Canada Day should serve as reminder of Aboriginal issues

A Town Crier Community Column

Once again, I have the honour of hosting a birthday party for Canada on July 1. I thank the engaged citizens of St. Paul’s for allowing me the privilege of representing them again.

Our Canada Day party delivers almost 1,000 hotdogs, lots of entertainment and the chance to have your picture taken with a Mountie. We invite the St. Paul’s recipients of the Order of Canada to thank them for their contributions to our country.

I am very proud that every year we have begun our celebration with a drummer from NaMeRes who conducts a smudge ceremony for the guests. In my years as an MP I have learned a great deal about the challenges facing indigenous peoples in Canada. In health, education, economic and social conditions, indigenous people lag embarrassingly behind other Canadians. On the occasion of Canada’s 144th birthday, we must remember our shared responsibility to achieve better outcomes for all Aboriginals in Canada.

In 2004, then-prime minister Paul Martin and his cabinet put in place a process that allowed Aboriginal peoples in Canada to choose their priorities and design the blueprint. The federal government, provinces and territories and the Aboriginal leaders worked together for 18 months to achieve a real plan that became the $5 billion Kelowna Accord.

In 2006, Stephen Harper’s government cancelled the accord. The Conservative government demonstrated a total contempt for the process, the plan and most importantly the gravity of the situation. They decided to use the money for other things. The need has only increased.

Every year we put on a day on Women in Politics, which includes three panels – politicians, activists and media. One year we invited Bev Jacobs, the President of the Native Women’s Association, to be on the activist panel. In the question and answer period, all the questions were directed to her. She gave the history of the Indian Act but she also had a prescription. She believed that age-appropriate Aboriginal studies needed to be part of the curriculum of all Canadian students.

As Minister of State for Public Health, I had an amazing opportunity to learn from our Aboriginal peoples. The Indigenous Physicians Association welcomed me warmly. They taught me that the holistic approach of the medicine wheel was far superior to our medical model — the tyranny of the acute.

We will never be able to keep Canadians healthy without addressing the social determinants of health — poverty, violence, the environment, shelter, equity, education.

I know that listening is key to deepening our relationship. Bob Rae has already set an amazing example. Our country will only ever be as strong as our most vulnerable people. We need our Aboriginal peoples to be able to lead again, as they did when they helped the European pioneers survive their first winters. I am so grateful that Bob Rae has entrusted me with the Aboriginal Affairs portfolio.

I hope you will join me in the fall for our special town hall on Aboriginal Affairs. Lots to learn together.


Please note the preceding column ran in the Forest Hill Town Crier July edition with an incorrect headline. The Town Crier regrets the error.

About this article:

By: Carolyn Bennett
Posted: Jul 8 2011 1:42 pm
Filed in: NEWS
Edition: Toronto