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“Achieving Shared Success: The Path from Poverty to Prosperity”

on February 5, 2014

[Traditional greetings] 

Good afternoon and thank you for welcoming me to the Toronto Region Board of Trade. 

Let me first begin by acknowledging the Mississaugas of New Credit and thank them for allowing this important discussion to take place in their territory. 

As I began in my language – Nuu chah nulth – this is how we begin – expressing appreciation and respect and recalling that we are connected – we all have relationships.  ‘He shook ish tsawalk’ in my language – a fundamental philosophy of the importance of relationships within families, between communities, between people and the natural world. These relationships are critical to every one of us as they were in the past, so they are again today. 

I’m honoured to be part of the RBC Diversity Dialogue Series and to continue the discussion, to learn and share with you and to talk today about the opportunities and benefits of supporting First Nations success as a way to spark success for all Canadians. 

These issues and opportunities have always been important to First Nations and now, more than ever, there is growing awareness that these issues are important for all of us. 

I’ve spoken often about the enduring relationship between First Nations and the rest of Canada, specifically the proud heritage of Indigenous Nations and the Treaties and other agreements my ancestors made with yours.  I have spoken about how these Treaties, these sacred promises from our shared past, point the  way forward to our shared future. 

Last year at the Canadian Club, I spoke about the economics of reconciliation and the related requirement to recognize our rights, for action on education, inclusion and capacity building as the key to unlocking the full potential of our people. 

Today I want to continue the story of hope and opportunity for First Nations and all of Canada by outlining the role of First Nations in shaping the Canadian economy, and the many opportunities and benefits of working towards sustainable, self-reliant and thriving First Nation economies. 

I’ll highlight the potential of First Nations in driving their own solutions in ways that reflect and respect our rights and our responsibilities to the land and the next generation.  I will point to the importance of First Nations as full participants in the economic life of this country, and how key investments in critical priorities creates a win-win for First Nations and all Canadians. 

First Nations have much to offer and Canada has much to gain. We know there is work to do, right now. 

The sad and stark realities of First Nation communities can be considered a national shame.  Canada rates 11th on the UN Human Development Index, but First Nations rank 63rd.  Many Canadians have no idea that thousands of First Nations children are living well below the poverty line. They don’t have a school to go  to; they don’t have running water in their homes. We have children living in houses that rely on wood stoves or a diesel generator for heat.  Homes are so over-crowded that families sleep in shifts so the children can get some rest for school. In some remote communities, the doctor only visits once a month.

Families struggle to provide a good meal because a litre of milk costs $15, and a single green pepper will run you almost $10. 

This reality is hidden from far too many people and too many Canadians, making it all the more easy to take the easy way out and blame the victim.  I’ve read opinion pieces by pundits who say the problem with First Nations education is that parents aren’t teaching their children that education is important. This conveniently leaves aside the reality that more than 60 First Nations communities don’t even have schools for the children to go to and in other communities our students sit shivering in unheated portables. 

But it’s equally important that Canadians see the hope and potential of First Nations, as I do in my many travels and visits to First Nation communities from coast to coast to coast. The spark in the eyes of our young people is what keeps me going, and that must be the impetus for change for all of us – like young Jaden in northern Manitoba. 

It is this spark – this resilience – this unrelenting desire for a better future that will drive the change we all need to see.  And it’s happening. 

Now is a time of unprecedented engagement by First Nations – whether it’s asserting their rights to their land on the ground or in the courts, advocating and pressing governments and industry at negotiation tables, pursuing legal challenges and human rights complaints to demand equity for our children, or driving solutions and direct initiatives at the community level. We are seeing more and more an “all hands on deck” approach by our peoples.  Just last week, the Supreme Court of Canada affirmed the commercial fishing rights of my people the Nuu chah nulth – a decade long legal battle that we kept winning only to have the crown appeal and delay.  Canada took this case all the way to the Supreme Court rather than sit with my nation to move forward on implementation of a new economic partnership. Well on Thursday the Supreme Court finally denied leave for Canada to carry on its fight any further. It’s the end of the road and finally my people have their rights upheld and the prospect of stable economic opportunity – rights that were always ours – respected. 

It doesn’t have to be this way and it shouldn’t. 

