Questioning the proposed, reworked First Nations Education Act - "The Emperor's new clothes"

From Pam Palmater's blog on

The Emperor's New Clothes: First Nation CONTROL of First Nation Education Act?

By Pam Palmater on February 7, 2014

Today Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada (AANDC) Bernard Valcourt and National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) Shawn Atleo announced "re-tooled" education legislation. It should be pointed out that despite all the hype leading up to this announcement, there is no actual legislation to scrutinize. So, what did First Nations get from this announcement?

The Prime Minister explained that this legislation is an agreement between Shawn Atleo of the AFN and Harper's government. For Harper, this is about filling the labour shortage with Canada's fastest growing population - First Nations - not about addressing socio-economic conditions imposed on First Nations through Canada's archaic funding formulas which purposefully and chronically under-fund First Nations in comparison to provincial residents.

He also referenced the many employers who sat in the audience ready to hire and train high school students. We all know from past announcements this means hiring First Nations to be the pick and shovel labourers for mining companies and other extractive industries. This is about creating a new kind of dependence for First Nations - dependence on labour jobs from extractive industries to undermine attempts by their leaders to defend their territories and the resources on them.

Minister Valcourt also stated that they are looking at this legislation through an "economic lens" and not a treaty or inherent right lens. Therefore, the inherent right to be self-determining and exercise our own jurisdiction over education does not play into this legislation. He reconfirmed that Atleo was instrumental in the agreement which will ensure "stable and predictable oversight" by the federal government. He further noted that this legislation is about "Canada". The Conservative government is not hiding their intentions here: it is assimilation into the body politic as they have stated over and over again.

During the brief question period, Harper confirmed that the legislation was about the deal he struck with Atleo - uniform standards, curriculum and accountability. Atleo didn't really say much of anything to add to the announcement. It looked more like a political endorsement of the Harper Government for their 2015 election than anything else.

One lone woman stood up and stated that AFN and Harper did not consult with all First Nations and that she stood as a Treaty 6 person in objection to the legislation. The protestors on the ground were not permitted inside, so we could not hear their voices.
Here's a quick look at today's "promises":

(1) There will be legislation, with a new name, but not shared today;
(2) The regulations will be drafted later;
(3) The focus of the legislation will be on provincial training, provincial rules, provincial certification, provincial curriculum and provincial standards (emphasis on provincial);
(4) The legislation will impose "transparency and accountability" on First Nations as opposed to give First Nations any real control;
(5) There will be funding, but not until 2015 and/or 2016 (after Harper's term);
(6) The funding will not be based on need or in line with the treaty right to education. Instead, an "elevator" (a.k.a. "cap") will be placed at 4.5%; and
(7) There is nothing to address the funding crisis in First Nation post-secondary education.

It should be noted that nowhere in the announcement was there any description of whether this funding was "new funding" in addition to the current core funding; whether it is re-purposed monies from education or other programs that have been cut; or how this funding will be accessed by "non-willing partners" - i.e., those First Nations who reject the legislation.

This appears to be more about deflecting the nasty publicity around the increasing litigation and human rights claims being brought by First Nations in relation to discriminatory funding in areas like education, housing and child and family services. The future funding promised after Harper's term could evaporate as easily as the Kelowna Accord did when the Liberal term ended. A promise about future money, doesn't educate First Nations kids now.

None of it is really new. This announcement is just re-packaging of old promises that have taken years to come to fruition:
(1) Election platform - promised adult education and skills training (note announcement yesterday on skills);
(2) AFN-Harper Joint Action Plan - promised national panel on education
(3) Crown-First Nation Gathering - promised national panel

Then came the national panel to which AFN agreed, despite the objections of about half the First Nations in Canada. Saskatchewan, Ontario and Quebec pulled out of the national panel process and submitted their own reports in an unprecedented protest against AFN's unilateral actions.

This was followed by numerous AFN resolutions from the Chiefs in Assembly telling Atleo NOT to talk education legislation with Harper. And most will not forget Idle No More's rallying cry against the suite of legislation intended to be imposed on First Nations. AFN heard them and proceeded anyway. Atleo said he "respected their views" and proceeded anyway. This led to a large number of First Nations wanting to pull out of the AFN and set up their Treaty Alliance to protect their treaties. All this and Atleo still forges this deal with Harper.

