After three years of focusing on ways to strengthen Aboriginal participation in the economy, especially the participation of women and youth, an intergovernmental group that was put together to discuss and improve Aboriginal Affairs has put two new priorities on their agenda. The group will now explore the housing and education situations – two keys to achieving success in any part of life.

The Federal-Provincial-Territorial Ministers responsible for Aboriginal Affairs and the leaders of five major National Aboriginal organizations have been meeting since 1999. They recently met in Iqaluit for their annual meeting. Working groups have been focused on entrepreneurship opportunities for aboriginal women for the past three years, and only this year did the ministers and leaders approve the work on two practical guides to help Aboriginal women find programs and services and to start their own businesses.

As for improving the participation of youth, this year the ministers and leaders decided to endorse the National Aboriginal Organizations Youth Committee. The youth contingent will continue to be denied a full seat at future meetings, however. They will instead advise the FPTA working group on development and implementation of programs and services for the youth.

One would not expect that a group of 25 to 30 people would be responsible for such huge undertakings, but it seems that we have to take what we are given to keep the lines of communication open between National Aboriginal Organizations and the various levels of government. A day-long meeting from 7:30am to 3:30pm with breaks and a two-hour lunch hardly seems long enough to accomplish more than “how ya doin’?” The leaders and ministers did announce that there will be a National Business Summit held in Toronto next February, and that Aboriginal women and youth will be actively involved. To what extent is not yet known.

Organized by the steering group and co-chaired by a federal representative and a provincial representative, there were three major presentations: the first was from the Native Women’s association on ways to increase women’s participation in the economy; the second presentation was to announce the National Business Summit; and the third presentation was by the youth contingent, which spoke about CEPS. This model stands for the Culture, Economic, Political and Social areas that the youth wish to have set up for their own enhancement.

After these presentations, the ministers and leaders went for a private two-hour lunch, during which time they decided to welcome the Pauktuutit Inuit Women’s Association as a full member and they decided on the two new directives of housing and education. Officials were directed to develop strategies and recommendations for these issues and report on progress at the next meeting, which will be held in the fall of 2003 in Ottawa. The steering group will issue the call for a meeting and decide on a course of action, with probably the establishment of two new working groups for the two new directives.

There are four levels within the FPTA: At the head are the ministers and leaders of the organizations; under them are the deputy ministers and senior officials; then the steering committee which appoints the fourth level; the working groups that work on the agenda directives. The steering committee is co-chaired by a federal representative, a provincial/territorial representative, and an aboriginal representative. The major difficulties for the group as a whole is that there are 19 different jurisdictions involved and they work on a consensus basis. Attendees of the meeting that I spoke with were pleased with the overall outcome of the meeting, and are extremely happy that issues a little “closer to home” are going to be explored.