First Nation chiefs from across Ontario rejected government's Education Act


Ontario chiefs demand feds abandon Education Act

CBC News Posted: Nov 27, 2013 3:14 PM ET Last Updated: Nov 27, 2013 7:24 PM ET

First Nations chiefs in Ontario says the federally proposed First Nations Education Act is a major step backward and a springboard for a collision course with indigenous peoples.

First Nations chiefs in Ontario says the federally proposed First Nations Education Act is a major step backward and a springboard for a collision course with indigenous peoples. (Nicole Ireland/CBC)

Voyage North: Ontario chiefs reject education act8:02

Aboriginal leaders unhappy with First Nations Education Act Draft. 6:04


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First Nation leaders in Ontario say they reject a federally proposed First Nations Education Act and plan to build their own "education vision."

"We discussed education at length over the last two days and along with maintaining our rejection of the federal legislation on education we also collectively affirm our inherent right to establish and control our own educational systems and institutions," Regional Chief Stan Beardy said in a news release issued by the Chiefs of Ontario on Wednesday.

"Additionally, we are developing a plan of action to assert our jurisdiction over education."

The chiefs, who are meeting on Fort William First Nation near Thunder Bay, said they would refuse to abide by the new education act and demanded the federal government abandon the process.

"Right now they need to set this legislation aside and say, 'Okay, fine ... Obviously people have rejected this'," said Grand Chief Gordon Peters, who holds the education portfolio for the Chiefs of Ontario. "[The government should say] 'Let's stop. Let's come back to the table. Let's set up a negotiating team and let's start to be able to figure out what the best way to move forward is.'"

Peters said that Canadians need to understand that First Nations' jurisdiction over their own education systems is one of their human rights, and that they are capable of managing those systems successfully. 

But he added that the federal government must commit to sustainable funding that reflects the growing aboriginal population. He dismissed Aboriginal Affairs Canada's explanation that it did not include funding in the proposed legislation because it is waiting for First Nations to submit their education proposals. 

"Nobody comes along and says, 'I've got this beautiful car I want to sell you ... you agree to buy the car first and then we'll talk about the price secondly.' [That] doesn't happen," he said.  

Quinn Meawasige

Quinn Meawasige, 20, from Serpent River in northern Ontario was among the young people who stood with the Chiefs of Ontario on Wednesday to publicly reject the federal government's proposed First Nations Education Act. (Nicole Ireland/CBC)

Twenty-year-old Quinn Meawasige from Serpent River First Nation in northeastern Ontario said many indigenous youth are ashamed of who they are because of failures in the current education system. 

"It's tough because people don't know the treaty rights," he said. "They don't know the history of residential schools [and] the intergenerational impacts we still live with today."   

Meawasige said it's essential for First Nations students to have an education grounded in their culture. "Once we have our own systems, we teach them who they are," he said. "They know their language.  And they can still learn, you know, the western society ... at the same time. But you need to know who you are first."

The Conservative government released the document "A Proposal for a Bill on First Nation Education" in October. The Ontario chiefs say that prior to the public release of the draft legislation, the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs stated to the National Chiefs Committee on Education that he would not proceed with the act if there was enough First Nations opposition.



Written Proof Harper Doesn't Care About Aboriginal Education

Hon. Carolyn Bennett, MP, Liberal Party of Canada

Posted: 11/27/2013 

Last week's sensational release of documents from the RCMP's Information to Obtain(ITO) production order in the ongoing Senate scandal created a political firestorm. This is not surprising, given it is now abundantly clear that the RCMP believes individuals in the Prime Minister's inner circle violated the Criminal Code.

But buried in the tsunami of evidence were documents which also shine a light on what the Conservative government really thinks about equitable funding for First Nations schools. This peek behind the scenes of the Conservatives' cynical political machine underscores why we cannot trust Minister Valcourt when he says we should just pass government legislation reforming First Nations education without any money attached and trust that "funding will follow."

We now know the Conservatives' refusal to fund First Nations students attending school on reserves at the same level as their provincial counterparts is coming straight from the top. An internal PMO memo released as part of the ITO suggested language to the Prime Minister to reprimand the Conservative Leader in the Senate for not having better control over Senators and the work of Senate Committees. The memo specifically uses a Senate report calling on the government to "invest heavily in Aboriginal education" as an example of a failure to ensure "Government messaging and direction are followed."

