Assembly of First Nations (AFN) National Chief Shawn A-in-chut Atleo is entreating his fellow aboriginal leaders to stay united and see the National Education Panel through, even as he respects their right to address the country’s education problems as they see fit.
About 230 First Nations announced earlier this month that they will not participate in the formerly much-heralded National Education Panel, which has begun a nationwide tour of reserves’ facilities and will prepare a report with recommendations due out in December. The panel, announced late last year, started touring First Nations schools in July.
The objecting First Nations have decried what they see as a lack of transparency and taken issue with the fact that only one member of the panel is aboriginal. Further, the possibility of legislation’s growing out of the panel’s recommendations gave them the impression that First Nations viewpoints will not be incorporated, and that the diversity among aboriginal peoples will not be taken into account.
In a letter written to aboriginal leaders, Atleo assured them that this is not a danger, that the very foundation of the current push is stated clearly by the title of the broad policy framework crafted by the AFN: First Nation Control of First Nation Education.
“From the very beginning, it was recognized and fully respected that every First Nation must be fully engaged in strengthening education based on their own direction. Rejection of the status quo unified our efforts,” Atleo said in the August 17 letter, posted on AFN’s site (pdf).
“From the very beginning, the National Panel has been an optional process and an opportunity for every region and/or First Nation to bring forward their views, their concerns, and their needs,” his letter said. “Some organizations have suggested that they are ‘pullout out’ of the process. I reiterate, as I have, in regional assemblies across the country directly with leadership, this is really not a question of ‘in or out.’ This is merely an engagement process that enables First Nations for directly bring forward views should they choose to do so. It is also clear that First Nations within those same regions have or are planning to engage with the Panel.”
Emphasizing the focus on “challenging the status quo and setting a new course,” Atleo said, “The new course must fully respect our aboriginal and treaty rights as well as our languages and cultures. As I have said, I fully respect the choice of regions to not host the National Panel but rather prepare separate reports. I have encouraged every region to drive the process and to set an agenda for the Panel that reflects your interests, and some regions are doing just that. The key point is that we maintain momentum and focus to deliver results for our kids.”
He closed by calling for continued “collective advocacy” and emphasizing that the AFN’s door is always open and pledging his support “for every effort that supports our learners to succeed.”
In closing Atleo said, “I have confidence that we can and will succeed through the values that we all share and that we will bring respect and dedication to realizing a better future for our children.”