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This article was published 25/1/2012 (3321 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
OTTAWA -- Paul Martin does nothing to mask his frustration.
The former prime minister and architect of the scuttled Kelowna Accord tried to find something to salvage in the historic talks between First Nations chiefs and Stephen Harper. Instead, what he saw was the federal government wasting more time and sending the chiefs home empty-handed.
"The government has nothing concrete to say," Martin said. "They wasted six years."
The joint statement between Harper and the chiefs released Tuesday committed to a task force on economic development and a working group on government financing of First Nations. It also committed to reviewing a report on education, as well as processes to improve governance.
But all that work has already been done many times over, Martin said. "All of this preliminary work that they're now talking about doing has been done. It's there. It's on the record."
Martin and aboriginal leaders negotiated a pact in 2005 that would have pumped $5 billion over five years into native health care, education, housing and clean water. The Kelowna Accord was shelved by Stephen Harper soon after his Conservative government defeated the Martin-led Liberals six years ago this week.
With no clear time lines or goals included for the processes they've set up, Martin said his successor is proving the Conservative government "has no sense of urgency."
At the very least, the government should have committed to ending discrimination in education funding for First Nations children, he added.
"How difficult is it for a government to say 'we're going to end discrimination?' " Martin asked.
The Prime Minister's Office declined to offer any reaction to Martin's remarks.
But Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Duncan said in a separate interview Wednesday the next federal budget will be consistent with the priorities agreed to by aboriginal leaders and the federal government at Tuesday's summit.
They include a pledge to move forward with recommendations on education reform, a working group on federal funding for aboriginal reserves and a task force on economic development.
First Nations have long complained money spent on education per student is several thousand dollars less for on-reserve children than for children just a kilometre away off-reserve.
In court, the federal government has argued it's not fair to compare provincial funding of off-reserve schools to federal funding of on-reserve schools.
Equal funding would likely cost the government billions. But money is no excuse for discrimination, Martin said.
"Are they going to eliminate the deficit on the backs of six-year-olds who can't read?" he said. "There is no doubt that you're not going to get economic development unless you have an education."
Martin remains involved in First Nations affairs, heading up a foundation that invests in aboriginal education and entrepreneurship. He is flabbergasted by the emphasis Harper is putting on "building a relationship" with First Nations, saying the Conservatives have had six years to do that and "it's unbelievable" that they seem to be starting from the beginning only now.
Harper has made a point of doing things differently than Martin. Upon taking office six years ago, the Conservatives let the Kelowna Accord sink unfunded, and dismissed it as flimsy -- despite 18 months of negotiations with First Nations, Inuit, Métis and the provinces.
-- The Canadian Press
Homes making people sick
ALMOST half the homes on First Nations reserves in Canada are mouldy and the high levels of toxins are making people sick, University of Victoria researchers say.
The problem amounts to a national crisis, but little has been done to address underlying problems for two decades, their study concludes.
Conditions on many reserves are deplorable and dangerous, said medical anthropologist Peter Stephenson, who led the study. "For small children, it's disgraceful. We haven't seen any action on this for 15 to 20 years and it's long overdue."
A different kind of partnership is needed between First Nations and the federal government, said Stephenson. "Failed commitments from the federal government to improve reserve housing and socio-economic conditions have resulted in a legacy of widespread substandard housing and severe housing shortages that yield overcrowding, which, in turn, aggravates mould growth," concludes the paper, published in the U.S.-based Journal of Environmental Health.
The researchers found reserve homes are often constructed from inappropriate and substandard materials that are highly susceptible to mould.
Obesity prevention needed
OBESITY prevention programs, especially for children, are urgently needed in Canada's First Nations communities, according to a new report.
"The health status of aboriginal peoples is profoundly different from that of the general Canadian population," it says, pointing to high rates of obesity and the diseases it can cause.
Hypertension and heart disease among aboriginals is described as a "full-blown cardiovascular crisis." And Type 2 diabetes is "epidemic." The disease is three to five times more common among aboriginals than in the general population and tends to have more severe side-effects.
"This ominous chronic-disease profile among (aboriginals) highlights an urgent need for effective, culturally appropriate obesity-prevention strategies," says the report, co-authored by Noreen Willows at the University of Alberta, Dr. Anthony Hanley at the University of Toronto and Treena Delormier at Queen's University in Kingston, Ont.
They say obesity-prevention efforts should focus predominantly on children given the importance of reducing risk factors early in life.
-- Postmedia News