First Nations education bill fails the test of addressing the AFN chiefs' resolution from Dec 2013

Chiefs of Ontario Press Release


 Thunder Bay, ON (April 14, 2014) - Ontario Regional Chief Stan Beardy continues to raise concerns about the Harper government's controversial federal education bill that was tabled in the House of Commons last week saying it doesn't address the conditions raised by the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) Chiefs-in-Assembly.

"The AFN had five conditions set out in a Chiefs' resolution and this announcement does not address them," Regional Chief Stan Beardy said. "Bill C-33 continues to take a disciplinary approach rather than a collaborative approach to improving First Nations education. First Nations have much more innovative ideas on how a collaborative approach would serve our students better but once again, we weren't involved in the direction of a bill that affects our future."

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.

The federal government is calling Bill C-33 a new bill so therefore a new round of consultation and collaboration should be conducted, Regional Chief Beardy said.

"This goes against the understanding that both the feds and AFN said the former proposed bill, the First Nation Education Act (FNEA) was dead. We soundly rejected this proposal at the Chiefs of Ontario November Assembly and at the AFN Assembly in December. But now we have a new bill with no input on its content."

A new addition to the bill is the establishment of a 'Joint Council of Education Professionals.' This Council will have an advisory role to the Minister and First Nations but the Minister, by way of the Governor General, will have the power to designate the members and assign functions as the Minister sees fit. They will have the power to designate and revoke a designation of a First Nation Education Authority, for example, yet the liability will be the responsibility of the First Nation.

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.

"This is the same adversarial attitude where Canada disregards its constitutional, legal and moral obligations identified by the Supreme Court of Canada and outlined in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples," Grand Chief Peters said. "The proper First Nations authorities are prepared to negotiate with the federal government on our education jurisdiction and immediate funding. First Nations have the desire and expertise to make this happen now. All that is needed is Canada's political will."

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
Phone: (807) 630-7087


Anishinabek Nation Press Release

'We need a real say in how our kids are taught': Madahbee

UOI OFFICES, April 14, 2014 /CNW/ - Just promising more money for First Nations education won't make it better, says Grand Council Chief Patrick Madahbee, unless First Nations have a real say in how the money will be spent.

Madahbee was responding on behalf of 39 Anishinabek Nation communities to Bill C-33, Canada's latest response to First Nations demands for equity in federal funding for education.

"They just don't get it, either that or they're hell bent on legislating First Nations to death", said Grand Council Chief Patrick Madahbee of the Anishinabek Nation. Madahbee was referring to the federal government's announcement of Bill C-33, First Nations Control of First Nations Education Act (FNCFNEA).

Madahbee says that the Anishinabek Nation has been in negotiations with the Harper government over an education system that was developed by First Nation parents and educators. "A true Anishinabek Education System is not about control, but about educating our children hand-in-hand with their cultural identity intact."

Bill C-33 was announced by Canada late last week as an improved education act, but many experts are not seeing much of a difference between the FNCFNEA and its predecessor that was introduced in October 2013.

"The Minister of Indian Affairs has all the power and authority over First Nations education while taking on no legal responsibility whatsoever- that's the reality of the kind of control this government is talking about," said Madahbee.

"They talk about the FNCFNEA like it's the best thing First Nations could ask for, but this legislation is not anything close to what First Nations have been asking for.

We asked for an integration of language and culture, but they're making French and English mandatory with an option of First Nation language, if the Minister approves it. Madahbee continued, "We asked for fair and equitable funding, so they announce vague promises of increased funding after the next federal election with no specifics on how it will be allocated.

Their idea of First Nation control of First Nation education is to allow First Nations to be administrators of legislation that's forced onto them. If a First Nation school fails to meet provincial standards, regardless of being vastly underfunded, the Minister has the legal right to put the school under third party management- that's real control of First Nation education.

Madahbee says Bill C-33 ensures that the Minister of Indian Affairs has more authority and less responsibility due to a clause that indemnifies the government of any liabilities from the bill itself.

"If they really want First Nations to have control of their own education then they'll close the funding gap on education immediately, and recognize our own processes that were developed by First Nations teachers and parents, it's really that simple", said Madahbee.

They're using political tricks to convince the public that they're doing what's best for First Nations by highlighting big budgets without any specifics on where the money will go. Meanwhile First Nations are expected to administer policies they don't agree with, but this time they'll have a federally-funded, federally-appointed oversight committee as a government watchdog to ensure First Nations don't veer from government control.

"We don't need more legislation and oversight, what we need is equitable funding and for the government to completely get out of the way. In this modern era, teachers working in First Nation schools should be getting paid the same wages as their counterparts working in an average Canadian town or city.

First Nation children should have access to the same quality of school supplies and equipment as other Canadian children do when they go to school. First Nation children should be taught their own language, just like English and French kids are. That's the kind of practical equality First Nations want - not threats to go into third party management for not meeting provincial standards with less money.

