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Sharing Leadership

A former Canadian prime minister offered his passionate insight and leadership on Aboriginal education during a fundraising event in support of St. Andrew’s College students.

The Right Honourable Paul Martin shared his thoughts on the current challenges and a vision for the future as part of an interview and dialogue based on the theme All My Relations: Aboriginal Education and the Future.

The evening of inspiration and ideas — held Sept. 18, 2014, at Mayfair United Church — attracted a full house of an estimated 400 people with the audience representing a cross-section of society including people from the Indigenous, political, St. Andrew's College and United Church of Canada communities.

The evening opened with an interview conducted by St. Andrew’s student Mitchell Anderson in which Martin touched on several aspects of his life including his spirituality.

“I would describe myself as a person of faith,” he said, adding that there is no doubt his Roman Catholic background shaped his view on how others should be treated even though his decisions while in office weren’t governed by his personal religious beliefs.

“I disagreed with my church. I was the PM (prime minister) who brought in gay marriage,” he said to loud applause from the crowd. “I forgot,” Martin then added to laughter, “that I was in an United Church!”

Throughout the interview and the question-and-answer session that followed Martin emphasized the need for all Canadians to engage in dialogue and build a communications bridge with First Nations and the broader Aboriginal community.

That conversation, the former prime minister said, is needed if Canadian society is to understand the challenges faced by those communities. Only understanding will create the impetus to work together in charting a path for the future.

“The only way we are going to turn it around is to make sure we talk,” Martin told the crowd, saying that First Nations people must continue to tell their stories and share their world view with other Canadians.

“If you don’t explain to us where you are coming from we are not going to understand. You say that we don’t understand you: You are right. (But) you can’t give up. You can’t give up on us.”
Martin, who served as prime minister from 2003 to 2006 and minister of finance from 1993 to 2002, founded the Martin Aboriginal Initiative after leaving office in order to identify issues affecting Aboriginal Canadians.

The initiative focuses on elementary and secondary education for Aboriginal students through the Martin Aboriginal Education Initiative while the Capital for Aboriginal Prosperity and Entrepreneurship Fund works to develop business expertise and provide mentorship opportunities for Aboriginal business.

As prime minister he was key in creating the 2005 Kelowna Accord that would have directed $5 billion over five years to improve education, health, and housing in First Nation communities. The initiative was dropped when the Conservative party defeated Martin’s Liberals in the 2006 federal election.

He regrets that the plan was never put into action, and Martin is dismayed that First Nations education has been largely ignored in subsequent years and remains controlled by a federal Aboriginal Affairs department that he says doesn’t have the educational expertise, interrelated resources, and funding required to bridge the education gap between First Nations’ students and those of the general population.

Martin believes Canadians are hungry to change in the country’s relationship with First Nations people because they realize the future health of the Canadian economy is tied to the education and health of First Nations communities and their young demographic.

He encouraged those in attendance to engage in the “hard talk” needed in order to push the federal government use the power of the purse to lead the country.

“I think the country is desperate to turn this thing around. They don’t want to see it any longer,” he said. “We have a huge financial incentive in basically doing the right thing.”

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