It was a mistake to take such a short time to make a new Aboriginal strategy for Human Resources Development Canada (HRDC) says Gil Terrance, coordinator of the Chiefs Committee on Human resources Development Agreements. It’s a mistake that Terrance doesn’t want to see First Nations make again. He says the new strategy is more pro-active and will be developed by First Nations themselves. “We want to take it to the government and say this is what we would like,” said Terrance. He says that the attempt to do this before showed Native people that a year of planning wasn’t enough. “The old strategy, the allocation model was rammed down our throats in the past year. There was some consultation but no approval of it. There was less than six months to go through it with everyone. There was confusion, apprehension and anxiety. In the absence of anything else that was developed the minister was given that model, like it or not. We realized we waited too long,” said Terrance. It’s something that the AFN is trying to make sure isn’t going to happen again if they can help it.

What they are looking at are issues about allocation of HRDC dollars for First Nations. “It’s the First Nations perspective that they should be singled out among the Aboriginal groups. We should meet and talk about specific First Nations problems rather than Inuit or Metis problems,” said Terrance. According to Terrance First Nations are over 2/3 of the Canadian Aboriginal population and “that’s why we want our own strategy,” he said.

The issues on the table are the allocation model, employment insurance reform, child care, youth dollars, disability dollars and development of a new agreement template that’s more flexible than the current one. Terrance says the current one is too restrictive.

Terrance says large Aboriginal populations have no problems in negotiating and administrating resources but “the problem is with the smaller First Nations who have a population of 250 or so. They don’t have the political clout, population base or the administrative ability to negotiate.” This is why there is a need for different and flexible templates to fit the different situations and population sizes. “We don’t need or want a blanket agreement that would cover everyone. The government would like a one-shot deal because it would be easier to administer from their end,” said Terrance.

Year after year there are more employment dollars dropped into First Nations funding but Terrance sees this as a problem because you have to have worked in the past to access these dollars and there is a growing youth population coming out of schools. “This segment of our people is at its peak and we’re at a loss as to what to do.” We’ve read about the $14 billion surplus in El and the government doesn’t know what to do with it. It’s a perfect marriage between the youth and those dollars.”

“We’re trying to reform El so the criteria is that if you’re 16-35 and you’ve gone through school you have an opportunity to access those dollars. Apprenticeship or mentoring programs can give them experience in the job market. It’s like a loan. The surplus El dollars would fund them and then after three years, when they get a job, they will begin paying back into the fund so it’s an investment,” said Terrance.

It can’t be done for just Aboriginal people, it has to be done for low-income Canadians, Canadians in remote areas, areas of the country that are economically disadvantaged according to Terrance.

“My message to all those Canadians will be, do you want a better life for your children? I know they do because I do,” said Terrance.

Most of the conference participants say more is needed, such as an economic base and revenue sharing in order to develop economies capable of sustaining jobs for people.