Sunday November 23, 2014

First Nations development begins at home

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First Nations issues have been at the forefront of national media coverage this week, as about 600 chiefs gathered in Ottawa for face-to-face talks with Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

For that many chiefs to agree on what are the most important issues facing indigenous people is probably not possible, but a prevailing consensus seems to focus attention on three key areas: housing, education and economic development.

That all three are closely tied to one another is a given. Education leads to more economic opportunities, thereby increasing standard of living.

And while the gathering of First Nations leaders in Ottawa draws national attention to these problems, a similar gathering, on a much smaller scale, signals co-operation among First Nations and a local post-secondary education institution to work towards those same goals.

A memorandum of understanding between Battleford Agency Tribal Chiefs, representing Ahtahtakoop, Moosomin, Red Pheasant, Saulteaux and Sweetgrass and First Nations, and North West Regional College was signed last week. The initiative is designed to create programs that will improve access to post-secondary education and training for First Nations students.

The MOU speaks to specific barriers these students face in accessing higher education: affordable housing, daycare, transportation and a solid support system. Through scholarships, labour force development and training strategies, elder services and strategies to find short-term and long-term solutions to housing and daycare needs, the two organizations have vowed to work together to achieve their goals.

And while the huge number of chiefs gathered in the nationís capital this week can make a loud noise and capitalize on national media coverage, it is deals like this one, at the grassroots level, that will be the most effective in improving life for First Nations people.

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