BY HEATHER COLLINS
Treaty 3 chiefs recently came together to unanimously reject Federal Government legislation that would standardize First Nation Education, as well push for accountability for the condition of on-reserve schools.
The group consisted of members of the Association of Iroquois and Allied Indians, Chiefs of Ontario (COO), and the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) Chiefs Committee on Education. Ontario Regional Chief Stan Beardy stated in a media release:
“This draft bill is about the federal government attempting to transfer their liabilities onto First Nations while providing no additional funding. The bill is yet another assault on our treaty rights and another example of the federal government’s intent to turn their backs on their treaty obligations. This bill will compromise the quality of education that we are able to provide for our children and youth. Despite the many voices against this bill from First Nations across Canada, the federal government is charging ahead.”
Treaty 3, negotiated in the 1870s, set out specific goals for First Nations in the territory. Within the treaty, First Nations in the Treaty 3 were entitled to have an equal right to education including a properly functioning school on every reserve. Earlier this year, the federal government met with Treaty 3 representatives to discuss the creation of a new piece of legislature called the First Nation Education Act. The proposed act aimed to fix many pressing inequities in Aboriginal education.
“Our government firmly believes that all First Nation students across Canada deserve access to a school system that meets provincial and territorial standards, while respecting First Nation culture, language, rights and treaties,” said Bernard Valcourt, minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development when the legislation was first introduced in October. “The draft legislative proposal for First Nation education would put in place a system that is accountable to students, and ensures that First Nation students have access, like all Canadians, to a good education.”
But Treaty 3 Grand Chief, Warren White says “one size can’t fit all.”
“That’s why the grand council is requesting our own process because we have diversity and unique needs. We know what the inequities are, we know what schools are needed, we did our own investigation three years ago. We know where the gaps are, what the shortfalls are in all of the areas of the band-operated schools.”
“There is a major change on the horizon that will affect us all as First Nations and also our education organizations…we see that we have a very important decision to make. We basically have two options from our perspective: that the changes will be made by us or change will be made for us.” Added Deputy Grand Chief Goyce Kakegamic at Treaty’s 3 fall assembly in Lac Seul Oct. 22-24.
Representatives of Treaty 5 and Treaty 9 territory have also shown opposition to the legislation.
In November 2011, Treaty 3 filed a $100-million lawsuit against the Federal Government of Canada claiming that the treaty has been breached and many schools on reserves are disintegrating and becoming useless, while some reserves don’t have schools at all. The case is scheduled to appear in court in January 2014.