Expensive legal battles cost everyone.  I would be very interested to know what the cost to the tax payer was of Canada fighting my people.  And unfortunately, our case is not the exception. There are literally hundreds of cases just like ours before the courts.  All Canadians must demand accountability for these costs and the costs to all for inaction in moving forward on implementation and opportunity. 

Our people are ready for the hard work and the hills we need to climb, but we can move faster and farther if we move together. We are calling on governments, industry and all Canadians to commit to change with us.  Now is our time. The landscape is changing and the people are moving. 

Now is the time for fundamental and transformative change – a true moment of reckoning, as I see it – where it is incumbent on each and every one of us to embrace this potential, support it and empower it, to educate and employ First Nations, to support them in asserting their rights and title, to build our economies and engage in opportunities and partnerships. This is the road to success. This is the road to productivity and prosperity for all of us. 

My work as National Chief is about advocating for change – supporting the rights of First Nations across this country and facilitating approaches that will smash the status quo. This is about rights, Treaties and title but that also means it’s about schools for our kids, homes and health care for our families, justice for residential school survivors and action on missing and murdered women. Our agenda, like our worldview, is holistic and inter-connected. 

Our approach is always to be strategic. The needs are great so we need to identify the critical areas – the foundational areas – where action and investments will support our over-arching agenda. 

Of course in a matter of days the federal government will table the 2014 budget. I am constantly asked about my expectations? Well like you, I cannot predict, but I can tell that expectations are high because the opportunity is so rich and the imperatives are so clear. 

First Nations have put forward a plan – as we do in every budget cycle – that is strategic, reasonable and will benefit all Canadians. 

Without getting too deep into numbers and the layers of jurisdiction and bureaucracy, it is important to recognize that there are clear inequities.  Funding for critical social services on reserve has been capped at a mere 2% increase since 1996 at the same time as rates in provinces have risen at double or triple this rate.  In successive Auditor General reports, it has been clearly pointed out that there are serious structural impediments to First Nation success by the very way in which funds are transferred in an ad hoc, scattered and heavily bureaucratized fashion creating uncertainly, delays and an utter lack of sustainability in many First Nations.  Removing the arbitrary two per cent cap and setting out to create a reasonable fair rate of growth could reduce the number of First Nations children living in poverty by half.  Rather than propping up a billion dollar bureaucracy – that is the annual cost to tax payers of Aboriginal Affairs – we must create stable, fair models that result in real supports directly for our kids and families. 

Of course, decades and decades of unilateral decisions by government and vast underfunding will not be solved in a single budget cycle.  So the investments we’re proposing are aimed at creating a strong foundation that we can build on. 

Now I want to be clear – reform and reconciliation do require resources but reform and reconciliation are not only about resources. There are other actions and initiatives required.  Key investments in priority areas is not about cutting a cheque to First Nations or about status quo, band-aid solutions unilaterally designed and implemented by the government. This is about First Nations participating fully, designing and implementing solutions to drive change across the board – First Nations control of First Nations education, educated and employable citizens, adequate housing, driving our economies and participating in the country’s economy, and justice for our peoples, all based on rights and title and responsibilities and the Treaties. 

Education is a key priority for First Nations across this country and has been for decades.  Action on education is absolutely essential to unleash the full potential of First Nations citizens and communities.  It allows us to build the skills and capacities necessary to control our destiny and contribute to the country’s economic, political and cultural life. We can all agree that education is essential to long-term economic stability and prosperity. Education is an investment that reaps massive dividends for all of us. 

We have the youngest, fastest-growing population in the country, this at a time when mainstream Canada is ageing and retiring. This is going to strain our resources for health care, pensions and social services. But as Canada ages, our youth are coming of age.  I’ve said it before: investing in First Nations education is a long-term economic stimulus plan for this country. We must start now. 

We are seeking stable, predictable and sustainable funding for First Nations education.  Right now, our students are being shortchanged by the system, and we all lose.  First Nations schools are still funded using a 25 year old funding formula designed to provide education services in the 1980s. This is compounded by the 2% cap I mentioned earlier. 

Very basically, the ongoing cost of the status quo in terms of productivity and increased support requirements for First Nations is over $12 billion per year. 

Core funding through a stable funding schedule will allow First Nations to engage in multi-year planning within their communities and with educational partners.  Predictable funding through a new statutory First Nations Education Funding guarantee would enable First Nations schools to provide instruction and programs comparable to the provinces and territories, and build systems that embrace and embed our languages and cultures. 

