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Panel report provides a potential blueprint for improvements
The controversy that surrounded the work of the National Education Panel, developed jointly by the Assembly of First Nations and Aboriginal Affairs, continues to flare after the panel delivered its final report and recommendations in early February.
Organizations such as the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations, Nishnawbe Aski Nation of Ontario, and the First Nations Education Council of Quebec, which released their own reports on education instead of participating in the panel during its cross-country review, remain critical of what has been referred to as “top heavy” recommendations.
Assembly of First Nations National Chief Shawn Atleo has been on the hot seat over the panel since its inception.
The FSIN, which hosted its Winter Assembly in mid-February, was openly critical of Atleo, who was in attendance at the launch of the three-day event. That criticism followed an earlier news release issued by the FSIN which stated the organization gave the AFN/INAC report titled, Nurturing the Learning Spirit of First Nations Students a failing grade. “The AFN does not speak on behalf of the FSIN regarding education.”
Atleo said it is not his intention to impose solutions.
“My role has been to facilitate creating the space; to compel the federal government to come meaningfully to the table.And now is the time for First Nations to really receive this report, which many across their own territories gave submissions to, and for First Nations to drive this forward. That’s very clear,” said Atleo.
He also said that all education reports will be taken into consideration. This includes the original Indian Control of Indian Education, written 30 years ago and recently adapted as First Nations Control of First Nations Education. It was supported by a resolution at last year’s Assembly of Chiefs.
The Nurturing the Learning Spirit report stands as a first for both the federal government and the AFN. The report was received publicly by both parties simultaneously, without either having already seen it.
“The important aspect to this, in my opinion, is it’s got to be transparent because we’ve got deep distrust to overcome in our dealings with the federal government, and I’m really hopeful they will make good on some of the public commitments they’ve made that they share education as a priority and that we’re going to do the right thing by our children and by our rights,” said Atleo.
He said the report is a “fairly comprehensive blue print, potentially.”
But the first recommendation, the creation of a First Nation Education Act, is not welcomed by either the FSIN or Treaty 3 Grand Council, which both claim it impacts on treaty rights.
NAN, which tabled its report a day before the national panel, called for less federal government control.
Atleo said a First Nation Education Act could be an avenue to “achieve statutory guaranty” for funding.
“How do we achieve something so that you can end up with long-term sustainable funding guarantees? I think that’s the question that is really at the core of our objective.”
The FSIN claims only one recommendation put forward by the panel – to address inadequate and unpredictable funding – speaks to concerns in Saskatchewan.
Recommendation four calls for “ensur(ing) adequate funding to support a First Nation education system that meets the needs of First Nation learners, First Nation communities and Canada as a whole.”
The panel recommended that an immediate increase in funding be received for the 2012-2013 school year. It also calls for a new funding formula that is needs-based as well as stable, predictable and sustainable.
The panel noted that “given the magnitude of barriers faced by First Nation learners, the level of resources and investment required per student will likely be substantially greater than the average level of expenditures provided in the public school system.”
Presently, the per pupil funding awarded to First Nations students is significantly lower than their provincial counterparts.
Grand Council Treaty 3 of Ontario rejected all of the panel’s recommendations. The panel made only one stop in that province.
Treaty 3 Grand Chief Diane Kelly said that such recommendations as the development of regional First Nation Education Organizations to provide support and services; the creation of a National Commission for First Nation Education to support education reform and improvement; and the establishment of an accountability and reporting framework to assess improvement in First Nation Education are “top heavy” and would result in resources being taken out of the classroom and put into bureaucracy.
Atleo said the recommendations of the panel, along with the other reports put forward in the last few months and those received in the past, must now be taken into consideration by every First Nation and weighed against each community’s priorities and the agreements that First Nations already have in place on a regional level for delivery of educational services.
“That’s where it needs to go, with the people,” he said. “Any success can only be driven by the people when it comes to this.”
Atleo emphasized his position and that of the AFN in an open letter issued to chiefs on Feb. 17:† “We are a national advocacy body and our task is to create the opportunities, the momentum and the urgency for First Nations issues to be addressed. We cannot and will not design or impose any solutions.”
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