The promise of future funding is being used as a carrot to gain support for legislation that has not even been shared with First Nations yet. They are hoping that we are desperate enough to support this plan before we can see the army inside the Trojan Horse.

This is really about tricking First Nations into voluntarily turning their treaty right to fully-funded education into a program privilege that is subject to federal legislation, control and budgets. Even without treaties, First Nations have internationally protected rights to be self-determining, they have specific jurisdiction over their own education and a right to funded education.
This proposed legislation is meant to strike down any attempts at litigation against discriminatory funding - which they likely wish they could do with Cindy Blackstock's case against discriminatory funding in Child and Family Services.

This is just another delay tactic. While we sit in meetings, the natural resources are removed from our territories. While we negotiate announcements, Justice Canada drafts the details of our surrender.

Had the Emperor actually looked at what his tailor had sewn for him, he'd have realized that he wasn't wearing any clothes, despite the fact that people he trusted told him how wonderful he looked.

It's always our choice. We can choose to say no. Canada does not need legislation to properly fund education. Remember what was promised today: nothing. But we stand to lose a great deal in supporting this legislation.

Recognize First Nation jurisdiction over education.

Implement the treaty right to education.

Properly fund First Nation education.

Say no to FNCFNEA. 




FN Education Council: AFN-Ottawa deal carries 'assimilating and paternalistic nature'

10. FEB, 2014

By Jorge Barrera
APTN National News

The proposed First Nation education bill partly unveiled this past Friday will still retain the "assimilating and paternalistic nature" of its previous incarnation, according to a Quebec First Nation education organization.

The First Nations Education Council released an analysis Monday of the agreement between Ottawa and the Assembly of First Nations on education which was announced Friday. The deal would see the introduction of a proposed bill governing on-reserve education called the First Nation Control Over First Nation Education Act.

The proposed bill, which is in its final draft, is expected to be tabled in the coming months.

Ottawa is expected to negotiate with the AFN and First Nations leaders on the bill's final content, according to the agreement.

The council said available information is still limited about the proposed bill and it based its analysis what has already been released publicly. The council found that many of the elements of the previously named First Nations Education Act rejected by chiefs have not been scrubbed from its current incarnation.

"The current agreement made between the AFN and the federal government has retained several disputed elements of the bill presented in October," said the council. "The name of the draft bill was create an illusion of a major change, while the bill in its present form goes completely against the First Nation jurisdiction and control of First nation education."

The deal would see the 18 year-old two per cent a year funding cap on First Nation education lifted after the next federal election. Ottawa also promised to commit $1.252 billion over three years for core education funding along with a new yearly 4.5 per cent escalator. The agreement would also see the federal government invest $500 million for infrastructure over seven years beginning in 2015-2016.

Yet the education council, which counts 22 Quebec First Nations as members, cast a skeptical eye on the promised cash, including concern over the wait reserve schools face before they see any changes and that the main chunk of many and funding changes would only take place after the 2015 election.

"Is there an analysis that shows that this funding is based on needs? How is the funding calculated? Is it new money?" said the council. "Do we have the guarantee that the current programs will not be cut or recycled to meet the announced budget?"

Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt's office refused to provide a breakdown of the funding, saying that the announcement would be included in Tuesday's federal budget. A Valcourt spokesperson also emailed Prime Minister Stephen Harper's speech from Friday to APTN National News.

The council also raised concerns that the AFN-Ottawa agreement was silent on funding for post-secondary education.

"(There is) no mention of the need to implement a funding formula that takes the current reality in schools into consideration," said the council.

The council also questioned how the proposed legislation could both enable First Nations to implement cultural and language programs while also requiring adherence to provincial standards.

"There are no provincial programs or standards for teaching languages and culture," said the council.

The council said the new proposed bill would also "increase the power of the government to determine the operation of on-reserve schools by legislating a requirement First Nation schools teach curriculums that meet provincial standards.

First Nations already agree to meet those standards through their funding agreements with Ottawa.

The council also said the bill would "impose' a provincial model on communities through First Nation education authorities.

"These school authorities, thus named by the federal government, will become federal agencies," said the council.