In advance of the upcoming budget, we provided the Finance Minister with our best estimate of the investments required to achieve stable, predictable and sustainable funding for First Nations education based on a 10-year outlook. We incorporated a range of reasonable, necessary investments – for schools, classroom-level funding, language and culture, curriculum and comparable escalators. Our plan is based on closing the education gap between First Nations and other Canadians. 

I spoke earlier about the sobering and staggering statistics surrounding First Nations poverty.  In addition to the legal and constitutional impetus for change in terms of engaging First Nations, there’s an economic imperative for investing in our peoples and our nations. 

There is a First Nations right to education, and we will fight for it. There is a moral responsibility for all of us to ensure every child has opportunity and a fair start. But beyond that, if we only look at the bottom line we can see that there’s a mutual interest in action on education. 

First Nations can help eliminate poverty.  By investing in our people through education, skills training and employment opportunities, we can take significant strides together in ensuring First Nation participation in the economy.  In fact, according to the Centre for the Study of Living Standards, if we can raise First Nations education and employment levels to the Canadian average, we’ll add $400 billion to the economy over the coming years and reduce social costs by $115 billion. 

By investing in a skilled, trained and educated First Nations workforce, we will address the growing shortage of skilled workers and ensure Canada remains competitive and productive for years to come. 

The private sector is way ahead of the public sector. The Canadian Council of Chief Executives has highlighted the opportunities and advantages of investing in First Nations skills development and capacity, and at the same time emphasized the need for respectful partnerships with First Nations. These actions are directly linked, and they echo what First Nations have been saying for decades. 

I realize many of you here today could be asking how your interests will factor into the political and economic policy decisions. While First Nations continue to press governments, we are taking our message to all Canadians, and the business sector is an influential one. 

At a time when resource development is driving the Canadian economy, we must engage Indigenous nations like never before.  Our unique rights and responsibilities require a more robust form of engagement. The recent report by the Prime Minister’s Special Representative, Douglas Eyford, looking into economic development and First Nations in western Canada makes some instructive, illuminating points, one being that First Nations cannot be viewed as simply another stakeholder in development.

There is a legal, constitutional duty to consult and accommodate our interests and rights, title and jurisdiction. First Nations look to the standard of free, prior and informed consent as articulated in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. To break it down to a simple phrase, our mantra should be “engage early and engage often.” 

Another important point made by Mr. Eyford is that First Nations do not view development as simply an economic opportunity, we see it in the context of the broader efforts aimed at reconciliation.  Reconciliation means respect for our rights. It means building and maintaining relationships. This generally does not happen through a one-shot consultation session or a tribunal hearing. It takes time and a real willingness to engage. 

It means building from the solid foundation of Treaties and other living agreements like Section 35 of the Constitution Act, and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. 

In the next 10 years more than 500 major economic projects representing $650 billion in new investments are planned across Canada, almost all of which will take place in and around First Nations lands and traditional territories and which will impact – or be impacted by – First Nation interests, rights and lands. 

Right here in Ontario, for example, the chromite mining development project known as the Ring of Fire in Treaty 9 territory has the potential to be a major contributor to the provincial and national economies.

However, that potential will only be realized if local First Nations are fully engaged and their rights are respected and recognized so that the community can ensure it fulfills its own responsibilities to the land – for today’s citizens and future generations. 

I want to to be clear: engagement is not a guarantee that any and every project will proceed. We will protect our lands, our citizens, our sacred spaces and way of life. But if any project is going to have a hope of proceeding, it requires genuine, active engagement with First Nations. 

But our development and opportunities agenda requires more than resource development and business opportunities.  First Nations will continue to stand up for and protect our most precious resource – our citizens. We must invest in the health and safety of our peoples to truly build safe and thriving communities and to truly achieve success. 

We are taking action across the board for our children and leading efforts to end violence against Indigenous women and girls across the country. 

Investments must be connected to the success of our peoples and we cannot be successful until each and every one of us is safe and secure. 

First Nations are ready.  Our shared success depends on getting this right – it depends on ensuring effective relationships, respectful of First Nation rights, responsibilities and Treaties, and respect for all that First Nations have to offer. It requires relationships and meaningful partnerships that recognize the value and return on investing in First Nation capacity and skills, and the requirement and good sense in recognizing the long-term governance interests of First Nations throughout their territories.