This is not just a shocking example of Stephen Harper's anti-democratic command and control style of government, but clearly demonstrates that the Prime Minister callously refuses to provide First Nations students with the equality of opportunity they deserve. The federal government only provides half to two-thirds of the per-student funding for First Nation schools compared to provincial schools and only one third of First Nations students are graduating high school. Rather than fixing the funding gaps highlighted by First Nations, the Auditor General and numerous other reports, the response of the Prime Minister is to simply clamp down on Parliamentarians trying to highlight the issue. Whether it is First Nations water systems, housing or education, the Conservative answer is to ignore funding shortfalls and download further responsibilities onto already underfunded First Nations with no additional resources.

When the Conservative government quietly released its unilateral proposal for First Nations education late in the evening on October 22, it quickly received a failing grade from coast to coast to coast. Given what those ITO documents show, it is not surprising that First Nations have highlighted the fact that the proposal ignores the core problem of equitable funding and imposes new requirements on First Nations communities without new resources.

Even before the release of their top down, one-size-fits-all government proposal, Minister Valcourt made it clear that he will not even discuss funding until his 'reforms' are passed. However, if the Conservatives do push through their made in Ottawa First Nations education legislation, there is absolutely no reason to believe that additional resources will follow. In fact, the ITO documents show that this government is simply not willing to put any resources behind their promises and are dismissive of the idea of investing further resources in Aboriginal education. They remind us that there is only one minister -- the Prime Minister -- who makes decisions in this government and his track record of refusing to deal with the outright discrimination that exists when funding First Nations students makes it extremely difficult to believe that equal funding will be part of any future education reform on his watch.

This week AFN National Chief Shawn Atleo issued an open letter flatly telling the government that "the current Federal Proposal for a Bill for First Nation Education is not acceptable to First Nations." He has also outlined the "absolute need for a funding guarantee for First Nation children to learn in a safe, secure environment nurtured within their languages and cultures."

Given the views expressed behind closed doors at PMO, and previously released government documents classifying Aboriginal Peoples as "adversaries," it is completely understandable why First Nations are not willing to take the government's word that issues like funding will be dealt with after they push through their paternalistic education legislation.

Last month, James Anaya, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, gave this government very clear advice: push pause on this flawed, top-down strategy. The Conservative government needs to go back to the drawing board, sit down with First Nations communities and build a workable, fully funded plan that respects, supports and empowers First Nations to control their own education systems.




November 28, 2013 - By Jodi Lundmark, tbnewswatch.comNational Chief Shawn Atleo (left) addressed the Chiefs of Ontario at their winter assembly Thursday at the Fort William First Nation Community Centre.

  • Jodi Lundmark, 
    National Chief Shawn Atleo (left) addressed the Chiefs of Ontario at their winter assembly Thursday at the Fort William First Nation Community Centre.

The national chief of the Assembly of First Nations is standing firm beside the Chiefs of Ontario when it comes to education.

National Chief Shawn Atleo addressed the provincial chiefs on the final day of their three-day winter assembly at the Fort William First Nation Community Centre Thursday and said there is a strong consensus across the country on the need for First Nation control of First Nation education.

"We reject the proposed unilateral federal oversight. That's what we had in the residential school era. It's completely unacceptable," said Atleo.

On Wednesday the Chiefs of Ontario announced they will create their own education system for First Nations in the province that includes their culture and beliefs.

The decision came in the wake of the rejection of the federal government's proposed First Nation Education Act by Aboriginal groups across the country.

"There has to be a guarantee for First Nation language and culture. I feel that we've got to reach out to Canadians and say this is the moment we seize to make sure that we support the children," Atleo said.

While in Pikangikum Wednesday, Atleo said he saw houses without access to clean drinking water or indoor plumbing. And children in the community cannot attend kindergarten because there is no facility for it.

"This in a country that is ranked third in the world as far as being one of the most wealthy," he said.

The national chief said about 60 schools are needed and they also need the resources to put their culture back into the curriculum.

It's the right thing to do morally and economically, said Atleo.

"If we close the education and employment gap, First Nations will contribute over $400 billion to the Canadian economy in the coming decades and we will save $115 billion in government expenditures," he said.

"We're talking about the future of Canada resting on investing in children now."

Atleo also spoke to the provincial chiefs about issues around the need for implementing treaty rights and the relationship between First Nations and the Crown.

Ontario Regional Chief Stan Beardy said the last three days have been full of honest and open discussions.

With representation from the majority of Ontario's 133 First Nations at the assembly, Beardy said everyone has talked about what's most important to them.

Education has been one of the most talked about subjects and Beardy said they made their position clear on the topic and they were heard by the Assembly of First Nations.

"AFN does fully support the opposition by (the Chiefs of) Ontario in regards to that proposed education act," he said.