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Saskatchewan First Nations Sign Employment MOU with Canadian Government

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Getting young aboriginals into the workforce is a prime goal of First Nations leaders, and on March 11 that agenda was moved forward when officials from the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations (FSIN) and the bureau of Indian and Northern Affairs Canada signed a memorandum of understanding agreeing to work together on the issue.

“This is a significant policy reform project designed to get young, able-bodied First Nations people off welfare and into the job market,” the FSIN said in its weekly newletter.

The agreement, which the Canadian government deemed historic, was signed by the government as well as that of Saskatchewan, plus five Tribal Councils in Saskatchewan representing more than half of Saskatchewan's 70 First Nations, the INAC release said.

John Duncan, Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development and Federal Interlocutor for Métis and Non-Status Indians, signed on the Canadian said; Rob Norris, Saskatchewan Minister of Advanced Education, Employment and Immigration; Saskatoon Tribal Council Chief Felix Thomas; Meadow Lake Tribal Council Chief Eric Sylvestre; Agency Chiefs Tribal Council Chief Steven Jim; Yorkton Tribal Council Chief Gilbert Panipekeesick, and File Hills Qu'Appelle Tribal Council Chairman Edmund Bellegarde.

Chiefs and co-signers stressed the collaborative nature of the two-year agreement and its role of bringing attention to “basic challenges that must be overcome to enable our youth to reach their potential,” as Tribal Chief Steven Jim of the Agency Chiefs Tribal Council put it. Tribal Chairman Edmund Bellegarde of the File Hills Qu’Appelle Tribal Council lauded the creation of a “formal avenue to explore and shape policies that affect the lives and futures of First Nations Communities and said, “The MOU opens the door for meaningful discussions to occur at the local level to identify and address specific policy barriers that are preventing a level playing field for First Nations people to engage in the provincial economy.”

Tribal Chief Felix Thomas of the Saskatoon Tribal Council noted that improving workplace participation is key to improving the quality of life for First Nations people and that the MOU, in connecting leaders and partners to develop training programs specifically tailored to First Nations communities, will provide the “opportunities and supports they need to break the cycle of dependency.”

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Tribal Chief Gilbert Panipekeesick of the Yorkton Tribal Council hoped that the MOU would help First Nations identify and fix what isn’t working in the current system, which are not pulling aboriginals into the workforce as fast as they are needed.

“This Active Measures MOU is an example of the kind of progress made possible when there is collaboration between the federal, provincial and First Nations governments and a willingness to succeed by all parties,” said Duncan in a statement. “Through this partnership, we will work together to implement strategies that will increase skills training and employment opportunities for First Nations in Saskatchewan.”

“Active Measures” is an umbrella term for a plan to include partnerships, programs, policies and investments designed to increase labor force participation rate and employment, reduce income-assistance dependency on reserve, and encourage people to acquire job skills through training.

MOU-related collaborations will prioritize youth career planning and skills development, address barriers to training and employment, provide short-term training such as in literacy, adult basic education and essential skills, and develop partnerships with industry as well as the private and public sectors to develop training and employment opportunities, INAC said.

To date in Saskatchewan, INAC has invested more than $5 million in strategic pilot projects since 2007-2008, about $3 million of that in 2010-2011, the federal agency said.

After the signing ceremony, Chief Felix Thomas of the Saskatoon Tribal Council said the MOU represents changing attitudes, the Regina Leader Post reported.

"There's a growing recognition around federal and provincial industry that if we don't do anything now, it's going to be 10 times worse in the future," he told the newspaper.