The right approaches will support and empower First Nation governments to drive solutions that work for their citizens based on their circumstances. We will be able to take control and responsibility for the decisions that affect our lives and our lands. The right approaches will be based on respect, recognition and partnership. It will transform our relationship and our realities. 

The upcoming federal budget is an opportunity to accelerate our momentum towards reconciliation and transformation. We will be watching.  But our commitment will not waiver.  Our people are mobilizing like never before and want to move, they want progress and they are taking action. 

But it’s not just about government investment. The work of transforming the reality of First Nations in this country is a job for all of us, just as in days of Treaty when established ongoing relationships that set the foundation for our journey together in this land. 

There is a role for everyone. We are all in this together. We are all Treaty people – we are all part of relationships that make Canada today. The more Canadians stand up and commit to fixing a broken system the sooner we will see the light of a new day of justice and fairness. 

We cannot afford to lose another generation. We have the solutions, we have the resources and we must apply the will and the wisdom to build a stronger country for all of us, to give life to the future envisioned by our ancestors – yours and mine. 

The spark of hope, the growing surge for change, keeps us going, and it must compel action now. 

This is what changes the game: the recognition that we are all in this together; that we all have shared interests; that what’s good for First Nations is good for the country, because strong First Nations make a stronger Canada.

Kleco, kleco

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rdbrinkhurst“Achieving Shared Success: The Path from Poverty to Prosperity”

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!

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

Communiqué from National Chief Shawn Atleo – January 2014

on January 23, 2014


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. 

2014 Budget

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.

Kleco, Kleco! 

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rdbrinkhurstCommuniqué from National Chief Shawn Atleo – January 2014

Communiqué from National Chief Shawn Atleo – December 2013

on January 13, 2014

The New Year holds the promise of opportunity for real change. I can assure you that your organization, the Assembly of First Nations, will be relentless in our pursuit of justice and fairness for our all our people. We will return to our original relations and come together as nations to set a path forward.  We will be focused and strategic to achieve results. This is about our rights and the future of our children.

AFN 2013 Special Chiefs Assembly

The Assembly of First Nations held its 2013 Special Chiefs Assembly from December 10-12, 2013 with preparatory sessions beginning December 9. Over 1,000 delegates and observers gathered in Gatineau, QC and reaffirmed a direction forward based on plans and priorities set by First Nations.

As most of you know, I was not at the Special Chiefs Assembly as I was invited to attend the memorial services for Madiba Nelson Mandela in South Africa as a representative of First Nations in Canada.  While this was a difficult decision given the timing, as many of you encouraged and then as the National Executive resolved and directed, it was important for us to directly participate in the honouring of Madiba on behalf of Indigenous peoples in Canada.  I want to thank all of the Regional Chiefs, the women’s, elders and youth councils for their direction and support to be in Johannesburg for the services.  I was able to perform a traditional Nuu-chah-nulth ceremony for Madiba as part of the services and did so, respectfully and humbly, on behalf of all Indigenous peoples in Canada. 

This year’s theme for our Assembly – “Drawing Strength from Within – Coming Together as Nations for Change” – resonated deeply as we reflected on the passing of Madiba and the need for reconciliation in Canada and recognition and respect for our rights, title and Treaties.

I want to thank the AFN Executive led the discussions and worked hard to make this meeting a success. Chiefs-in-Assembly unanimously reaffirmed the assertion of First Nation inherent rights, title, Treaties and jurisdiction as the way forward to take control of all activities that affect our lives, our lands and our citizens. This included our leaders unanimously standing in support of First Nations control of First Nations education and the 2010 policy framework of the same name as our direction forward.  First Nations do not support the current federal proposal for a bill and any approach on First Nations education must be consistent with our plan.  First Nations leaders also re-affirmed that Treaty implementation must be carried out by the citizens and by Treaty holders on a Treaty-by-Treaty basis as is our direction.

