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More than a million Canadians are First Peoples. Yet the standard of living for many lags behind the rest of Canada. According to the United Nations Human Development Index, most Canadians enjoy one of the highest standards of living in the world, while the quality of life for Canada’s Aboriginal people ranks 63rd.

As the equality gap between First Peoples and the rest of Canada grows, our country’s reputation for fairness crumbles.

Eighty-five Aboriginal communities have water systems that are high risk. Currently, there are close to 100 boil water advisories. First Peoples communities in Canada have a 5 to 7 year shorter life expectancy, 1.5 times higher infant mortality rates, 2.5 times higher suicide rates, and a disproportionate burden of infectious diseases.

Canada’s First Peoples need improved water systems, poverty reduction strategies, access to education and training, programs for women and youth, fairness under the law, and a comprehensive health and wellness strategy.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper refuses to address the problem. In fact, he’s taking Canada backwards. The United Nations General Assembly last June voted 143 to 4 in favour of adopting the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Canada was one of the four countries that voted against it.

In the upcoming election debates, First Peoples issues need to be a priority for our leaders. Assembly of First Nations National Chief Phil Fontaine has called on all five parties and the television network consortium in charge of the national leaders’ debates to support inclusion of a segment on Aboriginal issues.

The Canadian Union of Public Employees supports Fontaine’s request. CUPE’s Aboriginal Council has written a letter to the consortium asking that all political parties ensure that an Aboriginal segment be included in the leaders’ upcoming televised debate.

September 29 is the AFN’s National Day of Political Action. First Nation communities across Canada are participating in a variety of political activities such as engaging with their citizens and local candidates, hosting community meetings, and reviewing party platforms so that First Nation citizens can make an informed choice on October 14.