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Indigenous Nationhood

Pamela Palmater's picture
Dr. Pamela D. Palmater is a Mi'kmaw lawyer and member of the Eel River Bar First Nation in New Brunswick. She teaches Indigenous law, politics and governance at Ryerson University and heads their Centre for Indigenous Governance.

Recognize Aboriginal rights and say 'no' to the First Nations Education Act

| February 11, 2014
First Nations Administration Office, Attawapiskat First Nation

On Friday Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada (AANDC) Bernard Valcourt and National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) Shawn Atleo announced "re-tooled" education legislation. It should be pointed out that despite all the hype leading up to this announcement, there is no actual legislation to scrutinize. So, what did First Nations get from this announcement? 

The Prime Minister explained that this legislation is an agreement between Shawn Atleo of the AFN and Harper's government. For Harper, this is about filling the labour shortage with Canada's fastest growing population -- First Nations -- not about addressing socio-economic conditions imposed on First Nations through Canada's archaic funding formulas which purposefully and chronically underfund First Nations in comparison to provincial residents. 

He also referenced the many employers who sat in the audience ready to hire and train high school students. We all know from past announcements this means hiring First Nations to be the pick and shovel labourers for mining companies and other extractive industries. This is about creating a new kind of dependence for First Nations -- dependence on labour jobs from extractive industries to undermine attempts by their leaders to defend their territories and the resources on them.

Minister Valcourt also stated that they are looking at this legislation through an "economic lens" and not a treaty or inherent right lens. Therefore, the inherent right to be self-determining and exercise our own jurisdiction over education does not play into this legislation. He reconfirmed that Atleo was instrumental in the agreement which will ensure "stable and predictable oversight" by the federal government. He further noted that this legislation is about "Canada". The Conservative government is not hiding their intentions here: it is assimilation into the body politic as they have stated over and over again.

During the brief question period, Harper confirmed that the legislation was about the deal he struck with Atleo -- uniform standards, curriculum and accountability. Atleo didn't really say much of anything to add to the announcement. It looked more like a political endorsement of the Harper Government for their 2015 election than anything else.

One lone woman stood up and stated that AFN and Harper did not consult with all First Nations and that she stood as a Treaty 6 person in objection to the legislation. The protestors on the ground were not permitted inside, so we could not hear their voices.

Here's a quick look at today's "promises":

(1) There will be legislation, with a new name, but not shared today;

(2) The regulations will be drafted later;

(3) The focus of the legislation will be on provincial training, provincial rules, provincial certification, provincial curriculum and provincial standards (emphasis on provincial);

(4) The legislation will impose "transparency and accountability" on First Nations as opposed to give First Nations any real control;

(5) There will be funding, but not until 2015 and/or 2016 (after Harper's term);

(6) The funding will not be based on need or in line with the treaty right to education. Instead, an "elevator" (a.k.a. "cap") will be placed at 4.5 per cent; and

(7) There is nothing to address the funding crisis in First Nation post-secondary education.

It should be noted that nowhere in the announcement was there any description of whether this funding was "new funding" in addition to the current core funding; whether it is re-purposed monies from education or other programs that have been cut; or how this funding will be accessed by "non-willing partners" -- that is, those First Nations who reject the legislation.

This appears to be more about deflecting the nasty publicity around the increasing litigation and human rights claims being brought by First Nations in relation to discriminatory funding in areas like education, housing and child and family services. The future funding promised after Harper's term could evaporate as easily as the Kelowna Accord did when the Liberal term ended. A promise about future money, doesn't educate First Nations kids now.

None of it is really new. This announcement is just re-packaging of old promises that have taken years to come to fruition: 

(1) Election platform -- promised adult education and skills training (note announcement yesterday on skills); 

(2) AFN-Harper Joint Action Plan -- promised national panel on education

(3) Crown-First Nation Gathering -- promised national panel

Then came the national panel to which AFN agreed, despite the objections of about half the First Nations in Canada. Saskatchewan, Ontario and Quebec pulled out of the national panel process and submitted their own reports in an unprecedented protest against AFN's unilateral actions.

This was followed by numerous AFN resolutions from the Chiefs in Assembly telling Atleo not to talk education legislation with Harper. And most will not forget Idle No More's rallying cry against the suite of legislation intended to be imposed on First Nations. AFN heard them and proceeded anyway. Atleo said he "respected their views" and proceeded anyway. This led to a large number of First Nations wanting to pull out of the AFN and set up their Treaty Alliance to protect their treaties. All this and Atleo still forges this deal with Harper.

The promise of future funding is being used as a carrot to gain support for legislation that has not even been shared with First Nations yet. They are hoping that we are desperate enough to support this plan before we can see the army inside the Trojan Horse.

This is really about tricking First Nations into voluntarily turning their treaty right to fully-funded education into a program privilege that is subject to federal legislation, control and budgets. Even without treaties, First Nations have internationally protected rights to be self-determining, they have specific jurisdiction over their own education and a right to funded education.

This proposed legislation is meant to strike down any attempts at litigation against discriminatory funding -- which they likely wish they could do with Cindy Blackstock's case against discriminatory funding in Child and Family Services.

This is just another delay tactic. While we sit in meetings, the natural resources are removed from our territories. While we negotiate announcements, Justice Canada drafts the details of our surrender.

Had the Emperor actually looked at what his tailor had sewn for him, he'd have realized that he wasn't wearing any clothes, despite the fact that people he trusted told him how wonderful he looked.

It's always our choice. We can choose to say no. Canada does not need legislation to properly fund education. Remember what was promised today: nothing. But we stand to lose a great deal in supporting this legislation.

Recognize First Nation jurisdiction over education.

Implement the treaty right to education.

Properly fund First Nation education.

Say no to FNCFNEA.

Image: wikimedia commons 




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