For decades, the Assembly of Firsts Nations have fought in Canada to gain control of their education system. A past fraught with residential schools that stripped them of their culture and experiments where their children served as test subjects has only emphasized their desire and need for educational control, reports Megan Dolski of the Canadian Press.
These past tragedies surfaced during a Whitehorse meeting where members discussed education reform. Some believe that federal policymakers have not learned from the mistakes of the past as they present the First National Education Act to Parliament this fall.
“The pattern in which the federal government has approached this (legislation) hasn’t broken the pattern we are looking to break,” Assembly of First Nations Chief Shawn Atleo said in an interview.
Participants at the Whitehorse meeting issued a statement asking Canada to work with First Nations as partners on a path to progress
The Federal government believes they are adopting the wishes of the Assembly of First Nations. Since 2012 they have been working on legislation that was written under the consult of aboriginal communities. They claim they have met with 600 people and received written input from 600 more to develop a framework to allow First Nations to establish their own education system.
The Assembly of First Nations unanimously opposed the government blueprint of the legislation they received earlier this month, identifying 7 major points of contention.
That motion pointed to Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s 2008 Residential Schools apology and cited his statement that “this policy of assimilation is wrong, has caused great harm, and has no place in our country.”
The motion said the impending legislation “denies” the primary importance of First Nations languages and cultures.
It also cited a failure to: affirm First Nation control over First Nation Education; apply the successful lessons learned by First Nations; and address historic funding shortfalls.
The Department of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development education funds were capped at a 2% increase each year since 1997. The aboriginal population is growing at a much faster rate than funding; from 2006 to 2011 the population grew 20%.
The Assembly of First Nations says the shortfall has been $3 billion since 1996.
Steps to fight the legislation have been taken by provincial bodies. First Nations communities in Quebec commissioned a firm to give legal opinion on whether the government’s consultation process respected its constitutional obligations.
In Saskatchewan the Federation of Indian Nations has been developing their own education act before the federal government can beat them to it.
Nippissing Univeristy President Michael DeGagne believes there is a misunderstanding between native and non-native leaders, but hope remains that the two sides can reach a compromise.
“Aboriginal people are not saying, ‘Give us control of our education,’ because they want control,” he said in an interview later.
“They are asking for control so they can have better outcomes.”
DeGagne stressed repeatedly that doing so did not mean lowering standards, something he said is feared by non-native policy-makers.
“It just means educating in a different way,” he said in the interview. “The way aboriginal people look at the world is not second-rate, and we have to give ourselves credit for that.”