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Delegates call on Liberals to champion Aboriginal issues

Former prime minister Paul Martin commended the Liberal Party for its past work on Aboriginal issues and encouraged the party to continue the fight for the equal treatment of all Canadians.

“The Aboriginal people of this country deserve a better shake,” Martin told Liberal convention delegates of the Aboriginal Peoples’ Commission this morning.

Access to quality education was one of the most prominent discussions by both panellists and delegates alike.

“We had generations where residential schools, under the guise of education, were intended to tear apart and pull apart our language, our culture,” said panellist Chief Shawn Atleo of the Assembly of First Nations BC.

“It must be education that then is the tool of emancipation,” he said.

Other delegates called for the adoption of the UN Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Canada was one of only four countries that voted against the resolution at the United Nations and Australia has since that time reversed its position and will support the declaration.

Aboriginal people must continue to have their voices heard as both party members and candidates in elections, said Labrador MP Todd Russell, the only Aboriginal MP in the Liberal caucus.

“We have a role to play as Aboriginal Peoples in the rebirth of this party.”

Liberals must take pride in their past accomplishments on Aboriginal issues, he said, in order for the party to move forward on the pressing issues facing Aboriginal communities today.

“It’s important to remember some of what we have accomplished as we go through this period of renewal in the Liberal Party.”

The Grits were responsible for modern treaties, formal Aboriginal recognition through the constitution, implementing the inherent right to self-government and the Kelowna Accord, Russell said.

He also took credit for the Residential Schools Agreement that was enacted by the Conservative government.

“Others may have put the cherry on top but it was the Liberal Party that baked that cake,” he said.

Garrett Zehr reports for The Tyee.

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