The chair in native studies at St. Thomas University says a new plan to combat poverty in First Nations communities in New Brunswick is doomed to fail because it doesn't address its root causes.

The provincial Assembly of First Nations Chiefs released their plan "Restoring Hope for First Nations" earlier this week, outlining 10 ways to get their people on the road to economic stability and meaningful employment.

Their recommendations range from holding an economic summit to improving education and training opportunities.


Andrea Bear Nicholas, chair in native studies at St. Thomas University, says aboriginal students should have access to education in their native tongue. (St. Thomas University)

But Andrea Bear Nicholas contends the loss of culture is largely to blame for the social ills that plague aboriginal people.

"Our culture has been under assault since Europeans arrived here," she said. "You basically destroy a people if you attack their culture.

"We have a tendency to think the attack ended with residential schools. In fact, it continues as long as our children are put into public schools with no option to learn their language."

Bear Nicholas believes native children should have access to separate education in their mother tongue.

'They're going for the immediate lifeline without recognizing that the real solutions come in addressing the causes.' —Andrea Bear Nicholas, St. Thomas University

"If you're teaching in the language, the culture is incorporated in that. The French fought for that right a long time ago. I'm sad that I'm not seeing the chiefs fighting for that right," she said.

And while some might argue it would be too expensive, Bear Nicholas argues it costs significantly more to keep one person in prison for one year than to give them a private tutor in their own language for nine years.

It would require an investment up front, but would pay off with huge, long-term benefits, she said.

Economic plan 'troubling'

Bear Nicholas said she is also disappointed the plan appears to buy into the culture of big business and abandons principles based on living off the land.

"They are not standing against, for instance, the open-pit mining and the fracking issues. They are working with the oil and gas companies and all of these without even mentioning concerns around the environment," she said, calling it "troubling."

"They're going for the immediate lifeline without recognizing that the real solutions come in addressing the causes.

"I understand the need for immediacy … but there's nothing about land claims in here, nothing about equality of benefits from resources."

A child born in a First Nations community is twice as likely to live in poverty and half as likely to graduate from high school, statistics show.