Charge Ottawa 'shirking' role
Premiers, aboriginal leaders demand action

by Richard Gleeson
Northern News Services

NNSL (NOV 01/96) - Alliances are built on common interests - and common adversaries.

That theory was proven Tuesday in Calgary, as aboriginal leaders and western premiers teamed up to demand the federal government live up to its responsibilities in education, health and social programs for aboriginal people.

The federal government funds programs for aboriginal people living on reserves but has shifted responsibility for those living off reserves to the provinces.

The premiers and aboriginal leaders say Ottawa is not providing the provinces with adequate funding to administer their share of that responsibility.

"Canada is shirking its duty," says NWT Dene Nation president Bill Erasmus, one of the aboriginal leaders at the conference.

"Basically, we have to work toward getting the feds to commit themselves politically and put together an implementation process for self government.... We want to be able to exercise the kind of rights we were given in treaties."

Erasmus says approximately three-quarters of aboriginal people do not live on reserves.

The federal government, says Erasmus, has as much fiscal responsibility for these aboriginals as it does for those who choose to live on reserves.

Aboriginal leaders were not invited to recent discussions of the Council on Social Policy Reform and Renewal.

Mary Sillett, president of Inuit Tapirisat of Canada, states any discussion on social policy reform should include aboriginal people.

"The absence of aboriginal participation in talks of this nature is particularly troubling, considering we have spent well over a decade establishing the precedent that aboriginal peoples must be at the table for discussions about the redistribution of powers and responsibilities for this country," Sillett says in a press release issued Tuesday.

At the conclusion of the one-day meeting, premier Ralph Klein made a commitment to report the concerns expressed at the meeting to provincial leaders at the annual premiers' conference.