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Many nations move towards control of education

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Inna Dansereau, Birchbark Writer, Mnjikaning First Nation







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Anishinabek Nation Grand Council Chief Vernon Roote and Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development Robert Nault signed an education self-government agreement-in-principle (AIP) Nov. 29. This is the largest agreement on education ever signed, and one of only two in Ontario. It was endorsed by 27 of the 43 Anishinabek First Nations covering a large portion of the province.

The other AIP was signed by eight Fort Frances area First Nations on Nov. 12.

The Anishinabek Nation represents about 30 per cent of the total First Nation population in Ontario and has about 7,000 students.

The AIP sets the foundation for the negotiation of a final agreement that will recognize the participating First Nations' jurisdiction over primary, elementary and secondary education for First Nation students living on reserve.

"This agreement brings us one step closer to exercising our inherent right to determine the education of our people, which is fundamental to our identity as a nation," said Roote.

The final agreement, which will be "ratified by the membership of each First Nation, regardless of residence," according to an Indian Affairs background paper, will give First Nations law-making authority, enabling them to preserve, promote, develop and deliver Anishinabek culture, spiritual practices and language programs through their own education system.

The formulas for establishing funding levels, and an implementation plan, will be negotiated for the final agreement.

The final agreement will remove participating First Nations from under the education-related sections of the Indian Act, and will recognize Anishinabek education laws.

"This agreement demonstrates the government of Canada's commitment to work in partnership with First Nations to strengthen First Nations' capacity to govern themselves through control of their education systems and institutions," said Robert Nault.

The Anishinabek began negotiating an education agreement with Canada in 1998 under the federal Aboriginal self-government policy, in which Canada recognizes that the Aboriginal peoples have the right to govern themselves in matters related to their unique cultures, identities, traditions, languages and institutions.

The Anishinabek Nation territory includes First Nations along the north shore of Lake Superior and surrounding Lake Nipigon, the north shore of Lake Huron, Manitoulin Island, east to the Ottawa River valley, and through the south-central part of Ontario to the Chippewas of Sarnia First Nation.

Tribal groups represented include the Odawa, Ojibway, Potawatomi, Delaware, Chippewa, Algonquin and Mississauga.

The Fort Frances area First Nations signed a similar AIP last month following seven years of negotiations. The eight signatories are Big Island, Rainy River, Naicatchewenin, Stanjikoming, Couchiching, Lac La Croix, Nickickousemenecaning and Seine River.

"After several years of negotiations with Canada, we are delighted to sign this agreement. The great work and perseverance of all those involved has produced a document that will undoubtedly change the landscape of First Nations education," said Richard Bruyere, executive director for the Fort Frances Chiefs' Secretariat.

About 650 students will come under their final agreement. About one-third of Fort Frances-area students attend First Nation schools; the others attend schools off their reserves.

With First Nations standards, the students will be able to transfer to other education systems without academic penalty.