The council said any control First Nations would get under the bill would be purely "administrative" in nature

"An agreement was made giving the minister the go ahead to introduce a bill in the House for which we do not have all the details that an act going completely against First Nations aspirations will be adopted," said the council. "All it took was a promise of future and uncertain funding to accept the unacceptable-increased government control over our institutions and the obligation to fall in line with provincial standards and policies."



Chiefs of Ontario press release


Thunder Bay, ON (February 10, 2014) - Ontario Regional Chief Stan Beardy said he is approaching the Harper government's proposal for a renamed and updated First Nation education bill cautiously.

"Although Friday's announcement states that Canada and First Nations agree to work together on the passage of the new ‘First Nation Control of First Nation Education Act' (FNCFNEA) and jointly develop the associated regulations, it is unclear how this agreement came about and how the joint work will be accomplished," Ontario Regional Chief Beardy said.

First Nations in Ontario have been adamant that the path forward is not delegated federal legislation but implementation of First Nations' inherent jurisdiction over First Nations' education through negotiation of nation-to-nation jurisdictional agreements.

As part of the announcement of the proposed renamed bill, the Prime Minister announced $1.25 billion per year in funding for aboriginal schools across Canada, which would increase by 4.5 per cent each year after 2016. Total funding proposed for reforms amount to $1.9 billion over several years beginning in 2016/17.

The proposed capital funding investment of $500 million over seven years would not even meet the needs of First Nations in Ontario let alone all of the First Nations within Canada. An analysis in 2012 revealed that it would take $242 to $354 million to bring schools in First Nation communities up to provincial standards.

"In announcing ‘a new approach,' the Harper government continues to cut and exert restrictive guidelines on all funding including education funding for our representative organizations. For too long our children have been underfunded and denied opportunity and fairness," Regional Chief Beardy said.

There is a broad range of circumstances and they must be supported in the move to First Nations control. Some First Nations are already exercising control, others are ready to move and others must to design and implement their plan and vision.

Grand Chief Gord Peters of the Association of Iroquois and Allied Indians (AIAI) who holds the Chiefs of Ontario portfolio on education said his people want to develop their own education standards, articulation agreements and processes without federal government oversight.

"Our people have agreed that we must continue to assert our inherent jurisdiction over education by developing and implementing our own education laws and regulations which will lead to the establishment of our own education standards and systems," Grand Chief Peters said.

The Chiefs of Ontario is a political forum and a secretariat for collective decision making, action, and advocacy for the 133 First Nation communities located within the boundaries of the province of Ontario, Canada.


For more information, please contact:

Jamie Monastyrski, Communications Coordinator

Phone: (807) 630-7087



From The Assembly of First Nations of Quebec and Labrador

First Nation Education Act - Free, Prior and Informed Consent is a Must

WENDAKE, QC, Feb. 11, 2014 /CNW Telbec/ - The recent announcement made by the Prime Minister respecting First Nations' education on Friday, February 7th, was political opportunism at its best. The so-called commitment amounts to little more than a name change accompanied by recycled promises. It was made without consulting with or receiving the consent of Quebec First Nations.

The Prime Minister renamed the federal legislative initiative respecting First Nations education the First Nations Control of First Nations Education Act, but announced no new proposed measures to increase First Nations' real control of their members' education. First Nations' role in education would be reduced to administration. The federal government would determine and impose standards. In the absence of details, we can only assume that the next proposal will be the same as the last: to seize jurisdiction over education from First Nations and to confer it on the Minister.

The announcement also offered familiar promises: a statutory guarantee of stable, predictable, sustainable funding, but no statutory guarantee of necessary funding; a recognition of, but no concrete commitment to meaningful support for, Aboriginal languages and cultural values. The draft Bill circulated this fall did not deliver on these promises or answer Quebec First Nations' concerns. Why should we believe the next proposal will be different? 

First Nations students need adequate funding immediately. The Prime Minister announced funding for First Nations education, but not before 2015-16, after the next elections. "We have been waiting 20 years for new money and are now told to wait another two years. Moreover, the promise for new funding is dependent on what happens in the next federal election" stated Chief Whiteduck, of Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg. "We cannot allow the Prime Minister to play politics with our children's futures" he concluded.

