Communiqué from National Chief Shawn Atleo – Special Bulletin on First Nations Education

on February 4, 2014

February 2014

Special Bulletin on First Nations Education

Action on First Nations Control of First Nations Education

As noted in last month’s Bulletin, the Government of Canada is tabling the federal budget on February 11, 2014.  In advance of every federal budget, the AFN presses forward specific priorities as set by First Nations in resolution and by the National Executive through the pre-budget process.  This year, additional efforts have been made to continue our advocacy for action on First Nation education through direct correspondence to the federal Finance Minister and the House of Commons Committee on Finance.

Fairness for First Nations children has been our shared priority since the early ‘70s through our push for ‘Indian control of Indian education’.  In 2009, at my first Assembly as National Chief, we reaffirmed our support for our youth and students and set education as a top priority.  In June 2010, we stood together to launch the “Call to Action on First Nation Education” at N’bsiing Secondary School in Nipissing First Nation.  The Call to Action built on our national strategic plan and resolution, calling for support and partnership to recreate learning environments within our communities, recognizing the critical need for full First Nation community participation, engagement and control.  It set clear principles on the need for Canada to respect our rights and responsibilities, establish a statutory guarantee for funding for our youth, support for systems development and curriculum on language and culture.

Our advocacy efforts included a major rally in September 2010 where we joined student walkers from Kitigan-Zibi Anishinabeg, marching together to Parliament Hill, honouring the tremendous leadership of our youth like the late Shannen Koostachin.   Dozens of organizations across the country supported our ‘call to action’ including universities and colleges, student and teachers federations, chambers of commerce, business, unions, civil society, and even provincial and territorial governments.

There have been a number of milestones including successive Auditor-General reports, Senate reports and important  consensus motions in Parliament, such as the one in 2013 supporting ‘Shannen’s Dream’ and fair, equitable funding for First Nation students.

I look as well to the interim report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission that highlighted the words of survivors speaking to their own healing journeys, clearly expressing their hope for change so that all First Nations children will have the opportunities in education that were denied to them: to be nurtured in their language and culture and to be supported within their families and communities. 

While our Nations are diverse, we all agree that the status quo is not acceptable.  We agree that fundamental reform is required based on our vision and framework for First Nations control of First Nation education.  And we all agree that this generation of children must not wait. 

We’ve seen increased attention and increased mobilization of our peoples across the country.  First Nations clearly rejected the current federal proposal on First Nations education and called for a vigorous effort to advance reform through First Nations control supported by fair, sustainable funding.  In an Open Letter to the Federal Minister on November 25th, 2013, sent to all First Nations, I reiterated our firm opposition to any initiatives or efforts aimed at unilateral control.  Referencing the apology and commitment to reconciliation, we set clear conditions grounded in resolutions and mandate to achieve the change First Nations envision and demand.

At our 2013 December Special Chiefs Assembly, extensive dialogue and debate took place over several days resulting in national consensus that First Nations will put our children first, equipping them with the systems and supports they need, that we will demand fairness and that we have a clear plan of action, our policy framework of First Nations Control of First Nations Education.  .  Resolution 21/2013 affirmed our rejection of the October 2013 federal proposal and mandated a clear path forward based on respect for First Nations jurisdiction and Treaties and rights, a statutory guarantee of funding, resources for language and culture, reciprocal accountability and ongoing meaningful dialogue.

On December 13, 2013, Minister Valcourt sent an Open Letter to all First Nations acknowledging that change is long overdue and it must be done together. He wrote: “The government agrees that First Nations must have control over their education.”  The Chair of our Chiefs Committee on Education, Regional Chief Morley Googoo together with the mover and seconder of resolution 21/2013, Grand Chief Doug Kelly and Chief Joe Miskokomon, pressed for clarity from the Minister on moving forward on the resolution and setting a clear way forward in mutual respect and partnership.

A meeting occurred on January 27th with a follow-up report that same day to the National Executive of the AFN.  Today, February 4th, a meeting of the Chiefs Committee on Education took place as well to keep advancing the terms of our resolution and our advocacy to achieve reform consistent with First Nation control of First Nation education. 

Let me be clear: achieving this change requires investment, it requires recognition of rights and it must enable every First Nation, every Treaty area and region to advance and negotiate education systems  that reflect their languages and cultures while ensuring that every First Nation child has the benefit of systems and supports enabling their success.  There is no one size fits all model.  Respecting and reflecting diversity is essential.  

I want to thank all of you who have been reaching out, responding and engaging in this important work.  There have been conversations and contributions with so many citizens, leaders and experts.  So many have helped as well to reflect back on where we have come from, pointing to our successes and helping us see the way forward.  Reflections by people like Verna Kirkness, Leroy Littlebear, Lorna Williams, Elinor Bernard, and Diane Longboat are captured in the framework discussed at the Chiefs Committee on Education and will serve as the foundation for upcoming discussions on how you and your First Nation want to drive change in education.

In closing, let me reiterate the appreciation I feel for all of the voices and all of the efforts underway in our communities every day.  During my time as National Chief I have travelled to nearly one hundred schools across all regions and have had the chance to sit with our educators and our students.  This has confirmed a deep resolve to keep pressing no matter how difficult.  Our work as leaders is strengthened by the clarity of direction. 

The status quo has been rejected.  A unilateral approach of government has been rejected.  Now, First Nations are driving the way forward and we do so, in accordance with the UNDRIP standards that call for a process of mutual respect and partnership between states and indigenous peoples and as in articles 14 and 15 confirm the standard of First Nation control and full and equitable access to meaningful education opportunities for our children. 

We will take every opportunity to stand up for fairness for our children.  We will continue to find the ways to work together. There is a growing consensus and support throughout all sectors and regions of Canada that investment is needed for our kids right now.   First Nations have a clear plan and we will, together, achieve change for our children.  

Kleco, Kleco!

rdbrinkhurstCommuniqué from National Chief Shawn Atleo – Special Bulletin on First Nations Education
Assembly of First Nations