The First Nations Education Act has officially been decreed defunct as far as Indigenous Peoples in Canada are concerned. The matter even took priority at a recent Assembly of First Nations meeting over replacing former National Chief Shawn A-in-chut Atleo, who resigned on May 2 in the furor over the legislation.
On May 27 the chiefs passed a resolution calling on Canada, “based on the honour of the Crown to negotiate an agreement on new fiscal transfer payments to First Nations,” according to the Canadian Press. They said the $1.9 billion in funding provided by Bill C-33, which is how the education act is known, should go straight to First Nations so they can apportion it themselves. Though 60 chiefs abstained, 121 voted in favor and none opposed it, the Canadian Press reported.
“Canada must withdraw Bill C-33 and engage in an honorable process with First Nations that recognizes and supports regional and local diversity leading to true First Nation control of education based on our responsibilities and inherent aboriginal and treaty rights,” said a statement from chiefs in Quebec and Labrador that they unanimously supported.
A few months earlier, in November 2013, Atleo wrote an open letter to the ministry of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development outlining five essentials that needed to be addressed in First Nation education reform. Though Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt countered with a letter saying that all the conditions had in fact been met, most remaining chiefs still beg to differ. Here are the basics that need to be addressed in indigenous education, as written out by Atleo, who reiterated them in a position paper in April, just a few weeks before he resigned.
1. Respects and recognizes inherent rights and title, Treaty rights, and First Nation Control of First Nation Education jurisdiction.
First Nations must retain all options to advance their education and all such agreements must be fully respected, enabled and supported; First Nations control and jurisdiction over First Nations education is required. Supporting this goal, First Nations must have sufficient capacity and support at the local level as well as for second and third level support.
This includes, first and foremost, respecting and upholding the treaties, the AFN said.
2. First Nations need a statutory guarantee for funding of education, enough money for Canada to meet its obligations.
“First Nations education requires funding that is stable, predictable and responsive to First Nations education,” the AFN said. “The elimination of gaps in funding is required.”
3. Education initiatives must enable and support systems “to provide full immersion and grounding of all education in Indigenous languages and cultures,” the AFN said, adding that full knowledge of a person’s people, values, customs and languages is essential for a First Nations person to know him or herself fully as a human being.
“First Nations education recognizes community and requires the inclusion of First Nations wisdom, knowledge and languages; it requires teaching and learning in those languages and cultures. Language and culture must be funded as core curriculum,” The AFN said. “In addition, cultural experts, elders and parents must be fully engaged in the First Nations education system.”
4. Reform must include mechanisms that give First Nations control of, and support, their own education.
“The opportunity to design systems, codes and laws must also be present as First Nations move forward at their own pace determining their options for exercising First Nation control of First Nation education,” the AFN said. “Parental involvement and parental responsibility assured by transparent local control is the basis for First Nations education.”
5. Lastly, any reform must incorporate a meaningful support process that involves working within and reflecting First Nations rights and jurisdiction, the AFN said.
Canada must commit to direct dialogue and discussion throughout development including regulation and establishing agreements with First Nations communities specific to their approach to advance education including through Treaty implementation or other agreement.”