Any education legislation must receive free, prior, and informed consent from First Nations in Quebec. First Nations governments hold jurisdiction over and the right to self-determination with respect to education. The Crown must deal with First Nations and their appointed representatives directly. The Assembly of First Nations does not have the authority to conclude any agreement on behalf of First Nations in Quebec.

"We have been looking to engage the government of Canada in a respectable manner and through a collaborative effort. We wrote to Minister Valcourt to set what we felt were winning conditions to have our support" added Chief of the AFNQL, Ghislain Picard. "Not only did the Minister not respond to our calls, he chose to continue with his unilateral approach."
Our position has not changed. Any education legislation must include the following:

  1. Recognition and respect for First Nations' jurisdiction over and control of First Nations' education, allowing First Nations' solutions to be implemented without imposed oversight; 
  2. A guarantee of necessary, adequate, equitable, and stable funding for First Nations' education; 
  3. Meaningful support for the teaching of First Nations languages and cultural values. 

We will do everything in our power - including, if necessary, undertaking legal proceedings - to see our rights respected, the Crown's obligations fulfilled, and our children's futures secured.

About the AFNQL
The Assembly of First Nations of Quebec and Labrador is the political organization bringing together 43 chiefs of the First Nations in Quebec and Labrador.

For further information:
Mélanie Vincent (
Cell.: 418 580-4442



Harvey Yesno says new federal education act falls short

Nishnawbe-Aski Grand Chief says chronic underfunding causing numerous issues

Posted: Feb 10, 2014

Prime Minister Stephen Harper visited Kainai High on the Blood Reserve, Alberta, for an announcement on Friday of the revamped First Nations Education Act.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper visited Kainai High on the Blood Reserve, Alberta, for an announcement on Friday of the revamped First Nations Education Act. (Erin Collins/CBC)

First Nations Education Act7:47

Related Stories

The Nishnawbe-Aski Nation says it's disappointed with the federal government's revised First Nations Education Act.

Harvey Yesno is the Grand Chief of NAN, a political organization representing 49 First Nations in northern Ontario. He said one of the problems is that investment won't flow until 2016 or later. He said the key issue for First Nations education is chronic underfunding.

"For instance ... Pikangikum, today, had 50 kindergarten students [who] couldn't enter school this fall," said Yesno. "That could be 65-70 students in a few years from now."

Yesno said First Nations aren't able to attract and keep teachers in northern Ontario because they can't afford the salaries and benefits, let alone computers and library facilities.

He noted the treaty area has already been waiting three years for a response from the federal government on its own education proposal that was agreed to in principle.

"Since 1999 we've been engaged with the federal government on negotiations as far as education jurisdiction, so that's something we're disappointed [with]," he said.


NAN Grand Chief Harvey Yesno says First Nations "children are not getting the education facilities and the supports" they need.

"There [are] very few details, if any, other than to say that existing arrangements will be honoured or will complement," he said. "We've been waiting ... with the agreement in principle that had been initialled off by the parties, and we're still waiting for government's response whether we can move to final agreement."

In a news release issued Monday, NAN officials said the proposed federal funding does not meet the current 12-year backlog in school construction in NAN alone.

"I was disappointed in the overall investment," Yesno said. "Over seven years, half a billion across the country [for infrastructure] ... we could use that ourselves, just in NAN territory, building schools."

Yesno added NAN's biggest concern is that the deal will be a federal legislative framework, "and yet there have been deals across the country that [have] been done by the provinces and the federal government on control of First Nations education."

First Nations leaders are worried the new initiative "will usurp all the work that we've done on our assertion to control our education in our communities," he said.

As for the federal government assertion that First Nations are not meeting provincial school standards, Yesno remarked, "We don't have any issue around standards ... it's really an issue of chronic underfunding. We're not attracting teachers ... because we can't offer them the salaries and benefits, or even the home.  That should not be a factor for them to teach in the north."


From Winnipeg Free Press

Aboriginal leaders skeptical about plan - Nelson notes funding won't start until 2016

By: Alexandra Paul - Posted: 02/8/2014

SCO Grand Chief Terry Nelson says the education plan is great - 'if it was real.'

Prime minister announces billions to retool First Nations education

Manitoba's aboriginal leadership is predictably mixed on the federal reforms to education.

Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak leader David Harper was at the prime minister's side for the announcement in Standoff, Alta., in a show of support with other chiefs, including Shawn Atleo, leader of the Assembly of First Nations.

The Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs offered no comment on the reforms that were rolled out in southern Alberta.

The province's top aboriginal leader, Derek Nepinak, was not in Standoff, the Blood First Nation where Harper made his announcement.

'It's a nice promise and it gives Shawn Atleo a boost, but it's really nothing'
--Terry Nelson, Southern Chiefs Organization

Nepinak is an acknowledged leader of a political movement at odds with Atleo's strategies to work with Ottawa. Nepinak has never agreed with the First Nations Education Act, calling the legislation "paternalist" and "colonialist."

Southern Chiefs Organization leader Terry Nelson said the reforms look good until you look closer.

"It'd be great, a step forward if it was real, but this is another Kelowna Accord," he said, referring to the $5-billion Kelowna Accord crafted by former Liberal prime minister Paul Martin. The Conservatives cancelled the accord after forming government in 2006.

None of the funding to leverage the new Tory reforms will start until 2016, Nelson said.

"Will Harper even be prime minister in 2016?" Nelson asked. The next federal election is slated for 2015. "It's a nice promise and it gives Shawn Atleo a boost, but it's really nothing," Nelson said.

The first reports stated Ottawa will fund core education, which includes language and cultural instruction, with $1.25 billion over three years starting in 2016. There's a provision for a 4.5 per cent annual increase. For the last 20 years, funding increases have been capped at two per cent a year.

Along with the $1.25 billion, Ottawa offered another $500 million over seven years to go toward infrastructure and $160 million over four years for implementation.

In an indication of how divisive these reforms are among Canada's chiefs, the office of the national chief in Ottawa blitzed chiefs across the country with an appeal for support after the reforms rolled out.

"Obviously, there is much detail that must be discussed and the government has committed to doing this together with First Nations. This is not the end of the journey, just the beginning," Atleo said in an appeal that quickly leaked across social media Friday.

Education on Manitoba First Nations isn't all under band control.

In the past decade, more and more reserves have figuratively thrown in the towel, handing over responsibility for schools to the province. For instance, there are 58 schools on First Nations in northern Manitoba, including 19 high schools, and their administration includes local band-controlled schools as well as schools run by the province's northern school division, the Frontier School Division.

The situation is the same in southern Manitoba.

The advantage of signing on to the Frontier School Division is financial. Ottawa tops up funding shortfalls in transfer payments to the province but not on reserve-run schools.



First Nation education funding 'still does not provide equality'

Eleanor Bernard of Mi'kmaw Kina'matnewey says reserve teachers would still be paid less

Posted: Feb 10, 2014

Related Stories

New federal funding for First Nation education isn't enough to pay on-reserve teachers at the same rate as provincial teachers, a Cape Breton Mi'kmaq leader says.

Eleanor Bernard is the executive director of the Mi'kmaw Kina'matnewey, a Membertou-based organization that provides education funding and advice to Mi'kmaqs. Mi'kmaw Kina'matnewey means "the whole process of learning."

She said the $1.25-billion deal would leave First Nations schools behind other Canadian schools.

The Harper government says it has designated $1.25 billion over three years for aboriginal schools across Canada beginning in 2016 - an amount that the prime minister pledged would increase by 4.5 per cent each year after. It will go to core education and infrastructure. 

"It's over a three-year period and when you are talking nationally, it's not a lot of money. We're still not going to be able to pay our teachers provincial pay scales, still not going to be able to do a lot of programming," Bernard said.

"It still does not provide equity."

The plan requires education standards on reserves to be consistent with schools off reserves. Bernard said Nova Scotia First Nations schools already meet those standards for teachers and for students.

"We have an 87 per cent graduation rate, which is really good," she said. "Now we need to work on the improvements in literacy and numeracy."

She added that teaching Mi'kmaq was also a priority.

"Our language is suffering because we don't have funding tied specifically to improvements in language," she said. 

Nova Scotia First Nations schools are not required to adopt the new plan; Bernard predicts many will not.

Bernard said it was at least a step in the right direction. Nova Scotia already has a self-governing agreement regarding First Nations education.