Ontario First Nations Young Peoples Council (OFNYPC) members stood in unity with Ontario chiefs to reject the First Nations Education Act at the Nov. 26-28 Chiefs of Ontario Special Chiefs Assembly.
“Our young people are opposed to this legislation for the First Nations Education Act,” said Quinn Meawasige, a OFNYPC member from Serpent River. “I was just at a national youth summit where there were youth from all across Canada, from coast to coast, and we made a firm stance that we do not in any way support the First Nations Education Act.”
Meawasige said the First Nations Education Act is a step backwards in terms of First Nations education.
“We need to take control of our education,” Meawasige said. “It is our responsibility for our young people and our future generations that we provide that proper education to our people.”
Mishkeegogamang’s Erin Bottle called for Canadians to encourage the federal government to honour its treaties.
“Twenty-four nations signed an agreement with the crown of England that founded this country,” Bottle said. “As treaty allies and descendants, we call upon all of our relatives to hold this successor government responsible in honouring that treaty with our nations. Enough is enough.”
The Ontario chiefs moved their discussion on education from the last day of the assembly to the first day due to its current significance. The federal government announced the Proposal for a Bill on First Nation Education on Oct. 22.
“We discussed education at length over the last two days and along with maintaining our rejection of the federal legislation on education we also collectively affirm our inherent right to establish and control our own educational systems and institutions,” said Ontario Regional Chief Stan Beardy. “Additionally, we are developing a plan of action to assert our jurisdiction over education.”
Beardy said First Nations across Ontario have vowed to stop the federal First Nation Education Act and will refuse to abide by or implement the act if is unilaterally pushed through parliament.
“Action is currently underway garnering public and political support for our position,” Beardy said. “We continue developing strategies based on all available options including challenging resource extraction, direct action and litigation.”
Beardy said the leaders want to make “it very clear” that they and their community members oppose the proposed First Nations Education Act.
“We will take the measures to continue to assert our rights to govern ourselves and our inherent rights to develop and manage our own education system,” Beardy said.
The Chiefs of Ontario stated in a press release that prior to the public release of the proposal, Bernard Valcourt, minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, told the National Chiefs Committee on education that he would not proceed with the act if there was enough First Nation opposition.
Association of Iroquois and Allied Indians Grand Chief Gordon Peters said First Nation leaders from different regions across Canada also do not agree with the First Nations Education Act.
“A major portion of the indigenous population right now have said we do not want this particular act,” Peters said. “So (Valcourt) needs to be able to set aside this legislation and he needs to come back and sit down and start to talk to us about how he is going to recognize, how he is going to affirm our inherent jurisdiction over our own children.”
Peters 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,” Peters said.
Anishinabek Nation Grand Council Chief Patrick Madahbee said his nation has already rejected the First Nations Education Act.
“We have also taken a process that we have been working on for the past 18-19 years on developing an Anishinabek education system to the final stage of going to our communities for ratification,” Madahbee said. “We have developed an education authority, we have developed our local representation on how that will work in terms of regional councils and we have had our educated front-line people, the experts in education, develop this system. We don’t need some bureaucrat in Ottawa who has never been to our communities to come and try to tell us how to operate education services for our community.”
Madahbee said the biggest problem his communities face is the lack of adequate education resources.
“There is a disparity in the per capita rate between on-reserve and off-reserve schools,” Madahbee said. “There is a cap on postsecondary funding and we’re saying we need ample
resources to operate our own systems.”
Grand Council Treaty #3 Grand Chief Warren White said the federal government has time and time again broken the treaty right to education.
“Our communities know what they want to do in terms of curriculum development,” White said. “We want our own systems, our culture and traditions and language incorporated.”
White said the Treaty #3 area had the most residential schools per capita across the country.
“And that is not what we wanted when we signed treaty,” White said. “We do strongly oppose from Treaty 3 the (Proposal for a Bill on First Nation Education) process the federal government has made.”
Recent high school data, from 2004-2009, indicates First Nation students have a graduation rate of about 36 per cent compared to the Canadian graduation rate of 72 per cent, according to an Assembly of First Nations document from the October 2012 Chiefs Assembly on Education.
The federal government said it consulted 600-plus First Nations across the country and other stakeholders through eight face-to-face regional consultation sessions, more than 54 technical briefings and information sessions via video or teleconference sessions and an online survey that received 631 responses since December 2012 over the Proposal for a Bill on First Nation Education.
MP Carolyn Bennett, the Liberal Party of Canada critic for Aboriginal Affairs, said the Proposal for a Bill on First Nations Education has received a failing grade from coast to coast to coast during an Oct. 24 House of Commons session.
“The Conservatives should push pause on this flawed, top-down strategy, sit down with First Nations communities and build a workable, fully funded plan that respects, supports and empowers First Nations to control their own education systems,” Bennett said.
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