ANTIGONISH: A former Prime Minister is praising StFX University’s commitment to aboriginal development while insisting that the federal government, and Canadians in general, must take the concerns and communities of indigenous Canadians seriously.
Paul Martin, who held the country’s top elected position from 2003-06 and served as its Minister of Finance from 1993-02, spoke at the Antigonish campus on November 15 as part of the Allan J. MacEachen Annual Lecture in Politics series. Martin’s remarks, delivered in front of a capacity crowd at the Gerald Schwartz Auditorium, centered on a number of issues facing indigenous Canadians, ranging from business development to educational opportunities for aboriginal youth.
Speaking to reporters following a meeting earlier in the day with StFX president Dr. Kent MacDonald, Martin lauded the Antigonish campus for prioritizing aboriginal development.
“What StFX is doing in terms of everything they’ve done, but especially in terms of indigenous education and the kind of leadership the university has shown is very, very important,” Martin declared.
“It’s important to someone like myself who is involved [in indigenous issues], but it’s also important to a lot of very small babies who, in future years, will come to StFX. So I am delighted to be here.”
During his two decades in federal politics, Martin introduced a 10-year, $41-billion plan to improve health care and reduce wait times for aboriginal communities, and the late stages of his time as Prime Minister included the signing of the Kelowna Accord, an agreement with aboriginal leaders to eliminate funding gaps in health care, education and housing.
With this in mind, Martin suggested that progress is occurring in the federal government’s approach to indigenous issues, calling the past 12 months “a tremendous year,” but quickly added that more awareness is necessary to ensure Canada’s aboriginal communities reach the same standard of living as the rest of the country.
“I think the future of indigenous Canada is one of the most important moral issues that we face as a country,” he insisted.
“It’s also an important economic issue – anyone who thinks that we can ignore the youngest and fastest-growing segment of our population, with the kind of… direction that the world is going, is someone who doesn’t understand the economy.”
With this in mind, the former Prime Minister stressed the importance of clean drinking water for aboriginal communities, an issue that has come to the forefront in Richmond County’s Potlotek First Nation in recent months.
“There are 110 boil-water advisories across this country, and some of them have been there for 10 years – if any Canadian city had a boil-water advisory for more than 24 hours, it would be national headlines,” Martin suggested.
“And would we have tolerated it for as long as we have? No.”
Martin’s presentation at StFX was supplemented by three other speakers, including Paq’tnkek First Nation Chief P.J. Prosper, Dr. Jane MacMillan, chair of the StFX Department of Anthropology and Canada Research Chair in Indigenous Peoples and Sustainable Communities, and Dr. Jeff Orr, Dean of the StFX Faculty of Education.