Our Chiefs have told us that we need to exercise jurisdiction, especially when it comes to educating our children. Allowing federal and provincial powers to dictate what's best for us in our own communities is not jurisdiction, that's government control of First Nation education and that's what the government wants, not what First Nations want. Our kids in our communities expect us to fight for their right to a fair and equitable education, and that's exactly what we as leaders must continue to do.

The Anishinabek Nation established the Union of Ontario Indians as its secretariat in 1949. The UOI is a political advocate for 39 member communities across Ontario, representing approximately 55,000 people. The Union of Ontario Indians is the oldest political organization in Ontario and can trace its roots back to the Confederacy of Three Fires, which existed long before European contact.



First Nations education bill fails the test


Politics is a messy business, so it is helpful to have clarity now and then. 

Certainly, partisan posturing often can muddy the issues and impede progress. On First Nations issues, entrenched positions and a high volume of uninformed rhetoric from both sides doesn't help either. As a result, before the bill had been tabled many blindly rejected the new education legislation, while others absurdly insisted it should be adopted. 

Those early positions were both unfair, but this much is now perfectly clear: unless it is amended before passing, the Bill the government tabled in parliament yesterday is a failure. 

This judgement can be made so clearly because everyone agreed on the criteria for assessing the legislation, and Bill C-33 -- the "First Nations Control of First Nations Education Act" -- simply doesn't meet them.

In December of 2013, faced with a draft bill that satisfied no one outside the Harper government, First Nations Chiefs-in-Assembly passed a resolution setting down five conditions that must be met. 

According to the resolution, the legislation would need to:

a.     Respect and recognize inherent rights and title, Treaty rights and jurisdiction.

b.     Provide a statutory guarantee for funding of First Nations education.

c.      Enable and support full immersion and grounding of all education in Indigenous languages and cultures.

d.     Provide mechanisms for reciprocal accountability and ensure there not be unilateral federal oversight and authority.

e.     Ensure a process to address these conditions.

This was followed by an exchange of letters with Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt and, on behalf of the Government of Canada, he committed to meeting those five conditions in re-drafting the legislation. Yesterday, Bill C-33 was tabled. In presenting it, Minister Valcourt again claimed the five conditions were met. 

For his part, National Chief Atleo was more cautious yesterday, saying First Nations need to assess the language of the bill on their own. That position is consistent with his mandate. His job was to get the government to draft the best bill possible, while it is the task of First Nations, as rights holders, to judge the result.

The problem is that it fails so obviously only those willing to ignore the conditions set in December's resolution, to which all have committed, could think otherwise.

Although there is room to debate it, one need not worry about whether the funding, scheduled to begin in 2015, actually meets needs or enables language immersion. Nor is the degree to which the legislation acknowledges and respects First Nation jurisdiction the key question, although that is closely related to the main issue.

What is absolutely clear is that Bill C-33 does not respect the condition set down by Chiefs that there be reciprocal accountability. While the bill has plenty of language on how First Nations must be accountable for their schools, there is a complete absence of reciprocity.

Bill C-33 creates a joint council of education professionals to provide advice to the Minister and the Minister is compelled to seek that advice. He is then free to ignore it.

The bill also commits the Minister to take certain actions, most importantly to meet the funding levels that will be established by regulation. However, the Minister is authorized to set those regulations unilaterally, after seeking the advice that he is permitted to choose to ignore.  

The right to sue if the Minister fails to observe process -- which is all this amounts to given the Minister's sole authority over content -- is the same one administrative law provides to all Canadians under all legislation.  

As a result, no one can claim that the bill meets the condition for reciprocal accountability as it was described in the December resolution, a resolution that explicitly and specifically identifies the exercise of unilateral authority by the Minister as the defining feature of non-reciprocity. 

Regardless of one's partisan stripe, position on First Nation rights, feelings about the role of the AFN, or any other issue that might prejudice opinion, when everyone agrees on the criteria for assessment and the assessment is this easily made, the bill is clearly a failure.


Daniel Wilson served 10 years as a diplomat in Canada's Foreign Service, working mainly with refugees in Africa and South-east Asia. Joining the Assembly of First Nations, he became Senior Director of Strategic Policy and Planning. Of Mi'kmaq Acadian and Irish heritage, Daniel was a founding Chair of the New Democratic Party Aboriginal Commission and manager of the 2011 Romeo Saganash campaign for leader. He now works as an independent consultant and writes about rights. Topics covered on this blog include Indigenous and other human rights as they relate to Canadian and international politics.



