sincere with its reconciliation, and that both aboriginal groups and the federal government must continue to meet with respect for each other for the healing process to occur.
But not everybody is ready to take the government’s word at face value. Chief Jim Leonard of the Rainy River First Nations (Manitou Rapids) said some skepticism remains among band members there.
“The reaction has been one of how will the program come down?" he noted. "I guess the reaction is kind of lukewarm.”
Chief Leonard hoped the government’s plan to reconcile was more than just the money it set aside, stressing First Nations need partnerships and resources more than a one-time spending trip.
“I don’t think money is the answer,” he remarked.
Chief Kavanaugh admitted concerns have been raised on whether the money will reach those “most affected by the residential school era.”
“They want to see the money get to who it’s intended for,” he stressed.
The next step lies with the federal government, which Chief Kavanaugh said should be releasing details of the action plan’s agenda soon.
He hoped the government will maintain its level of sincerity, noting aboriginal people wouldn’t settle for less.
“Any initiative has to be designed where there is continual positive stuff coming through after the money’s gone," he said. "It’s got to be real and have a meaningful impact.”