First Nations education bill 'not acceptable' - letter to AANDC from Assembly of First Nations


Atleo to Conservatives: First Nations education bill 'not acceptable'

By   Global News

Assembly of First Nations National Chief Shawn Atleo looks on as Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Minister Bernard Valcourt holds a copy of the Royal Proclamation issued 250 years ago as they visit a Grade 7 class at a school in Ottawa, Monday October 7, 2013 in Ottawa.

Assembly of First Nations National Chief Shawn Atleo looks on as Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Minister Bernard Valcourt holds a copy of the Royal Proclamation issued 250 years ago as they visit a Grade 7 class at a school in Ottawa, Monday October 7, 2013 in Ottawa.


A battle appears to be brewing between First Nations leadership and the federal government over a key piece of legislation on aboriginal education.

Shawn Atleo, the Assembly of First Nations' National Chief, says the Conservative government's plan for an aboriginal education act is "not acceptable."

In an open letter to Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt, Atleo says First Nations leadership will meet in Ottawa from Dec. 10 to 12 and seek "clear commitment" from the government on five conditions laid out in the letter.

The conditions are: First Nations control and treaty rights; commitment to funding in the 2014 budget; recognizing importance of languages and culture; no unilateral federal oversight on education and meaningful engagement.

"We seek clear commitment to these conditions and we will be relentless in our advocacy and actions expressing our full support for our children to achieve this change now," Atleo writes.

The government released a proposal for a First Nations Education Act online in October and said aboriginal communities are invited to give their input before it is tabled in Parliament. The Conservatives have promised the bill by 2014.

National Chief, Assembly of First Nations, Atleo's letter:


November 25, 2013

"There is no place in Canada for the attitudes that inspired the Indian Residential Schools system to ever prevail again. In moving toward healing, reconciliation and resolution of the sad legacy of Indian residential schools... (this) agreement gives us a new beginning and an opportunity to move forward together in partnership."
Statement of Apology, Prime Minister Stephen Harper, June 11, 2008

The education of our children is a fundamental and sacred responsibility, and both a right and a duty of our Nations. The residential schools era is a deep scar on the national soul of this country. Every day, our families bear the trauma of this past. Honouring this reality, respecting our rights as Nations and as peoples demands clear actions to achieve reconciliation. First Nations are resolute and determined to resume our responsibility fully to First Nation education. While our ways, our rights and our responsibilities were pushed aside by the federal government in the residential schools era, we have been fighting back ever since to take back this responsibility. Today, we are acting to achieve this better day for our children now. We have welcomed the support, encouragement and agreement of hundreds of thousands of Canadians and Parliamentarians, including the Government's, to take action on First Nations education, in full partnership with First Nations.

On October 22nd, 2013 - you sent a proposal to all First Nations: "Working Together for First Nation Students: a Proposal for a Bill on First Nation Education". On October 23rd, the Assembly of First Nations issued a statement reiterating the clear priorities of First Nations based on decades of resolutions, hard work and the initiative of First Nation educators, leaders and families. These include the central principle of First Nation control and the absolute need for a funding guarantee for First Nation children to learn in a safe, secure environment nurtured within their languages and cultures. On November 4
th, I issued a Special Bulletin to all First Nations affirming our principles and our path forward grounded in our rights and our responsibilities and affirming that as Nations we will stand firm but we will not stand still. We encouraged dialogue and analysis to advance our position because we believe our children cannot, should not and must not wait for a better future.

Since this time, from coast to coast to coast, our Nations have engaged resolutely in this dialogue and this effort, including at recent Assemblies in British Columbia, Alberta, parts of Ontario, Quebec and the east, and this week at our National Youth Summit where hundreds of young people brought their voices forward determined to achieve a better future. While this discussion continues, the outcome and the message is very clear. The current Federal Proposal for a Bill for First Nation Education is not acceptable to First Nations.

We must work together on a mutual plan that fully respects and reflects partnership, that is consistent with Treaty relationships, and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and re-affirmed in countless studies and recommendations. While our Nations are diverse, thanks to the efforts of our Elders and leaders that have gone before and the countless educators within our Nations that continue to drive this effort forward as first articulated in our policy statement in 1972 - Indian control of Indian education - there is a remarkable degree of consensus, shared values and common ground that must be fully addressed to move forward together. These elements now form clear conditions for success on this critical matter for First Nations and for Canada.

1. First Nation control and respecting inherent and Treaty rights: First Nation control of the education of our children must be the overriding, paramount principle of all our work. It is at the core of reconciliation and, furthermore, is key to achieving improved outcomes and success for our students. First Nations must retain all options to advance their education through Treaty implementation, self-government, partnerships or other agreements, and all such agreements must be fully respected, enabled and supported by the federal government within a framework that honours and respects our rights, affirms federal fiduciary obligations, supports and enables First Nation control and ensures accountability to our families first and foremost. In doing so, First Nations will uphold our duty to ensure access to quality education that achieves strengthened outcomes and results.

2. Funding: As set out and mandated by all First Nations in resolution in 2010 - there must be a full statutory guarantee for funding for education for our children. This is a fundamental matter and requirement of reconciliation. For over a decade, First Nations have engaged in the pre-budget consultation process and every year we have taken forward this need for fundamental transformation - for stable, sustainable and needs- based funding. The Auditor General of Canada clearly stated that current funding practices are completely inappropriate and are failing our children and Canada. We are today tabling a clear and detailed statement of funding requirements to Minister Flaherty. A clear statutory commitment must be advanced and must be reflected in the upcoming Federal Budget 2014.

