Chiefs of Ontario and NAN Cautious and Disappointed

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Ontario Regional Chief Stan Beardy
Ontario Regional Chief Stan Beardy

Ontario Regional Chief Stan Beardy
Ontario Regional Chief Stan Beardy

THUNDER BAY – Reaction to the announcement on Friday by the federal government on Aboriginal Education legislation and funding is continuing. Ontario Regional Chief Stan Beardy stated he is approaching the Harper government’s proposal for a renamed and updated First Nation education bill cautiously.

“Although Friday’s announcement states that Canada and First Nations agree to work together on the passage of the new ‘First Nation Control of First Nation Education Act’ (FNCFNEA) and jointly develop the associated regulations, it is unclear how this agreement came about and how the joint work will be accomplished,” Ontario Regional Chief Beardy stated Monday.

In a media statement, they state, “First Nations in Ontario have been adamant that the path forward is not delegated federal legislation but implementation of First Nations’ inherent jurisdiction over First Nations’ education through negotiation of nation-to-nation jurisdictional agreements”.

As part of the announcement of the proposed renamed bill, the Prime Minister announced $1.25 billion per year in funding for aboriginal schools across Canada, which would increase by 4.5 per cent each year after 2016. Total funding proposed for reforms amount to $1.9 billion over several years beginning in 2016/17.

The proposed capital funding investment of $500 million over seven years would not even meet the needs of First Nations in Ontario let alone all of the First Nations within Canada. An analysis in 2012 revealed that it would take $242 to $354 million to bring schools in First Nation communities up to provincial standards.

“In announcing ‘a new approach,’ the Harper government continues to cut and exert restrictive guidelines on all funding including education funding for our representative organizations. For too long our children have been underfunded and denied opportunity and fairness,” Regional Chief Beardy added.

 There is a broad range of circumstances and they must be supported in the move to First Nations control. Some First Nations are already exercising control, others are ready to move and others must to design and implement their plan and vision.

Grand Chief Gord Peters of the Association of Iroquois and Allied Indians (AIAI) who holds the Chiefs of Ontario portfolio on education 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,” Grand Chief Peters said.

Nishnawbe-Aski Nation Disappointed

Nishnawbe Aski Nation Grand Chief
Nishnawbe Aski Nation Grand Chief Harvey Yesno

“This investment is disappointing as it does not immediately address the chronic shortage in education funding in NAN First Nations, especially in remote communities,” said NAN Grand Chief Harvey Yesno, who attended the February 7 announcement in Treaty 7 territory in Alberta. “The severe underfunding of our education system is the single greatest impediment to the educational success in NAN First Nations, and the only way to remedy this is an immediate and substantial investment in schools and education programing across NAN territory.”

The Grand Chief’s presence at the announcement does not imply support for the Act, as many First Nations leaders and educators who oppose a legislated approach to First Nations education were also in attendance. Of particular concern to NAN is that the funding does not take effect this fiscal year and that the $500 million (over seven years) for education infrastructure spread across all First Nations across Canada does not meet the current 12-year backlog in school construction in NAN alone.

“Since 1999 we have negotiated in good faith on self-governance and education jurisdiction negotiations, and we look to the Harper government to honour this process as the way forward,” said Deputy Grand Chief Goyce Kakegamic, who holds the education portfolio.

On November 7, 2013 NAN Chiefs-in-Assembly declared their First Nations Inherent and Treaty Right to control the future of education in NAN territory. NAN will continue negotiations with the federal government through the self-governance jurisdiction process to secure the control of education jurisdiction in Nishnawbe Aski.