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Canadian Government Reaches Historic Agreement With Country's Indians

A historic meeting between Canada's political and Native leaders has wrapped up Friday in Kelowna, British Columbia. It ends with a massive injection of cash and renewed hope for Canada's Inuit, Metis and Aboriginal population.

Among Native peoples in Canada, rates of suicide, infant mortality, teenage pregnancies, high school dropouts, and those living in poverty far exceed the
general population.

The two days of meetings here in Kelowna ended with most attendees hopeful the $4.2 billion in money and renewed plans to erase inequities between Aboriginal and Non-Aboriginal Canadians will make a difference. The cash injection is to be spent over the next five years.

One-point-one billion dollars is earmarked to creating a better system of healthcare for the country's Inuit, Metis, and Aboriginal communities. It is also hoped that more harmonization will occur in administrating healthcare between the provinces and First Nation communities representing the Canadian Indians.

The Canadian Government has targeted $1.4 billion for housing, for both on-reserve and off-reserve Natives. The various levels of government and First Nations gathered here for the meetings are pledging to find more affordable housing for those living in big cities, while repairing and building the upwards of 30,000 new houses needed for those living on reserves.

The Canadian Government is also looking to allow First Nations individuals to purchase homes on reserves.

For education of Canada's First Nations, the meeting set aside $1.5 billion to help end the high number of high school dropouts.

Speaking at a press conference after the meeting, Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin says it is the federal, provincial and territorial government's
responsibility to live up to the commitments.

"The federal government will not solve the challenges facing Aboriginal Canadians by fiat or decree," Mr. Martin says. "We have the prime fiduciary responsibility, it is our responsibility and we will live up to that responsibility in full. And we will succeed because of the drive of the Aboriginal leaders and of the Aboriginal communities themselves. And with the cooperation and the very strong commitment of the provincial and territorial leaders who are here."

The meeting also set aside some $170 million to explore economic opportunities and $145 million for what is described as relationships and accountability.

In an emotional statement, Grand Chief Phil Fontaine of the Assembly of First Nations, referred not only to the agreement from this meeting, but a settlement with the Canadian government and different Canadian churches over residential schools.

"We reached a landmark agreement on residential schools this week… We must now deal with issues like land claims and treaty making and treaty implementation," Mr. Fontaine says. " We've seen how far we can go in ten years. We will close the gap between our peoples and other Canadians."

Inuit leader Jose Kusugak hopes that eventually, results of the meeting will lead to not closing, but erasing the disparity between Inuit and the general Canadian population.

"And although it is true that closing the gap will mean a better life for Inuit, we will always insist that there should be NO gap between ourselves and other Canadians. We must work with you to eliminate the gap," he says.

If and how the government of Prime Minister Martin will implement the federal part of the meeting remains in doubt. His minority government is facing a non-confidense vote in the partliament next week.

Opposition leaders say their lawmakers will vote to topple his government because of corruption and his lack of moral to lead the country.