The Assembly of First Nations issues regular updates on work underway at the national office.
More information can be found at www.afn.ca.
I am honoured to communicate with you following a time of reflection, restoration and family gatherings that the holidays represent. It is exciting to look towards a new year filled with the promise of opportunity for real change.
The 2014 federal budget is expected to be tabled in February. The Assembly of First Nations (AFN) engages in advocacy in advance of the budget through a number of avenues, including submissions to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance for inclusion in their recommendations to the Minister of Finance for priorities in the budget. This year was no exception. Priorities were identified by the AFN Executive responding to direction from First Nations leadership. These priorities included new fiscal arrangements and investments in education, skills and training, infrastructure, water, housing, preventing violence, policing, justice and healing programs.
We have been instructed this year to place clear emphasis on securing resources for First Nations education.
First Nations have repeatedly made the case that addressing the shortfalls in education transfers to First Nations schools is critical to the success of our children. These shortfalls have been made worse by the 2% cap imposed on education funding in the mid-1990s and they must be addressed. However, what we are seeking is more than simply bridging the gap. Instead, we are looking to ensure First Nations students have sustainable education systems that support culturally-grounded education.
In November, at the direction of the Chiefs Committee on Education, I wrote to the Minister of Finance outlining the case for stable, predictable, sustainable and equitable funding for First Nations education. This would require immediate investments in classroom-level funding to close the gap coupled with a commitment to annual escalators so that investments do not once again fall behind. Funding is also required to support existing regional First Nation Education Organizations and where necessary create new ones, support language and cultural programming and to construct new schools and maintain existing schools to acceptable standards.
At the December 2013 Special Chiefs Assembly, Chiefs unanimously expressed their support for putting children at the centre of our efforts and approaches and directed that we take all necessary steps to press Canada to respond to the factors required for them to achieve success. Consistent with the resolution, we are working to secure a commitment to First Nations control of First Nations education that respects and recognizes inherent rights, title, Treaty rights and jurisdiction; enables and supports systems to provide full immersion and grounding of all education in Indigenous languages and cultures; develop mechanisms to oversee, evaluate and provide for reciprocal accountability and remove unilateral federal oversight and authority; and ensure a meaningful support process to address these conditions through a commitment to working together through co-development, fully reflective of First Nations rights and jurisdiction. And, as set out in the resolution, a precondition for this success is a statutory guarantee for sustainable funding that reflects needs-based costs of delivering First Nations education.
The government has signaled publicly that this is to be an ‘austerity’ budget with few new investments. First Nations have been living under austerity conditions for too long – we know that investments in our children are investments in the future of our Nations and in the future of Canada. Budget 2012 previously committed to “explore new funding mechanisms to ensure stable, predictable and sustainable funding for First Nations elementary and secondary education.” We know what is needed for First Nations children. We cannot, must not and will not push this off for another generation – we must achieve this fundamental change now.
We continue to press our case with the Government of Canada and with the Canadian public. We are removing every excuse not to act. We will be closely watching the upcoming federal budget and will be sure to provide you with information and analysis. The time is now to invest in First Nations to build a stronger country for all our people.