3. Languages and Culture: The interim report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission notes that as survivors move forward in their healing, they bring clarity and focus to what must happen now. First Nations children must now be nurtured in an environment that affirms their dignity, rights and their identity, including their languages and cultures. First Nations education systems must be enabled, supported and funded in a way that ensures they can design programming that achieves this imperative. Moreover, as a country, and as part of reconciliation, Canada must recognize the importance of First Nations languages and cultures as foundational to this land.

4. Oversight: Achieving the elements described here means that there must not be and cannot be unilateral federal oversight and authority vested in the Canadian bureaucracy. First Nations children deserve fully accountable and successful systems that achieve clear outcomes. The oversight required and remedies to achieve this must be jointly determined and fully respect First Nation rights and responsibilities.

5. Ongoing process of meaningful engagement: To address these conditions, we must ensure meaningful engagement including through commitment to co-development and shared oversight including evaluation.

These are the conditions required now - a mutual plan to advance First Nation education respecting our rights and advancing our responsibilities as well as those of the federal government to this generation of First Nation children. First Nation leadership will be gathering in Ottawa December 10-12th, 2013. We seek clear commitment to these conditions and we will be relentless in our advocacy and actions expressing our full support for our children to achieve this change now. We must remove every reason and every excuse to not act - but rather create the proper and rightful environment to act now together for our children today and tomorrow.

We were partners in the past and we can be partners again but First Nations will never compromise on fundamental principles, our rights, our responsibilities and the well-being of our children. In the spirit of the statement of Apology, I, together with First Nations leaders invite you to stand with us - in affirming for all Canadians a solemn commitment to reconciliation and to a path forward that never again will our children be victimized in the name of education, never again will our dignity, languages and cultures be denied and desecrated. Instead, we will rise anew in this new day that was the promise of the Apology, in partnership and pledge our dedication, together, to ensure these conditions are addressed, that we chart a path forward of partnership and respect and that we immediately seize this moment and this opportunity to achieve the change needed for our children - change that is essential for reconciliation and change that is essential for Canada.


Shawn A-in-chut Atleo
National Chief.






Aboriginal education reform plan in jeopardy


Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Bernard Valcourt.

Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt hinted Thursday the federal government might drop a legislative plan for reforming First Nations education if it can't get the support of aboriginal leaders.

At the same time, he suggested the governing Tories might decide to press ahead over the "rhetorical" objections of some.

Valcourt made the comments after appearing at a Commons committee, where he touted the benefits of the proposed bill the government had hoped to introduce in Parliament in the coming weeks or months.

However, the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) came out strongly this week against the bill, of which a draft was publicly circulated last month for reaction. The AFN called the proposed bill "unacceptable"

and outlined five conditions which must be met - immediately raising the political question of whether the Conservative government would proceed over the objections of the country's aboriginal chiefs.

While speaking to journalists, Valcourt was asked if the bill will still be introduced if the government can't get the AFN onside.

"This is a decision which the government will have to take at some point in time," the minister replied.

He stressed that he's still hopeful consultations will lead to an agreement with First Nations on the educational reforms.

But pressed on whether continued aboriginal resistance could lead to the proposed bill being put on ice, Valcourt suggested it could go either way.

"Everything is possible. Just like it is possible that if we cannot convince some people because they have rhetorical arguments only, that we will proceed.

The proposed reforms are a central plank in the government's aboriginal affairs agenda.

Sixty per cent of First Nations youths in their early 20s do not have a high school diploma, compared to 10 per cent among nonaboriginals.

Valcourt said the government has been hearing for years - including from aboriginals - that it is time to fix the problem.

"The fact remains that these youths are being failed, as we speak, every year by the non-system. So at some point the government will have to make a decision. You know, do we proceed in the best interests of First Nation youth the way we see it? And I'd rather prefer that we can come to an agreement with First Nations as to what is the best way."

Valcourt has said the bill will be "transformational" and historic in its potential ramifications, with better educated First Nations communities eventually seeing fewer social problems ranging from crime to suicide. The draft bill sets out options on how schools can be governed by First Nations communities themselves, a provincial school board or a native-run school board for the region.

Moreover, the schools will need to abide by educational standards.

In cases where they fail to meet those standards, the aboriginal affairs minister can send in a "temporary administrator" to resolve the problem.

And ultimately, says the draft, the federal government will not have any legal "liability" for the actions or omissions of an authority established by First Nations to oversee education. The governing Tories want the bill passed in time so a new system is in place when First Nations children start their school year in September 2014.

However, in an apparent compromise, Valcourt said Thursday that he'd be happy just to have legislation passed next year, with a transition phase for implementation that could be two to three years.

Aboriginal opposition to the plan has been building for months. Earlier this week, AFN national chief Shawn Atleo wrote a letter to Valcourt declaring that while First Nations strongly want a better education system for their children, the government's current

proposal is unacceptable.

Atleo outlined five basic "conditions" that are necessary if the plan is to be successful: First Nation control of education; guaranteed federal funding; protection of language and culture; joint "oversight" of the new education system; and "meaningful" consultation with aboriginals.

Aboriginal leaders are worried the draft bill contains no information on the level of funding the federal government would provide First Nations schools under a reformed system with new standards.

Instead, the bill says federal funding would, at some point, be set through regulations.

New Democrat MP Carol Hughes pushed Thursday for an assurance federal funding for aboriginal schools would be "equitable" to schools in provincial systems.

But Valcourt spoke of funding that would be "predictable" and "sufficient."