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Last Updated: Saturday, 26 November 2005, 00:14 GMT
Canada outlines native cash deal
Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin
Paul Martin's government may soon be brought down
Canada has unveiled a C$5bn (US $4.3bn; 2.4bn) programme to fight poverty in native communities, at the end of an unprecedented two-day summit.

Prime Minister Paul Martin said gaps in wealth, health and education between aboriginal and other Canadians were "not acceptable in the 21st Century".

Mr Martin, provincial leaders and native groups have been debating the deal at the summit in British Columbia.

Canada's one million aboriginals make up 3.3% of the population.

It follows a C$2bn pay-out to natives abused at residential schools.

But some details of the plan were not finalised, and it could be jeopardised if Mr Martin's government falls in an forthcoming parliamentary vote.

'Step forward'

The package, the details of which were announced as the summit in Kelowna drew to a close, will be spent over ten years on programmes to improve housing, healthcare, education and economic development.

An empty house in Davis Inlet, in Labrador, Canada. Photograph by Dominick Tyler

"With this plan, we have made an important step forward in honouring our commitment to close the gap in the quality of life that now exists between aboriginal peoples and other Canadians," Mr Martin told a news conference.

It has been broadly welcomed by native Indian and Inuit groups attending the summit.

"I know there are pessimists and cynics who think this process will fail. I disagree," said Phil Fontaine, head of the Assembly of First Nations, the country's leading native Indian organisation.

Protests

Canada's aboriginals face problems such as housing shortages, higher teenage pregnancy and suicide rates, and lower life expectancy and school graduation rates than the non-aboriginal population.

An estimated 40% of the aboriginal population lives in poverty, compared with 15.7% of the country as a whole.

PACKAGE AIMS
Encourage home ownership in aboriginal communities
Double numbers of aboriginal health professionals over 10 years
Lower rates of infant mortality, youth suicide, childhood obesity and diabetes by 50% over 10 years
Create native primary school boards
Provide construction training to create new jobs

However, the start of the summit was marked by protests from some native groups, angry that aboriginals not living on reserved land would be ignored by the new programmes.

"If this is going to be a watershed for aboriginal people, why haven't half the people living off the reserves been addressed?" asked Paul Laverte from the National Association of Aboriginal Friendship Centres.

There have also been discussions about whether the federal or provincial governments will have the responsibility for healthcare programmes.

The long-planned meeting comes as opposition parties are poised to bring down Mr Martin's minority government on Monday and force elections in January.




SEE ALSO:
Abuse payout for native Canadians
23 Nov 05 |  Americas
Canada's troubled native children
31 Jul 02 |  Americas
Abuse in Canada
28 Dec 00 |  Americas
Country profile: Canada
01 Nov 05 |  Country profiles


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