Aboriginal leaders to press premiers on poverty, education

Canada's provincial and territorial premiers will meet with aboriginal leaders this afternoon as Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne kicks off the annual summer gathering in Niagara-on-the-Lake.

Groups also want to discuss violence against aboriginal women, housing issues

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne will host provincial leaders from across the country for the Council of the Federation meeting at Niagara-on-the-Lake. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

Canada's provincial and territorial premiers will meet with aboriginal leaders on Wednesday afternoon as Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne kicks off the annual summer gathering in Niagara-on-the-Lake.

A number of issues facing Canada's Aboriginal Peoples – including poverty, a lack of affordable housing, education and ending violence against aboriginal women – are expected to be on the agenda during Wednesday's meeting of the premiers with First Nations, Inuit and Métis leaders.

Wynne replaces Nova Scotia Premier Darrell Dexter as Chair of the Council of the Federation, the group that makes up Canada's 13 provincial and territorial premiers.

A news conference is scheduled for Wednesday at 3 p.m. ET.

While the challenges facing Canada's aboriginals are numerous, this semi-annual meeting of the premiers comes on the heels of revelations that the Canadian government used at least 1,300 aboriginal children attending residential schools in British Columbia, Alberta, Ontario and Nova Scotia as test subjects.

On the agenda at the Premiers meeting

Wednesday: Premiers meet with five groups of aboriginal leaders which includes the Assembly of First Nations, the Métis National Council, the Native Women’s Association of Canada, the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples, and Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami.

Thursday: Premiers will focus on the economy and will discuss jobs, skills and training, strategic infrastructure and fiscal arrangements. Premiers will also discuss progress on the Canadian Energy Strategy.

Friday: Premiers will discuss affordable and social housing, bullying and cyberbullying. Premiers will also discuss progress on health-care innovation.

A closing news conference is planned for Friday afternoon.

For continuing coverage of the meeting in Niagara-on-the-Lake, stay with CBCNews.ca.

The research recently published by historian Ian Mosby revealed that the Canadian government conducted nutritional experiments on malnourished aboriginal children and adults during and after the Second World War.

Shawn Atleo, the national chief for the Assembly of First Nations, has demanded an apology from the federal government and is pointing to this and other examples of past abuses as evidence that the federal government should let their communities exercise control over education.

Last week, the AFN unanimously passed a motion opposing the federal government's draft legislation or "blueprint" for First Nations education, citing several key problems with it.

The AFN will make a presentation to the premiers highlighting a number of priorities where action is needed such as education, economic development, ending violence against indigenous women and girls, housing, a national disaster mitigation strategy, and health.

Affordable housing

The Congress of Aboriginal Peoples will be pressing for better living conditions for aboriginals living off-reserve.

"How can you go and get an education if you don't have a safe, warm place to lay your head at night? How can you get training if you don't have an address? You can't," said Betty Ann Lavallée, the national chief of the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples in an interview with CBC News. 

A great deal of Canada's aboriginal youth find themselves "couchsurfing."

"They can't get into training institutions because they don't have permanent addresses … some of them don't feel safe in shelters, some of them are on the street. They want to get off the street, they want to get out of gangs. They just need that safe, affordable place to lay their head at night," Lavallée said.

Housing will also be the top priority for the group representing Canada's Inuit.

Overcrowded, substandard housing contributes to many serious health problems in the North such as outbreaks of tuberculosis, a spokesperson for Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami told CBC News.

Group pushes for inquiry into murdered or missing women

The priority for the Native Women's Association of Canada is to fight poverty.

Michèle Audette, the president of the Native Women's Association of Canada, told CBC News she will also call on the premiers and territorial leaders to support the group's push for a national public inquiry into why so many aboriginal women are murdered or go missing. 

"It is not a native women's issue, or an aboriginal issue. For us, it's a Canadian issue and everybody is affected by that," Audette said.

The Native Women's Association of Canada has said they have documented over 600 cases where aboriginal women have been murdered or gone missing betwen 2005 and 2010 — a number the RCMP has told CBC News it can't confirm.

A report made public by the Office of the Correctional Investigator in March found evidence of "systemic discrimination" against Canada's Aboriginal Peoples.

Aboriginals are so vastly overrepresented in Canada's federal prison system that current policies are clearly failing them, said Howard Sapers, the correctional investigator for Canada.

Aboriginal women are not only over-represented in the federal prison system, they are also serving more time.

Another federal report published last September revealed that the number of aboriginal women in the federal prison system amount to "nothing short of a crisis."

The Métis National Council will also be present during Wednesday's meeting of the premiers.

The premiers will meet on Thursday to discuss skills and training, infrastructure and a Canadian energy strategy.

On Friday, the premiers will talk about bullying and cyberbullying, as well as progress on health-care innovation.

A closing news conference is planned for Friday afternoon.

With files from CBC's Alison Crawford