Overall, the AFN Special Chiefs Assembly was an opportunity for dialogue, reflection and strategizing on how to support First Nations as they fulfil their responsibilities to their citizens and reach for their aspirations as Nations.  First Nations engaged in ceremony.  We honoured leaders who have left us.  We heard from our youth and Elders.  Through dialogue and strategy we addressed priority areas like Comprehensive Claims Reform, Treaty Implementation, First Nations Control of First Nations Education, “Towards a First Nations Energy Strategy”, “Supporting Safety and Security for our People and Communities”, Indian Residential Schools, Youth Engagement, Health and International Priorities.  Resolutions discussed at the 2013 Special Chiefs Assembly are now being signed and will be made publicly available on the AFN website in the very near future.  All resolutions that were not discussed by Chiefs will be reviewed by the AFN Executive at their next meeting and then posted on the AFN website. I thank all of you who attended for dedicating your time and energy to be with us for these important deliberations. 

Update on Education 

On Friday, December 13, 2013, Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada Minister Bernard Valcourt wrote an Open Letter on First Nations education to me and all First Nations in response to the AFN’s Open Letter setting out our concerns on the federal proposal and our requirements and conditions for any approach on First Nations education. 

In his letter, the Minister states his objective to engage with First Nations in an open dialogue that would reflect the requirements set out in our national resolution.  Education remains a top priority and we will not rest before achieving success on our terms.  We encourage all to reflect on the national resolution and this letter and to bring forward your views. 

Our position is clear and reaffirmed by unanimous resolution at our Special Chiefs Assembly.  First Nations oppose the current federal proposal and are calling for negotiation founded on the principle of First Nations control of First Nations education that values our languages and cultures and is supported by stable, sustainable and fair funding.  

The Minister’s letter can be found on his website at:

[English]
http://www.aadnc-aandc.gc.ca/eng/1386958638702/1386958691700

[French]
http://www.aadnc-aandc.gc.ca/fra/1386958638702/1386958691700 

Taking Action to Address Crisis in Non-Insured Health Benefits Program

The Non-Insured Health Benefits (NIHB) program requires an immediate and fundamental transformation. The gap between First Nations and non-First Nations health outcomes continues to widen as First Nations do not have access to quality and equitable health products and services. NIHB is guided by the principle of “cost containment” rather than improving health outcomes.  This is about nothing less than the well-being of our children and families. 

At the AFN Special Chiefs Assembly, leadership spoke strongly about taking action to advocate and mobilize First Nations for change. 

AFN Ontario Regional Chief Stan Beardy, the Portfolio Holder for Health and Chair of the Chiefs Committee on Health, will oversee a campaign over the next several months to raise the profile of the NIHB file with policy-makers, politicians, mainstream Canadians, the media and other allied health organizations. The objective is to not only identify the problems but to create solutions. 

The AFN aims to increase political pressure to achieve real change in the NIHB program through engagement and action at both the national and regional levels. Regional Roundtables will be hosted by regional First Nations organizations (with support from the AFN) between January and the end of February, 2014. The goal is to hear regional input about the challenges and to obtain regionally inclusive solutions and options on the solutions. Following the Regional Roundtables, the AFN will host a two day National Policy Forum on NIHB in March 2014 in Ottawa.  Input and solutions derived from the 10 regional roundtables will feed into a policy position document and  concrete action plan that can be used by communities, regions, leadership and others to take action on addressing the disparities associated with NIHB. 

This action plan is to include a legislative/legal strategy and a communications strategy and will explore partnerships with national associations and organizations to generate increased political pressure to move the plan forward. Steps to develop these key partnerships have already begun. 

The AFN encourages Chiefs and First Nations citizens to become politically engaged on improving health outcomes and Non-Insured Health Benefits. Together, we will ensure that Canada fulfills its moral, legal and Treaty obligations to First Nations health. Watch for more details on the upcoming Regional Roundtables and National Forum on NIHB.  

Closing 

Being in South Africa for memorial services for Madiba was truly an incredible moment of history for Indigenous leadership and for all peoples around the globe.  He showed us that both courage and compassion define true leadership. Madiba showed the world that reconciliation is not only possible but essential. His words inspire and guide us now as we tackle the complex challenges before us “it always seems impossible until it’s done.”  Thanks to Madiba’s incredible legacy, our resolve is strengthened and our vision of a better day for our children is made more clear.

Please accept my sincere wishes for a wonderful holiday season with your families filled with love, joy and hope.  I look forward to seeing you all early in 2014 !!

Kleco, Kleco!

