Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

First Nations poverty deserves an inquiry of its own

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The annual budget for Aboriginal and Northern Development Canada is $300 million in Manitoba alone. If this money was deposited in an interest-bearing account at the beginning of each year instead of being doled out in pieces, an additional $15 million would be available for First Nations programs.

Make the mining companies pay 12 per cent of all revenues to First Nations, as they are doing in Nunavut. The First Nations will invest this money in equity partnerships so jobs and wealth created by the mines are fairly distributed to First Nations.

Develop procurement policies so all monies spent in First Nations for programs, services, infrastructure, housing, retails goods and everything else must go to a First Nations-owned company that employs local citizens and recirculates profits within the local economy.

Revive the $5-billion Kelowna Accord. Steer more First Nations students into MBA programs. Create more economic-development growth funds. Develop successful investment groups such as the Tribal Council Investment Group and Tribal Wichywaywin Capital Corporation.

All of the above ideas have been tossed around as ways to eradicate poverty in First Nations communities and I can anticipate readers' responses to be for and against each one in equal measure -- it is not often I find almost total agreement with what I write in these columns.

Except for my last time out, when I maintained that, despite the myriad of reasons given for the fact the North End has become more violent, the main reason for this is the loss of respect people have for each other. And this got me wondering about other places we might find common ground.

At the same time, I happened to be covering the public inquiry into the reasons Phoenix Sinclair suffered such a tragic fate. Meanwhile, First Nations groups were calling for a public inquiry into the national tragedy of missing and murdered aboriginal women. Just like there are many factors involved in the increase in violence in the North End, another plethora of reasons and arguments for these socio-economic concerns will flow from such inquiries.

But I keep hearing that the main reason First Nations children such as Phoenix come into care in disproportionate numbers, and the main reason aboriginal women go missing and are found murdered is one thing: poverty. Many of the problems faced by First Nations people exist simply because so many of them are poor. Eradicate the poverty and many of these problems will disappear.

So why aren't we holding a national inquiry about poverty?

At the top of this column, I listed just some of the ideas people are tossing around for eliminating poverty by creating wealth and employment in First Nations. There is sure to be plenty of agreement and disagreement connected to each proposal and there are hundreds of other ideas floating around throughout the country to solve this problem. But if we all agree on the one thing that is behind the myriad of other problems, a focus on that one thing would seem to be the most productive way to go.

It starts by taking a fresh and exhaustive look at the reasons for this poverty. As only a national inquiry can do. Along with that, we bring together the best and the brightest (grassroots, professional and academic) to provide recommendations about how to deal with these reasons. And then a report is prepared that will tell us how to eradicate poverty and solve the socio-economic concerns that seem to be so completely tied in with being poor.

I am not saying these other inquiries are not necessary but if we keep coming up with the same reason all these problems exist, why don't we focus on that thing we all seem to agree is the root cause of all these things?

Or don't we agree that the root cause of these problems is poverty?

Don Marks is a Winnipeg writer.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 17, 2013 A9

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