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New ideas to lift aboriginal Canada Add to ...

The federal parties have paid little attention to aboriginal issues in this campaign, and with the exception of Jack Layton, they've barely campaigned in areas with large aboriginal populations. This lack of political leadership is unfortunate. But on two of aboriginal Canada's biggest challenges, land and education, we can look to others to help plot a path forward.

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Individual aboriginals still lack the full set of property rights that other Canadians take for granted. Aboriginal students get less government support for their schooling than other students, and access to postsecondary education continues to be overly controlled by band councils. Native Canada deserves a new deal.

Enter Harry Swain, and Tom Flanagan and his co-authors, two of the finalists for the Donner Prize (Canada's top prize for books on public policy, won by Globe correspondent Doug Saunders).

On land reform, they propose experimentation and flexibility. Prof. Flanagan sees the futility of any imposed solution. The Indian Act, or its successor, should provide a wide range of options for individual First Nations, which they can choose to pursue, or not - including the right to allow for more land ownership.

Mr. Swain, a former deputy minister of Indian Affairs, proposes that a parliamentary committee - rather than a royal commission - should travel the country, asking for proposals for major reform of the Indian Act, primarily from aboriginals themselves.

Assuming agreement in advance would be naive - there are 628 bands, of radically different size and economic circumstance, with more cultural variation among them than among most of the European immigrants to Canada. The Chrétien government's reasonable but failed governance reforms did not recognize this diversity.

Educational reform, beginning with more money and fewer fetters on a rapidly growing aboriginal student population, is a policy all parties should embrace. One vehicle may be the National Aboriginal Achievement Foundation. Roberta Jamieson, the Foundation's CEO, points out that increasing aboriginal access to higher education "isn't about rights or benevolence, but about investment for outcomes that will benefit all of us."

That two of the five nominated Donner books concern aboriginal affairs is, itself, a hopeful sign. That aboriginal leaders like Ms. Jamieson and Shawn A-in-chut Atleo, National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, are being vocal about education should embolden us. If our national leaders aren't ready to lead, perhaps others can help take them to the right place.

 

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