On February 7, 2014, Assembly of First Nations (AFN) National Chief Shawn Atleo stood with Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada (AANDC) Bernard Valcourt and announced a "historic deal" on First Nations education. They announced that the federal government would change the name of education legislation to First Nations Control of First Nations Education Act, together with $1.9 billion in future monies.
Since then, First Nations have been trying to figure out on what authority AFN made this deal on our behalf, and what exactly this deal entails. Every time that Atleo or Harper speaks, it becomes more and more apparent that Atleo and Harper are NOT of the same mind in terms of what this "deal" entails. In case anyone had any doubt about the fragile, if non-existent agreement between AFN and Harper, one need only refer to the letter from AFN dated Feb.28, 2014 requesting clarifications from the Harper government about what the deal means.
You don't have to hire a lawyer to know that you never ever commit to a deal without knowing what the deal is -- that is, get the details in writing. Atleo's letter asks critical questions like:
- Is Canada committed to working with First Nations?;
- Will Canada "engage" or "collaborate" with First Nations on legislative drafting?;
- Will existing agreements and MOUs be honoured by Canada?;
- Is the funding new funding?; and
- Is the funding secure?
It is almost unbelievable that the AFN would be asking these critical questions AFTER the deal has already been made and announced. What's worse is that the AFN is asking these questions AFTER Atleo's many media appearances and their FAQ Sheet which purports to answer these questions. How can the AFN assure First Nations that they will get to "inform" the legislative drafting process and then a few weeks later, ask the federal government if they will work with First Nations on the legislation?
The joint Atleo-Harper announcement on February 7, 2014 and all the media statements by both parties in the days and weeks that followed is a clear indication that there is no common understanding. Here is a summary of how each side interpreted the "historic deal" (that has no written commitments):
What AFN/Atleo Said
Respects & recognizes rights, title & treaties
Incorporates reciprocal accountability
No federal oversight
Statutory guarantee of funding to address "real costs" of education
Funding is guaranteed
AFN will "inform" legislative process
Limited "enabling" legislation
New deal for First Nations
Allows for diversity
What Harper/Valcourt Said
Not about rights, it's about social development
Ensures transparent & accountable First Nations
Feds will provide the standards, reporting and other oversight mechanisms to "ensure" First Nations meet "new" standards
4.5 per cent cap on funding (versus 6 per cent pop growth)
Funding will be for "willing partners"
Feds will draft legislation and regulations
Full "comprehensive" education legislation
What's best for Canada
Same standards for all First Nations
If this is THE deal (historic, but unwritten); which promises First Nation control (federal control of First Nations); and capped funding (future monies less than what is needed to take on new responsibilities); and a new relationship (where we voluntarily give up our treaty right to education) -- then NO DEAL.
But we already told Atleo NO DEAL. We told him during Idle No More, we told him when the Chiefs marched on Parliament against legislation, and we told him when Ontario, Quebec and Saskatchewan pulled out of National Panel on Education. Atleo needs to start listening.
It's not hard - the problem has been identified in 100 studies: lack of real First Nation control, lack of funding and lack of culture and language in schools. The solutions have already been identified as well: First Nation control, adequate funding and culture and language. Legislation has never been required to do the right thing. It's an Aboriginal, inherent and treaty right that is protected in Canadian and international law. The government doesn't need legislation to respect the rule of law.
No amount of political spin can hide the swindle of the century -- legislating the future of our Nations out of existence by standardizing "the Indian in the child" to be like every other Canadian.
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