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rdbrinkhurstCommuniqué from National Chief Shawn Atleo – December 2013

Communiqué from the National Chief Shawn Atleo – November 4, 2013

on November 4, 2013

SPECIAL BULLETIN ON FIRST NATIONS EDUCATION

First Nations Education and the Federal Government’s
“Proposal for a Bill on First Nation Education”

First Nations have the power to create change for our kids right now

By now, all First Nations will have received the letter from Minister Valcourt and the Government of Canada regarding the proposal for a bill on First Nations Education sent on October 22nd, 2013.

On October 23rd, the AFN issued a statement in which Nova Scotia-Newfoundland Regional Chief Googoo (who Chairs the Chiefs Committee on Education) and I reiterated the First Nation position, consistent with decades of resolution from Chiefs across the country, on the priorities on education:

  • First Nations control;
  • Fair and stable funding and investment in our schools and our students; and the
  • Essential role that language and culture must play in nurturing the success of our students

 

First Nations education is of critical importance, and the release of the federal government’s proposal on First Nations education provides a new sense of urgency and also an opportunity.  We know that action is needed immediately on First Nations education and, in the interests of our children and our Nations, we must get it right, right now. 

I believe that together, we have the power to create the change needed for our kids – change that respects our rights, languages and cultures and nurtures every one of our children to achieve success. 

In 1972, together we said formally to Canada, “Indian control of Indian education” is an absolute requirement.  Since then we have collectively and consistently pressed for change based on our rights, our knowledge, languages and cultures.  As Justice Sinclair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission has said: “Education got us into this mess and education will get us out.” 

In many parts of the country, this change is already happening as our dedicated First Nation educators and leaders are achieving tremendous success through advancing clear plans and priorities for education.  The successes that are beginning to be achieved in First Nations education are in those very areas where First Nations have control and their solutions have been implemented. There is no one-size-fits-all approach and there must be full respect for regional diversity. The Mi’kmaq Kina’matnewey Agreement in Nova Scotia, enacted into law in 1999, is one such example.  Their graduation rates of 87.7% far exceed the provincial and national averages.  Compare this to the 35% graduation rates of First Nations on-reserve schools under the federal system who struggle with underfunding and no supports. 

Results prove that First Nations-led solutions far exceed the status quo. Results also demonstrate that all Governments must work as true partners with First Nations to achieve these outcomes.

First Nations education has never before captured public attention as it has right now.

In my view, we need to take the opportunity we have created together, keep this momentum created by the advocacy of First Nations leaders and drive forward our solutions now.  

On each of our priorities – we will press for change that reflects our position. We will be resolute in pressing the Government to uphold the clear directives provided by First Nations for:

  • Fair, equitable, sustainable funding;
  • First Nations control; and
  • Guaranteed inclusion of culture and language

 

First, we must have a guarantee of sustainable, fair funding. This funding must eliminate the caps and inequities and must guarantee rates of growth that respond to need.  This commitment must be made clearly and must be part of the Federal Budget.   Funding is currently being referenced only as something that would be determined later in regulation.  We know the gaps that exist and we must see investment – it must be delivered now.  As a result, we are intensifying our efforts to ensure that Budget 2014 reflects the investment needed in First Nation education. We cannot wait for 2015 or later to secure funding guarantees that are needed right now.  Our kids deserve more.  This guarantee must provide for fair funding that reflects the unique challenges our schools face, must immediately resolve discriminatory gaps in funding between our students and others, and support the development of systems to nurture children in their languages and cultures to achieve every success.  Funding is also essential to ensure that our students have safe and appropriate places to learn. 

Second, we must achieve First Nation control of First Nation education.  This is the only way that we will have successful educational institutions that meet our standards and needs.  We must have school systems that are fully accountable to First Nation children and their parents and that monitor success and constantly strive for improvement.  To achieve this success, we do not require delegation or oversight by the Minister or any other ministerial appointed administrator.  Such unilateral authority smacks of the disastrous policies of the past that continue to victimize our communities and families.  Every First Nation must be able to design their own standards, standards that meet or exceed provincial standards, but are uniquely designed to reflect language, culture and their ways of learning and knowing. 

