21/10/2010 - Keven Drews
The Canadian Press CALGARY â€” The national chief of the Assembly of First Nations says itâ€™s time Canada allowed aboriginals to have more say in their education.
Shawn Atleo, who is also a hereditary chief of the Ahousaht First Nation, told an international audience in Calgary that learning is key in giving the countryâ€™s one million First Nations people â€śa hand upâ€ť from poverty and despair.
â€śWhen we have individuals succeeding in education our people feel it is not because of support ... itâ€™s been despite,â€ť he said Thursday in his keynote address to the Conference of the Americas on International Education.
â€śItâ€™s meant overcoming tremendous odds in order to achieve success in areas like education.â€ť
Atleo, who has a masterâ€™s degree in adult learning, said Prime Minister Stephen Harper took a major step forward recently when he indicated Canada would sign the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
â€śWe are very excited that the prime minister would give such a signal that they would do so this year in 2010. It has yet to happen, but weâ€™re going to continue to encourage for that to happen.â€ť
The declaration lays out the fundamental rights and freedoms of the worldâ€™s indigenous peoples, although it is not legally binding. It was originally opposed by four countries â€“ the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
â€śThere are specific examples in the declaration that speak to the right of indigenous people to help design an education that works for us,â€ť Atleo said. â€śWe intend to do that and weâ€™ve been reaching out to Canadians.â€ť
Atleo, who also serves as chancellor of Vancouver Island University, said half of the one million First Nations people living in Canada are under the age of 25. He suggested that group needs help finding a more prosperous future so thereâ€™s not another â€ślost generationâ€ť of aboriginal youth.
â€śThis is the area of investment where a hand up is required, support to lift ourselves up out of poverty and out of the despair that so many of our people face.â€ť
If the current generation of young aboriginal men and women could close the education and employment gap, it would mean a $170-billion contribution to the economy by the year 2026, Atleo said.
â€śI know that doesnâ€™t mean an immediate return in 2012 or 2013, and sometimes that can be challenging in the political realities.â€ť
The Assembly of First Nations has been working hard to bring attention to native learning and has called for fair education opportunities and support for aboriginal students.
The conference in Calgary brings together educators from North, Central and South America, as well as the Caribbean, to discuss ideas, opportunities and approaches to education across the hemisphere.