We have been preparing for this step for years … – Anishinabek Grand Chief

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Patrick Madahbee Grand CouncilNIPISSING FIRST NATION – The issue of education and First Nations are witnessing changes. In Thunder Bay, at Dennis Franklin Cromarty School, the Principal and the Northern Nishnawbe Education Council are looking to expand enrollment to other students in the community. Further east, Anishinabek First Nations are now planning to implement the education system they designed to support Anishinabek students and schools, The goal is to close the ever-increasing gap in educational success rates between First Nations and non-Native youth.

“We have been preparing for this step for years and we cannot wait any longer,” said Grand Council Chief Patrick Madahbee. “Each year we delay, more Anishinaabe youth drop out or get left behind. The Anishinabek Nation is currently seeking consensus among our education advisors and leaders about a strategic plan to make needed reforms in Anishinaabe education.”

Spearheaded by the Anishinabek Nation’s Education Working Group and the Chiefs Committee on Governance, consensus on the strategy is being sought at an education symposium to be held May 15-16 in Sault Ste. Marie, and at the upcoming Grand Council Assembly of Chiefs June 5-7 in Sheguiandah First Nation on Manitoulin Island.

Recent reports from the National Panel on First Nation Education, the Chiefs of Ontario, and The Drummond Report from the Province of Ontario, all point to the lack of systems to support First Nations schools and teachers, a lack of reporting and accountability for student achievement and improvement, and chronic underfunding by Indian Affairs among the main causes for the 37% gap in attainment of a high school diploma that exists between First Nations students and others.

“It is time for Anishinabek to take control of Anishinabek education,” said Madahbee. Our Anishinabek Education System is in-line with the recommendations of the learned panels and researchers. We have a right to educate our children in an equitable and culturally-relevant manner. Our kids should not have to leave their identity and language on the school door-step.

“The Anishinabek Nation sees the crisis that exists and is determined to do something about it. We hope we can count on the continued support of the Province of Ontario and hope that Canada will come around and do its part to close the existing education gap by honouring our good faith negotiations and quickly and successfully completing our education agreement.”

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 citizens. 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.

BACKGROUNDER – Anishinabek Education System: A 2006 education symposium of Anishinabek Nation leaders, Elders, educators, and interested parents endorsed the establishment of an Anishinabek Education System.

The vision statement reads: “We, the Anishinabek, are responsible to educate our children so that in the generations to follow there will always be Anishinaabe. Our education system will prepare our citizens for a quality of life based on the highest standards of Anishinaabe intellectual, holistic knowledge that supports the preservation and on-going development of Anishinaabe.”

The Anishinabek Nation has proposed and presented the Anishinabek Education System to Canada and Ontario. The Anishinabek Education System is based on a central education authority operated by the collective of Anishinabek First Nations to provide education program and service supports to First Nations schools and students.

The Anishinabek Nation has proposed a system of local, regional and central education structures that will create a culture of learning for First Nations students by setting standards for professional development and curriculum, providing culturally appropriate assessments, while maintaining sound financial controls and economies of scale. These First Nations based structures are critical to unlocking the First Nations’ student’s potential. The emphasis on Anishinabek culture, language and ways of learning in the curriculum to be approved under this system will benefit not only schools on-reserve, but also the provincial, publicly funded schools as well.

In 1998, the Anishinabek Nation began negotiating an agreement for self-government over education with Canada under the federal government’s Approach to the Implementation of the Inherent Right and the Negotiation of Aboriginal Self-Government. Since then, the Anishinabek Nation has developed this approach to Aboriginal education that it believes will close the education gap within 20 years.

Design of the Anishinabek Education System by the Education Working Group has taken place over 14 years as part of negotiations with Canada regarding the exercise of Anishinabek First Nation jurisdiction over education, the establishment of the Anishinabek Education System, and equitable education funding. The text of the draft Education Final Agreement was completed in September 2010 but Canada has yet to respond to the Anishinabek Nation’s fiscal proposal tabled in October 2006. The Anishinabek Nation intends to finalize its negotiations with Canada for the benefit of Anishinabek students and remains hopeful that the promised fiscal offer will be forthcoming soon.

Ontario has readily discussed the implementation and operation of the Anishinabek Education System, not at a self-government negotiations table, but at a separate table. Ontario is eager to work together with the Anishinabek Nation to advance the education of Anishinabek First Nation students both at home and off-reserve.

Ontario has supported the Anishinabek Nation by providing information that allows the Anishinabek First Nations to identify those areas where the Anishinabek Education System can work cooperatively with Ontario to improve First Nation student achievement. A Memorandum of Understanding with Ontario was signed in 2009. Progress has been productive and useful. The province’s readiness to support the implementation of the Anishinabek Education System is apparent.

Canada is also ready to support the implementation of the Anishinabek Education System. However, the careful pace of the negotiations has meant that the negotiations with Canada have been on-going for over 14 years. Canada and the Anishinabek are very close to finalizing the self-government arrangements.

Canada’s changing approach to education funding, its changes in negotiations team, and constantly developing and changing negotiations policies, have all contributed to delays in finalizing the arrangements that would allow for the establishment and implementation of the Anishinabek Education System.

The unintentional consequence of the delay in finalizing the negotiations is an ever-increasing gap in First Nation and non-Aboriginal education. The Auditor General of Canada has criticized the federal government for the state of affairs in Aboriginal education.

Despite the delay in the self-government negotiations, the Anishinabek Nation is proceeding. The central education authority of the Anishinabek Education System, the Kinomaadswin Education Body, was incorporated in 2010 to begin implementation of the Anishinabek Education System. The Kinomaadswin Education Body was incorporated under Ontario’s Corporations Act.

The Anishinabek Education System is essential so that a central authority providing technical supports, curriculum, professional development, and long-term planning can be carried out by experienced and trained Anishinabek education professionals within a stable and suitably resourced environment. The Anishinabek Education System consists of bodies at the Anishinabek nation, regional and local levels. Each level will be governed by First Nation mandated education responsibilities and authorities that are in coordination with their relationship and distance to individual schools and to provincial school boards.

The Anishinabek Education System will serve Anishinabek through setting educational goals and articulating an education philosophy based on the needs of Anishinaabe youth and on-going consultations with parents, leaders and educators.

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