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Former PMs, indigenous leaders in push to raise awareness about aboriginal issues

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Former Prime Minister Joe Clark, former Assembly of First Nation Chief Ovide Mercredi and former Prime Minister Paul Martin (left to right) conclude a news conference in Ottawa Thursday, Sept. 4, 2014. The former prime ministers and aboriginal leaders are joining forces in a bid to ease tensions between aboriginal and non-aboriginal groups.

FRED CHARTRAND / THE CANADIAN PRESS Enlarge Image

Former Prime Minister Joe Clark, former Assembly of First Nation Chief Ovide Mercredi and former Prime Minister Paul Martin (left to right) conclude a news conference in Ottawa Thursday, Sept. 4, 2014. The former prime ministers and aboriginal leaders are joining forces in a bid to ease tensions between aboriginal and non-aboriginal groups.

OTTAWA—A who's who of former prime ministers, governors general and indigenous leaders have joined forces in a bid to change public attitudes towards aboriginal people in this country.

Educating Canadians about the realities of what has happened and is happening with aboriginal people may then generate enough pressure to get governments to act to fix it.

"This is probably the most important moral issue we face as a country," said former Prime Minister Paul Martin at a press conference in downtown Ottawa this morning.

Martin, along with former Prime Minister Joe Clark, former Assembly of First Nations national chief Ovide Mercredi, former Gov. Gen. Michaëlle Jean, and dozens of other indigenous, federal and provincial personalities, created Canadians for a New Partnership.

The group deliberately has no sitting political leaders on it at the moment though Federal Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt has been briefed on the plan and it is hoped eventually federal and provincial governments will sign on.

The initial plan is an education campaign including a website, social media, national speakers’ bureau and media campaign.

Stephen Kakfwi, former premier of the Northwest Territories, said the vision for such a program came to him when his three adult children challenged him to do something as the Idle No More protests were unfolding across Canada in 2012 and 2013. He said he also has a fear that when the Truth and Reconciliation Commission finishes its work in the next year, it will generate just another report that will end up on a shelf.

Among the chief goals appears to be educating Canadians about the history of aboriginals in Canada, and generating momentum that will make governments prioritize addressing issues such as poverty and the lack of economic development.

"There are misunderstandings out there," said Martin. "We do a lousy job of teaching history in this country."

History

Updated on Thursday, September 4, 2014 at 12:46 PM CDT: Corrects typo.

5:28 PM: Corrects name of former premier

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