History is being made in Orillia, for the first time the Couchiching Conference is focusing on Canada’s First Nations People.
The conference will examine issues such as poverty and education on reserves and features several high profile speakers.
Former National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations Phil Fontaine and former Prime Minister Paul Martin took part in the opening session on Friday.
The goal of this year’s conference is to start a dialogue between aboriginal communities and the rest of Canada. Former Chief Phil Fontaine says more people need to recognize that aboriginal issues affect the entire country.
“The biggest issue facing not only the aboriginal community but the entire country is poverty and we need to be more willing to talk about this. It’s not just a financial thing but a social problem as well,” says Fontaine.
One of the first steps toward ending poverty among First Nations communities is education. Former Prime Minister Paul Martin has made aboriginal issues the focus of his post-political career. He has started the Martin Aboriginal Education Initiative and he says aboriginal people need access to better schools and better health care.
“The answer to poverty historically in Canada has been education and decent health care. That’s why education is a right that’s why we have medicare, health care shouldn’t be doled out as a privilege. But that’s not what is happening on reserves,” says Martin
While the federal government handles on reserve health care and education, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne says eventually most aboriginal children end up in provincial school, but many don’t graduate. She says a way to improve those dropout rates is to make Ontario’s curriculum more inclusive.
“We need to have better education about shared history because we have not as a culture in Ontario, and I would say Canada, understood our history with respect to aboriginal people,” says Wynne.
The conference will continue over the weekend wrapping up on Sunday with the keynote address from James Bartleman, the former Lieutenant Governor of Ontario and a member of Rama Nation.