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More action wanted on premier's aboriginal action plan promise

The British Columbia government is saying the right things about supporting aboriginal people living off reserve, but is yet to commit funding, said Paul Lacerte, the executive director of the B.C. Association of Aboriginal Friendship Centres.

"We think it's dead obvious something needs to be done," said Lacerte. "We're worried the momentum is going to pass."

In October Lacerte was encouraged by the first throne speech since Christy Clark became premier. "With increased movement of Aboriginal people into urban centres comes the opportunity to strengthen and align our efforts with urban Aboriginal communities," the speech said. "The government will work with Aboriginal partners, the federal government and local governments to develop an off-reserve Aboriginal action plan to achieve better education and job training, healthier family life, and strengthened cultures and traditions."

Asked Nov. 17 about progress towards that goal, Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation Minister Mary Polak said, her ministry has begun to co-ordinate with other ministries that would be involved.

"We've begun an analysis of the kinds of services we are delivering currently in communities," she said. "We expect that we will then be creating somewhat of a work plan around identifying the gaps and where we can provide better services and supports."

Once that work has been done, the government will look at whether to put in additional resources or find ways to combine services, she said. "At this stage we've only done the preliminary analysis."

Lacerte said it is "disappointing" that Polak is still talking about researching what's needed. "That's not an action plan. That's absolutely not what we're looking for."

Friendship centres are seeking $3.1 million to build their capacity to deal better with issues like poverty, crime prevention and homelessness, he said. The government would also need to invest in the ministries that support that work, he said.

Aboriginal people do worse on just about any socioeconomic measurement you care to name, he said on a day when he and other friendship centre representatives were introduced in the legislature. "We don't want to leave here empty handed. There's an emergency happening out there for our people."

It will be "pretty bitter" if the government fails to make a firm commitment by Christmas, he said, noting that ministries are going through their budgeting process now.

"We hope the government keeps its promises," he said.

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee’s Legislative Bureau Chief in Victoria. Reach him here.

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