Antigonish, Nova Scotia, Canada

Addressing inequality the key to repairing relationships with First Nations, says Paul Martin

November 15th, 2016
Paul Martin
The Rt. Hon Paul Martin delivers the Allan J. MacEachen Annual Lecture in Politics

Canada must repair relationships with First Nations people, and address funding inequalities for Indigenous education, health care and housing if we want to live up to our values as a progressive nation.

That was the message delivered on November 15 by the Right Honourable Paul Martin, P.C. at the Allan J. MacEachen Annual Lecture in Politics. Mr. Martin addressed a capacity crowd at the Gerald Schwartz Auditorium with a lecture entitled ‘A Conversation on Indigenous Issues.’ Mr. MacEachen, the Antigonish resident and former federal cabinet minister and senator, was in attendance for the event. 

Mr. Martin spoke about a range of First Nations topics including the work of the Martin Family Initiative, which he founded upon leaving office, in empowering Aboriginal businesses and championing education for Aboriginal students. 

“We simply have to ensure that First Nations, Metis, and Inuit children from the ages of 0-5 have the exact same opportunities to succeed as every other child,” said Mr. Martin.

In introducing Mr. Martin, StFX president Dr. Kent MacDonald recalled the former Prime Minister’s significant legacy.

“During his tenure as Prime Minister, Mr. Martin set in place a ten year, $41B plan to improve health care and reduce wait times, and reached a historic agreement with Aboriginal leaders to eliminate funding gaps in health care, education and housing known as the Kelowna Accord,” said Dr. MacDonald.


The Martin Family Initiative has championed a number of key projects including producing business courses and textbooks that feature content, symbols and role models relatable in a First Nations context. They also enabled the development of a training course for First Nations educators working in remote communities, with content that was entirely designed by First Nations people themselves. This approach was the reason behind the program’s success, said Mr. Martin

Finally, the Martin Family Initiative adapted an Ontario public school literacy program to meet the needs of two First Nations communities in the province. At the start of the program the literacy rate for third graders in the communities was just 13%. After five years of delivering the program, literacy rates for third graders rose to 81%, higher than the Ontario provincial rate of 70%.


Mr. Martin recalled a recent experience of speaking in Germany, where many people remarked on Canada’s success in welcoming and integrating thousands of international refugees. However, in speaking with a group of Canadian students who attended the event, he recalled their awareness of how Canada’s treatment of First Nations people didn’t meet this same standard.

“How can we be praised for our ability to be fair to everyone when we have treated our First Nations people in this way?” said Mr. Martin. “How does anybody think we’ll succeed when we tell the fastest growing segment of our population they can’t go to the same schools or have access to the same health care?”

Despite the long road ahead to improve Canada’s relationship with First Nations people, Mr. Martin is still optimistic in our country’s ability to make change happen.

“I believe in this country with every fibre of my being,” he said.


The evening also featured remarks from three other speakers, including Chief PJ Prosper of Paqtnkek First Nation, who is also a member of the StFX Board of Governors. Chief Prosper reflected on the challenge that many communities, including his own, still face in getting the federal government to respect negotiated treaty rights.

“What is the obligation of a government to recognize the law within its own country?” he asked. 

Dr. Jane McMillan, Chair of the StFX Department of Anthropology and Canada Research Chair in Indigenous Peoples and Sustainable Communities, reflected on the Kelowna Accord. The sweeping nation-to-nation agreement was negotiated when Mr. Martin was Prime Minister, but ultimately was not implemented by the subsequent government. 

“What if the Kelowna Accord had been implemented?” she asked. “Would the housing crisis been averted? Would we see fewer Indigenous people in jail? Fewer Indigenous suicides? Would there be more First Nations people attending University? 

Dr. Jeff Orr, Dean of the Faculty of Education, also spoke about local success stories in First Nations education, including the community of Eskasoni where there is an entire elementary school staffed with Mi’kmaq speakers. 


Following the remarks, Mr. Martin participated in a question and answer session facilitated by the evening’s moderator, Dr. James Bickerton of the StFX Political Science department. 

Mr. Martin fielded questions on a variety of topics, including how to continue educating settler peoples on the legacy of residential schools and fractured relationships with First Nations.

“I think these public forums are a significant part of the answer,” said Mr. Martin. “Which is why I really think what StFX is doing here tonight is so important.” 

At the end of the evening, Mr. Martin was presented with a Mi’kmaq flag by Jasmine LaBillois, President of the Aboriginal Student Society at StFX.

Mr. Martin’s address concludes two weeks of important First Nations conversations at StFX. Early in November the StFX President’s Colloquium, entitled Social Justice for Reconciliation: Indigenous perspectives, featured lively discussion with panel members including Alan Syliboy, renowned Mi’kmaq artist, activist and the 2016 Coady Chair of Social Justice. That same day the StFX community was honoured to host Brad Firth, “Caribou Legs,” the Indigenous man running across Canada to raise awareness about missing and murdered Indigenous women.

Last week Senator Murray Sinclair, Chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, visited the StFX campus for two days of discussions with students, staff, faculty and members of the wider community. He finished his visit with a powerful address on reconciliation and the Commission’s 94 calls to action for addressing the legacy of residential schools. 

Mr. Martin is third Canadian Prime Minister to headline a StFX event in the last month. In early October, the Rt. Hon. Jean Chrétien was the keynote speaker at the StFX National Dinner in Toronto. Later that month, the Rt. Hon Brian Mulroney visited StFX to officially announce the Mulroney Institute of Government and Mulroney Hall, which will include new academic programs and a state-of-the-art teaching and research facility. 


Rt. Hon. Paul Martin Lecture: A Conversation On Indigenous Issues  
November 15, 2016, Gerald Schwartz Auditorium

                              Senator Murray Sinclair: A Conversation on Reconciliation  
                              November 8, 2016, Gerald Schwartz Auditorium

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