In what is being touted as a way to improve the lives of Canada’s Aboriginal people, Ottawa has ponied up $5 billion to take the first step.

The 19 delegations at the first ministers meeting on aboriginal issues in late November, hammered out agreements for federal investments in Aboriginal housing, education, economic development and improving accountability for government money spent on Natives.

Prime Minister Paul Martin was upbeat. “Tomorrow, we take another one (step) and another the day after that to walk along the path to building a better life for the First Nations, Inuit and Metis Nation,” said Martin.

The Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC) was equally happy with promises to hold a national summit addressing the concerns of Native women, likely within the next six months.

Some details of the agreement include:

$1.8 billion to build First Nations-run school systems, improve services for aboriginals in the public school system and increase the number of bursaries, grants and scholarships for Natives attending post-secondary education;

$ 1.2 billion to address the aboriginal housing shortage through the creation of distinct housing authorities for First Nations, Metis and the Inuit and $400 million to put in place more quickly a national water strategy for aboriginals;

$200 million to shrink the unemployment rate among aboriginals through investment in economic development and reducing the barriers to aboriginal-run industry and commerce; and $ 170 million to boost accountability among aboriginal groups and improve the relationship between aboriginals and governments.

Provinces were reluctant to sign on to the federal health blueprint because it was unclear how much of the $ 1.3 billion would be dedicated to Aboriginals living on reserves versus those living off reserves, for example.

Provincial governments are wary of being stuck with the price tag for Aboriginals living in their cities, if the bulk of federal money is dedicated to First Nations groups living on federally run reserves.

Ottawa also promised to increase the number of health professionals on reserves to 1,200 nurses from 150 over 10 years, and targets were set to reduce infant mortality, youth suicide, childhood obesity and diabetes by 20 per cent in five years and by half within the next decade.