Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Taxpayers group touts native-poverty fixes

Give full control of lands, help youth off poor reserves

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The Canadian Taxpayers Federation wants Ottawa to grant First Nations full control over their lands while helping young aboriginal people leave "economically bleak" communities in search of a better life.

The influential lobby group is also calling on the federal government to get rid of the Indian Act and end such special treatment as reduced prison sentences for aboriginal people and a separate Aboriginal Arts Office, which provides funding to native artists.

"All Canadians should be treated the same by government," CTF spokesman Colin Craig told a press conference in Winnipeg Tuesday.

Craig said the "dysfunctional" system of aboriginal reserves and its "terrible results" are "Canada's most shameful legacy."

The taxpayers federation is proposing several policies to end aboriginal poverty, including giving First Nations full control over their lands by the end of the year. It would mean aboriginal communities would no longer require Ottawa's permission to develop, lease or sell reserve land. The CTF also recommends individual families own their own homes on reserve.

The organization said the aboriginal community and taxpayers would both benefit if government helped young people leave struggling reserves to obtain jobs and better their education. It emphasized any program to accomplish this should be voluntary.

'No economy to be had'

"Is it right to continue throwing hundreds of millions of dollars into these communities when most people can see that there's no economy to be had?" Craig said.

Asked if some of the federation's ideas amounted to a call for the assimilation of First Nations people, Craig said: "That's not the word that I'll use. The word that we'll use is transition to where there are better opportunities for people, much the same way that many people on reserves have already left."

The federation also urged the federal government to experiment with the direct funding of band members rather than writing cheques to band governments. Band councils could then tax their members for services. The CTF said this would ensure more funds reach people in need, "rather than getting caught in administration."

The taxpayers federation has had the ear of the Harper government on aboriginal issues in the past -- successfully lobbying the feds to force chiefs to reveal their salaries and benefits.

The federation did not run its ideas past aboriginal leaders before publicizing them on Tuesday, but Craig said the group did consult with "grassroots" people.

Manitoba's main aboriginal lobby group, the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, refused to comment on the federation's proposals Tuesday.

larry.kusch@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 16, 2013 A7

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