On Sept. 4, the Canadians for a New Partnership initiative (CFNP) was officially launched in Ottawa. The non-profit organization aims to improve living conditions and economic opportunities for First Peoples’ groups.
The organization seeks to continue the dialogue about relations between Canada and its indigenous peoples and bring together prominent leaders from the indigenous community and Canadian politics.
Dr. Philip Oxhorn, a McGill professor and establishing director of the Institute for the Study of International Development, was one of the founding collaborators of the initiative.
Notable members of the CFNP include former prime ministers Paul Martin and Joe Clark, and Sheila Fraser, former Auditor General of Canada as well as McGill alumna.
Stephen Kakfwi, a leader of the Dene indigenous group and former premier of the Northwest Territories, has been working with Oxhorn on this project since November 2011.
According to Scott Serson, a board member of the CNFP, the organization has a number of goals for the near future to help achieve and sustain this partnership.
“To build this new relationship, we have identified a number [of] shorter term goals, including providing public education about the history of First Peoples, their contribution to Canada, and the current issues affecting their relationship with the rest of Canada through [the] creation of a speakers bureau and a national lecture series featuring knowledgeable Canadians,” Serson said.
According to Oxham, creating sustainable momentum for the cause is also important, according to Oxhorn. He cited the case of Idle No More, a protest movement originating from Aboriginal people against abuses of indigenous treaty rights.
“Idle No More was [all over] the press, and it wasn’t clear what that would lead to, or what it was meant to lead to,” Oxhorn said. “It was a classic protest movement, but it wasn’t clear. The challenge was to pick up and continue with that momentum, but directed towards concrete ends.”
Oxham emphasized the importance of the initiative to students, and suggested ways that they could become involved.
“[CFNP] is addressing a historical problem,” Oxham said. “Any way you look at it, this is really not a positive aspect of Canadian life. So that should be of interest and importance to all students. The other is that what [the initiative] emphasizes is the importance of overcoming our differences and collaborating.”
According to Allan Vicaire, indigenous education advisor at McGill’s Social Equity and Diversity Education (SEDE) office, McGill has a variety of resources to help achieve goals similar to that of the CFNP.
“We offer the Indigenous Education Program to open up the dialogue about indigenous peoples in Canada and to shift the culture at McGill to be inclusive and a safe space,” Vicaire said.
Among other available resources are the First Peoples’ House, the new online indigenous access portal, and the ongoing fourth Annual Indigenous Awareness week at McGill.