Alberta Chiefs are not sold on the federal government’s new education plan which was laid out Feb. 7 by Prime Minister Stephen Harper in Standoff.
“We are still very concerned about where we are going with respect to any legislation impacting Indian education, but I believe we must be engaged and open to opportunity and building relationships based on trust,” said Treaty 7 Grand Chief Charles Weaselhead, who is also Chief of the Kainai First Nation.
Harper, Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Minister Bernard Valcourt and Assembly of First Nations National Chief Shawn Atleo were at Kainai High School where Harper introduced the First Nations Control of First Nations Education Act.
“In Canada we have never had the system of First Nations education that we truly need. The federal government which has the constitutional responsibility for this has historically veered between a sometime disinterested neglect and at other times arbitrary decrees,” said Harper.
The new proposed act makes fundamental changes to the draft legislation first introduced by Valcourt last October and which came under heavy criticism by First Nations leaders across the country. At the top of that criticism was lack of consultation. The AFN led the charge to move toward new legislation including passing a resolution in December that identified the changes outlined by Harper. However, not all First Nations leaders are pleased by the role Atleo played, although the National Chief claims his position is as facilitator only.
“Not every First Nation has been consulted or part of these negotiations,” said Saddle Lake Cree Nation Councillor Shannon Houle.
The new legislation will be tabled over the next few months and is expected to be in place for the September 2014 school year.
“The legislation will end Ottawa’s unilateral authority over First Nations education while requiring First Nations communities and parents to assume responsibility and accountability for the education their children receive,” said Harper.
For over 20 years, First Nations leaders have sought funding of First Nations education that is equitable to that provided for off-reserve students. On-reserve funding for education has been stagnant since the 1990s when it was capped at two per cent.
“We have decided to put our money where our mouth is,” said Valcourt.
Core funding, including language and culture, will begin in 2016-17 at $1.25 billion over for three years. There is an annual escalator 4.5 per cent over three years. Beginning in 2015-16, $500 million will be provided for infrastructure over seven years when 2012 budget investments expire. The Implementation Fund/Education Enhancement Fund will provide $160 million over four years, also beginning in 2015-2016. All these financial commitments are slated to begin after the next federal election which is scheduled for 2015.
Going forward, Weaselhead seeks meaningful consultation that is respectful of inherent treaty rights and brings about systemic change.
“We must continue to follow up on the positive outcomes of the Crown-First Nation Gathering, and continue to be active on reconciliation - consistent with a rights-based agenda. Not just improving the status quo, but truly engaging transformational change in public policy, through meaningful consultation to ensure respect and reconciliation of our treaty and inherent rights. Our right to education,” he said.
“The only way to work together is in full partnership,” said Atleo. “Trust must be earned.”
Photo captions: Blood tribe Chief Charles Weaselhead addresses FN leaders, elders, students, Kainai Nation members, university representatives, employers at historic announcement on First Nations education.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper (right), Blood Tribe Chief Charles Weaselhead (centre) and Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Bernard Valcourt participate in a blanket ceremony.