Of all the challenges facing Canada today, the crying need to improve the lot of its First Nations citizens is the greatest and most daunting.
Whether they live in a teeming metropolis or on a remote reserve, aboriginal Canadians are poorer, less educated, less healthy, less likely to be employed, more likely to be victims of violent crime, more prone to substance abuse and more likely to be imprisoned than the general population. All that is fact.
With justification, the living standards on too many reserves have been condemned as something out of the Third World, not fit for a country like Canada that is one of the most affluent places on Earth. And with justification, Canada has been shamed in the global community by the plight of its indigenous communities.
For decades, Canadians and their political leaders have agreed that all this is unacceptable. For decades, government after government has tried, but failed, to deliver the lasting cure for all that ails aboriginal Canadians, to address their legitimate concerns, allay their gnawing fears and forge lasting bonds of trust.
This is the fraught situation inherited by Justin Trudeau’s new Liberal government. And this is the reality to which Trudeau responded this week with goodwill, generosity and a sincere promise for change. Full marks to him.
Trudeau’s first meeting with chiefs of the Assembly of First Nations in Ottawa Tuesday will not, on its own, even begin to fix everything that has broken down in a relationship stretching back centuries. But beyond offering mere words, such as that he wants to be their “partner,” the prime minister offered a five-point plan of substance.
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