A Fontaine of knowledge on campus

Former national chief speaks about Aboriginal rights last week

Former national chief Phil Fontaine says he thinks the main issue for the new national chief is to create a working relationship with the federal government.
Former national chief Phil Fontaine says he thinks the main issue for the new national chief is to create a working relationship with the federal government.
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Phil Fontaine might have visited last Thursday at the request of an old friend, but his visit wasn’t all pleasure and no business.

The former national chief of the Assembly of First Nations spoke at the School of Policy Studies’ Public Policy and Aboriginal Rights speaking series.

Ed Broadbent, Queen’s fellow in the School of Policy Studies who was the federal New Democratic Party leader from 1975-89, invited Fontaine and former Liberal Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development Andy Scott as guest speakers for the conference.

Fontaine’s focus was on his work with the Kelowna Accord of 2006.

The Kelowna Accord was a series of talks between Aboriginal peoples and the federal government aimed at eradicating poverty in Indigenous communities and promoting education and better living conditions through government funding, he said.

The Office of the Prime Minister outlined $5 billion in spending over 10 years, but didn’t set out specific guidelines for fiscal distribution between federal and provincial governments or Aboriginal groups.

It was endorsed by the Liberal government but fell out of conversation when the Conservative minority, led by Stephen Harper, came to power in 2006.

The Conservatives said the accord was illegal within the confines of the Canadian constitution, Fontaine said.

“It was a blow to us when the Harper government decided to not follow through with the Kelowna,” he said. “There has to be a more serious attempt to understand Aboriginal peoples and First Nations poverty.”

Fontaine said more than 100 First Nations communities don’t have access to safe drinking water.

More than 27,000 First Nations children are in state care as a direct result of poverty, he added.

He said he thinks the main issue for the national chief is to create a working relationship with the federal government.

“This government is going to pick and choose whose human rights they will defend,” he said. “First Nations rights are not of them.”

Scott said he thinks the relationship between the federal government and First Nations is one of extenuating circumstances and can’t be defined solely through legal means.

“The reality is that if the government pursues a relationship with First Nations ... in the same way they would treat a lawsuit ... it’s a serious and profound misunderstanding.” Scott said he thinks Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s recent comments at a G-20 summit that Canada doesn’t have a history of colonialism suggests the need for further education on Aboriginal issues.

“All you have to do is study First Nations history under Britain,” he said. “We live with the legacy still.”

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