Kamloops is among five B.C. cities that will pilot the first phase of the Off-Reserve Aboriginal Action Plan (ORAAP), the province announced on Monday.
The plan, announced a year ago in the speech from the throne, is aimed at improving the lives of growing numbers of aboriginal people who choose to live in urban/off-reserve areas.
In Kamloops, that’s roughly 70 per cent of the area’s aboriginal population, said Christopher Phillips, executive director of the Interior Indian Friendship Centre.
“It’s historical, really,” he said. “It’s the first time in history there’s been a plan to address urban aboriginals.”
Friendship centres, along with Métis Nation of B.C., will work in partnership with the Ministry of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation and federal Aboriginal Affairs in an effort to improve the quality of life for off-reserve natives.
The caveat is that there is no major funding attached to Monday’s announcement. There are limited funds that will enable the plan to proceed with community consultations and set a framework when funding comes available, Phillips said.
The public engagement will take place over the next three months.
“We’ll be engaging with our Métis, urban aboriginal as well as non-traditional allies such as the City and TRU,” he said. “What does the future look like? How do we make change?”
Urban aboriginals, like their on-reserve counterparts, represent the highest birth rate in the country. They will be filling the jobs of the future, second only to immigrants, Phillips noted.
At the same time, they face the same obstacles — the residual social effects of the residential schools, high unemployment, multigenerational poverty and contact with the justice system at disproportionate levels.
Ottawa has put its own Urban Aboriginal Strategy on hold to put the action plan to the test, Phillips said
“In developing this, I believe good things can come from it,” he added. “It’s not going to happen overnight.”
The pilot includes Vancouver, Surrey, Prince George and Duncan.