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A digest of First Nations news from Canada

Manitoba First Nations round out good financial year

WINNEPEG, Manitoba - First Nations economic development in Manitoba has created 800 new jobs in 2003 according to information provided by the Ministry of Indian and Northern Affairs on Nov. 10.

INAC funding topped $9.3 million for 65 economic stimulus projects in the province during fiscal year 2002-2003. The federal money has allowed existing on-reserve businesses to expand, new businesses to be created, feasibility studies to be launched and the expansion of desperately needed infrastructure projects in Aboriginal communities. A statement from INAC also said the federal money invested in Manitoba's Aboriginal businesses encouraged private sector investment in those businesses when public funds were not always available to the tune of $24.8 million.

"Increased economic development opportunities within the First Nation communities are one of the keys to ensuring a prosperous future for all Canadians," said INAC Minister Robert D. Nault.

Ministry statements said federal efforts to continue economic development in Manitoba's 62 First Nations will proceed in 2004. Initiatives will include additional support for First Nations' participation in regional economic development, enhanced business support, negotiated benefits from natural resources, increasing Aboriginal access to capital, and improved federal programs.

The complete list of federally supported First Nations economic development projects is available by contacting INAC at

M?tis Nation launches HIV/AIDS publication

OTTAWA - HIV/Aids has hit Aboriginal communities across Turtle Island with ferocity, but the M?tis Nation is fighting back with its latest publication "HIV/AIDS: The basic facts for M?tis Communities" released on Dec.1.

M?tis National Council President Clem Chartier said the publication was an example of the "M?tis specific" tools it planned to use to educate and protect its citizens with in the struggle against the spread of the virus and disease.

"HIV/AIDS is a great threat to the future of the M?tis Nation," said Chartier. "Although we are one of the three constitutionally recognized Aboriginal peoples in Canada, we do not receive health coverage provided to Indian and Inuit peoples.

"Whether we have the weapons to fight this disease or not - the war is on and right now we are losing."

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Chartier said in the first six months of 2002, Aboriginals accounted for 14 percent of the reported new cases of HIV/AIDS infections in Canada. The announcement of the launch of the new publication was made to coordinate with Aboriginal AIDS Awareness Day in Canada and World AIDS Day on Dec.1. The release of the publication also took place a joint press conference with leaders of the Assembly of First Nations and Inuit Tapiirit Kanatami, the largest organization representing the Inuit people of Canada.

Resolutions not the answers AFN looking for

OTTAWA - Relations between the government of Canada and the First Nations chilled in the month of November with the passage of the Specific Claims Resolution Act and the Alternative Dispute Resolution process for residential school abuse claims.

The Specific Claims Resolution Act, previously known as Bill C-6, passed on Nov. 4 to the disappointment of Assembly of First Nations National Chief Phil Fontaine and other Aboriginal leaders. Fontaine and his predecessor Matthew Coon Come have been the leading critics of the Act. However, frequent peaceful protests, official statements by First Nations leaders and a vocal Parliamentary opposition to C-6 had little effect on stopping the bill.

A statement released by Fontaine following the announcement of the bill's passage said the National Chief considered the bill to be an ineffective tool to resolve the backlog of claims and infringed upon the independent nature of the existing claims process.

"Bill C-6 will not deliver on the stated commitment of creating a truly independent and transparent claims process, a long standing goal of First Nations," said Fontaine. "Instead, C-6 compromises the independence and neutrality of the claims body by allowing the Minister and government to unilateral authority to appoint Commissioners, instead of allowing for a joint process between First Nations and the federal government."

Section 35 of the Constitution Act (1982) requires that First Nations be consulted on federal decisions affecting them. Based on this and the overwhelming opposition to the SCRA, Fontaine has called upon incoming Prime Minister Paul Martin to reconsider the legislation.

Just two days later on Nov. 6, Fontaine issued another statement critical of the ADR for not going far enough to address the concerns of residential school survivors and their families.

"Any attempt at redress must recognize the diversity of the survivors and their individual experiences," said Fontaine. "This includes not only financial considerations, but mechanisms by which we can learn to deal with their experiences.

"What we further need is an approach that allows survivors, elders, counselors and communities to be involved in the healing process."

Fontaine pointed to research from the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples and other studies that indicate approximately 60,000 First Nations citizens continue to suffer the after-effects of physical and sexual abuse suffered in the residential schools.

The total amount of financial damages against the residential schools could reach into the billions, but Fontaine was not completely opposed to the ADR. He said the process was a good first step and was preferable to the "adversarial and time-consuming" legal suits filed by survivors.