Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Nanaimo—Alberni.
I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak to the motion put forward by the hon. member for Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River.
I will begin today by saying that the government agrees with the member opposite. We must address the sad legacy of Indian residential schools. We have stated this on many occasions already.
That is precisely why we are working toward the implementation of the settlement agreement that includes elements, such as a truth and reconciliation commission, a common experience payment, an independent assessment process, commemoration and funding for the Aboriginal Healing Foundation.
The Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement, which received final court approval on March 21, 2007, will bring resolution to this sad chapter of our history. This historic agreement will foster reconciliation between aboriginal people who resided at these schools, their families, their communities and all Canadians.
This agreement is a crucial milestone. We cannot move forward without addressing the past and it is crucial that we move forward. We need to take positive, concrete action to address the challenges that confront so many aboriginal people and communities in this country.
We are committed to making consistent progress in the areas that have the greatest impact on improving the quality of life of first nations people. It is particularly important that we place a special emphasis on improving the lives of children. As the chair of the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs, this is an issue that is close to my heart.
For example, on April 27 in Calgary, Alberta, the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development was pleased to announce a new partnership with the province of Alberta and the Alberta first nations that will see significant improvements in child and family services for first nations in Alberta.
Based on the Alberta response model, this new approach to child welfare in first nations communities will provide families living on reserve with better access to community resources to help them before a crisis occurs.
The Alberta response model stresses prevention by intervening early and making community resources available to families in difficulty. When children need to be removed, we must ensure they are placed in a safe, nurturing environment, in permanent homes, preferably with family members in their own communities.
This approach sets a high standard because it is based on ensuring stability and permanency for the child . It also has been recognized as an innovative approach to delivering child welfare services to first nations children. The Alberta response model has already proven successful with the number of children in care having decreased by 22% since its introduction in 2004.
In addition to delivering better results for first nations children in Alberta, this partnership serves as a model for other provinces and first nations agencies. Our government looks forward to having exploratory discussions with provinces, territories and first nations organizations that are seeking to introduce enhanced early prevention programs to their child and family services on reserve.
Children are the future, in first nations communities as in everywhere else in society. We have a moral duty to protect them and to work together to ensure they enjoy a safe, secure home environment.
However, we also recognize that support and services must be there when women and children are obliged to leave that environment.
Last fall, this government provided an additional $6 million to the family violence prevention program to help ensure that the network of shelters, primarily for women and children who are trying to escape family violence, are better equipped to serve women and children on reserve.
Among our various initiatives on childhood health and well-being, Canada's new government has committed $65 million to the aboriginal youth suicide prevention strategy.
In the area of first nations education, we have made major progress. In December of last year, this House passed historic legislation, at the centre of which was the agreement signed in July 2006 by Canada, the province of British Columbia and the First Nations Education Steering Committee. This agreement is truly groundbreaking, since it will not only create better learning opportunities for first nations students in British Columbia but also offer a model for improvements to first nations education in other provinces.
Because we know that education is one of the foundations for social and economic success and is an area in first nations communities where new investments can truly make a difference, we recently announced the investment of more than $50 million in school infrastructure projects in first nations communities across the country.
Those are some of the initiatives and systematic reforms that directly benefit first nations children. However, this government recognizes that children are also affected in one way or another by the pressures that face their families and communities. For this reason, Canada's new government recognizes the need to act on the wider issues that have a real impact on the day to day lives of aboriginals.
Therefore, we have taken action to advance legislative solutions to two important issues: discrimination permitted under section 67 of the Canadian Human Rights Act, and on reserve matrimonial real property. Bill C-44, introduced last December, proposes to repeal section 67 which currently prevents first nations citizens from bringing forward a human rights complaint. We believe that aboriginal citizens are entitled to the same access to rights protection as every other Canadian citizen.
This government also strongly believes that aboriginal women should have access to the same rights as every other woman in Canada when a relationship breaks down. That is why the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development completed a consultation process and intends to bring forward legislation to resolve the difficult question of matrimonial real property this spring.
There can be no question that this government is acting vigorously and in partnership with first nations, Inuit and Métis to build a more hopeful future for aboriginal children across the country.
Through the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement, we have come to terms with the past and, through our initiatives to further the interests and well-being of aboriginal women and children, we are looking to the future, a brighter and more positive future for the first nations, Inuit and Métis peoples of Canada.