The Whitehorse Star


Dän Yunay


Manitoba government gives $20 million to native economic development fund

Manitoba has agreed to contribute $20 million to an aboriginal economic development fund.

The project aims to help close the growing gap between the standard of living on reserves and the rest of the province.

The five-year deal is part of a larger initiative with the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs that could lead to an expansion of gaming activities on reserves.

Details of how the new fund will work have yet to be determined, but it is to be managed by a board of trustees and money for the fund will come from lottery profits.

Gaming Minister Dave Chomiak says the fund is necessary because of the terrible situation of poverty and unemployment on reserves.

Dennis Meeches, chief of the Long Plains First Nation, says the government recognizes that gaming is important to aboriginal governments.

In 2000, the province agreed to license five aboriginal casinos but only two have gone ahead - one at the Opaskwayak Cree Nation in The Pas and one on the Brokenhead reserve north of Winnipeg.

Some assembly chiefs are already saying that $20 million is not nearly enough to effect real economic change spread out over 64 bands in the province.

''It's a good start,'' said Ian Cramer, the assembly's senior business adviser.

He said that although the structure of the fund has not been finalized, it is imagined that it might provide capital for projects like cell phone or high-speed Internet services on reserves or for the development of forestry or fishing or mining enterprises.

''The idea is that this fund will not just benefit First Nations people but it will be in the best interests of the entire province,'' Cramer said.