By Luc Rinaldi
Former Prime Minister Paul Martin and the past national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, Phil Fontaine, spoke at Ryerson about Aboriginal issues on Tuesday afternoon.
The event, part of the Ethics at Ryerson Speaker Series, was themed ‘Nationhood and Identity: Indigenous Governance in a New Century.
CBC’s Evan Solomon moderated the conversation-style forum.
“First Nations poverty is an enormous drag on Canada in forming a society that it professes to have,” said Fontaine. “It’s a stain on Canada’s international reputation.”
Fontaine is special advisor to the Royal Bank of Canada (RBC) which sponsored the speakers.
The two spoke about Aboriginal poverty, which, according to Fontaine, is the most urgent problem and first priority when addressing Aboriginal Canadians. The speakers also focused heavily on Aboriginal education.
“Education is the fundamental issue,” said Martin. “Education of the young is the prime opportunity to turn things around.”
Ryerson’s Centre for Indigenous Governance, which focuses on Aboriginal governance, presented the event in cooperation with the faculty of arts and the Chang School.
“We thought this lecture series really tied in with the mandate of the centre and some of the issues that Aboriginal students have brought to us,” said Pam Palmater, chair of the Centre for Indigenous Governance.
The Ethics at Ryerson Speaker Series, an annual collection of events and lectures, is addressing Aboriginal issues this school year in recognition of the newly formed centre.
“An event like this, with such high-profile speakers, will help to bring attention to the activities (at Ryerson),” said Jill Witherspoon, the faculty of arts’ director of development. “It will only indicate to the public that Ryerson takes these issues very seriously.”
Kyle Snow, a Métis first-year Business Technology Management student at Ryerson, said he is glad that the topic is getting attention.
“Aboriginal issues have been a problem for such a long time, they’ve been pushed to the wayside,” said Snow. “It’s good to see them coming into the light finally.”
Highlighting Aboriginal issues is a goal for Palmater and the Centre for Indigenous Governance, which she said is trying to encourage a process of changing trends and attitudes both within and towards Aboriginal people.
“This,” she said about the speaker series, “is part of the process.”
Photo: Christine Worner