New First Nations Education Act an 'illusion of control'

Manitoba Chief Derek Nepinak says new legislation a continuation of an 'assimilation agenda'

By Derek Nepinak, Updated: Apr 14, 2014

Education reforms

Education reforms 2:14

First Nations education bill

First Nations education bill11:50

Assembly of First Nations Shawn Atleo speaks

Assembly of First Nations Shawn Atleo speaks 18:50


About The Author

Photo of Derek Nepinak

Derek Nepinak
Grand Chief, Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs

Derek Nepinak (Niibin Makwa) is the Grand Chief of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs.

The First Nations Control of First Nations Education Act, tabled in Parliament yesterday, is an attempt to create the illusion of First Nations control over education.  

At the same time it maintains - in the spirit of Canadian colonial lawmaking - an unfettered discretion accruing to the minister and granting him or her with sweeping power and control over a variety of educational matters.

The FNCFNEA is selling enticements of "control" while perpetuating the denial and the existence of inherent and treaty rights (ie. jurisdiction) of indigenous peoples.

The complicating factor in this case is that the illusion of First Nations control over education is being supported by Shawn Atleo, the National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, and a handful of AFN member community leaders. 

Support for the bill by the national chief however is immaterial given the AFN does not hold decision-making powers that bind community decision-makers.

Self-determination denied in bill's current form


Chief Derek Nepinak does not believe that the new First Nations Education Act addresses the funding gap significantly. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

Indigenous peoples living in the successor state of Canada (with or without treaties), have rights of self-determination, recognized under international law and are blatantly denied in the current form of this bill.

This is evidenced by the fact that the minister maintains an "Indian agent" role and can take control of a community education program based on performance outcomes that are not determined by our communities, but by standards developed within provincial education systems that we have historically had no input in developing.

This is problematic if you believe, like me, that as self-determining indigenous peoples, we hold the right to design and implement opportunities to develop the potential of our children and young people based on our own criteria and based on the priorities of our unique societies and cultures.

'Only through the development of our own education systems based in our indigenous pedagogy and ways of being will our students thrive in a school system.'- Chief Derek Nepinak

Some might say that this can be accomplished within the provisions of the bill. However, it is important to recognize that building an education system based on our languages and our cultural practices would not yield results that could be easily measured based on criteria and priorities identified by provincial education systems.

There is evidence through multiple research studies and reports that western provincial school systems have failed our children. Only through the development of our own education systems based in our indigenous pedagogy and ways of being will our students thrive in a school system.

A good life for our children is still the goal of our families as indigenous peoples. As such, benchmarks of success in western education systems are incidental to building a beautiful indigenous life experience.

What does it really mean to address parity in funding?

Much has been made of the $1.9-billion investment and the lifting of the "funding cap" that forms part of the enticement package of the bill.

First Nation education rally Thunder Bay

Dozens of people came out to take part in a rally against the federal government's proposed First Nations Education Act. (Josh Lynn/CBC)

The identification of a limited investment in the great divide that exists between on-reserve schooling and provincial education systems however should be a further indication of the lack of commitment towards real solutions.

The pursuit of parity in education opportunity for our young people requires significantly more than a partial funding of a historical inequity that has existed for decades.

Real commitment to addressing the funding gap would start with a quantification of the real and current deficit in investment to establish a starting point for discussions on investments needed. It would also include an immediate implementation of the decision, opposed to a delayed implementation.

The current state of the funding mechanism as enticement to the bill is nothing more than a campaign promise - a campaign promise of the same nature that this government and its bureaucracy call "corruption" when local leadership make spending promises in Indian Act election campaigns.

It is also quite possible, based on past practice, that the Conservatives are buying time to find other existing Indian Act programs or services to cut funding from in order to raise the capital to fund the promise. 

'Man-made funding crisis'

It should not be forgotten that successive generations of children from our communities have been subjected to a man-made funding crisis made all the more damaging by a failure to acknowledge the population boom that we are experiencing within our families and communities.

The man-made funding crisis forced many of our communities into provincial agreements in recent years because there were no other options to counter the financial-starving-out strategy of federal governments.

The choice to enter into provincial agreements was not really a choice at all if communities wanted to provide our children with basic instruction and hire teachers at competitive wages.

The new bill has been touted as an enhancement or strengthening of provincial agreements, when the reality is that many of our communities had no choice but to make a provincial agreement.

'The use of laws and policies to push outcomes on indigenous families and communities is part of an assimilation agenda that gave rise to the residential school and today's child welfare system.'- Derek Nepinak

There is a long history of colonial lawmakers in Canada creating laws and policies in the pursuit of making indigenous peoples more like them.

This is evidenced by those who say we need to "close the gap" on education outcomes because it demonstrates an effort to push our children towards only one marker of educational accomplishment as set by others.

The use of laws and policies to push outcomes on indigenous families and communities is part of an assimilation agenda that gave rise to the residential school and today's child welfare system.

The assimilation​ agenda finds its strength in discrimination and claims to racial superiority that are systemic problems in our relationship with Canadian governments.

This new bill is not a departure from that age-old problem; it continues to affirm it.