Finally, while the importance of language and culture is referenced we must see an explicit link to the funding supports required.  There must be a guarantee that First Nations language and culture will play a vital role in First Nations education.  Key to reconciliation and to healing from the residential schools era is ensuring we re-build this learning.  Where residential schools were an effort to tear apart families and eliminate our languages and cultures – successful education systems will foster the re-building and reconnecting through language and culture programming and curricula for our students, revitalizing our communities. 

We will be relentless in our advocacy to advance First Nation control of First Nation education and to nurture and support the success of our children.  Fortunately, we can all be guided by the voices, ideas and plans of our Elders, our own education experts and our education leaders who crafted the first statement and the renewal of this statement along with an implementation plan at our Annual General Assembly in 2010. 

We know the way forward, and I encourage all of you to share your comments and ideas. Together, we will continue to drive forward this priority.  We will stand firm but we will not stand still.  We will achieve success according to our direction, our rights and imperatives now.

The Assembly of First Nations will be preparing a full analysis of the federal proposal and potential next steps.  As part of this work, we will be organizing a national technical briefing and discussion forum in the coming weeks to go over every aspect of the federal proposal assessed against our “First Nation control of First Nation education” implementation strategy as well as the full requirements for reconciliation.  The Chiefs Committee on Education will also be meeting to review information, analyses and strategies.  We encourage every First Nation and organization to share your views on how you see driving forward First Nation control of First Nation education.  We are also asking our national AFN Youth Council to discuss and provide their thoughts and direction at their upcoming 4th National Youth Summit being held November 18-21 in Treaty #6 territory in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. 

I remain steadfast in my resolve to make every effort on every front to drive these requirements now.  First Nations control over First Nations education, respectful partnerships, and commitments to fair, sustainable and predictable funding to support the creation of effective First Nations education systems are all essential elements.  Education systems must foster hope and opportunity, must respect First Nations rights and be grounded in First Nations cultures and languages. 

We can and will seize this opportunity to get it right.  We cannot leave this work to another time or to another generation – this is for our children now. 

We will continue to keep you informed of any and all developments on this important matter. 

Kleco, Kleco!

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rdbrinkhurstCommuniqué from the National Chief Shawn Atleo – November 4, 2013

Communiqué from the National Chief Shawn Atleo – October 2013

on October 31, 2013

Given recent developments in the Atlantic region, and together with Regional Chief Roger Augustine, we would like to offer an update on behalf of the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) regarding recent meetings with the leadership and citizens of Elsipogtog First Nation, other regional leadership and the Mi’kmaq Grand Council. This recent meeting was an opportunity to express support for the community, to address the safety of all citizens to protect their lands and waters and also to discuss the broader issues of the imperative of respect for Indigenous title and rights and for treaty implementation.

Protecting Their Lands and Waters – Elsipogtog First Nation 

I have been to the community of Elsipogtog a number of times in recent weeks and over the past months.  Last July I met with the Women’s Circle, Chief Arren Sock and Council and offered my support in their efforts to protect their traditional lands.  At the time, we discussed and encouraged local authorities to work diligently with the peacekeepers to ensure safety and security of all involved, strongly suggesting that the situation needed full coordination, communication and increased support toward a sustainable solution that guaranteed the safety of the citizens of the Elsipogtog First Nation. 

It has always been clear that the concerns and issues at play in Elsipogtog are about more than one project and about more than fracking.  It is about First Nations rights, Treaties and title, about the right of First Nations to have a say over activities that take place in their traditional territories.  More broadly, it involves the need for First Nations to drive forward energy strategy throughout the country.  First Nations are advancing green energy alternatives across the country and we have a critical role to play in advancing these sustainable, clean energy initiatives as a leading part of any consideration of national energy policy and strategy in this country. 

On October 17, as in the words of the leadership, we were “heartbroken” to see the images and the actions against elders, women and children who were protecting their rights and their territories. The AFN has always and will always stand with the leadership and the peoples peacefully asserting their right to have a say in any activities that could affect their lives, their lands and their rights. 

These actions were also shocking because the Chief and community had been engaging in a process of “good faith” discussions with the province in an attempt to resolve the issue when the raid took place. These kinds of actions erode trust, seriously diminish any chance of dialogue and are and were a major setback. Safety and security of our citizens must be a priority and a requirement going forward. 

We stand in full support of the Chief, council and citizens of Elsipogtog in asserting their rights, and will continue to offer support to the community in achieving a positive resolution that respects their rights and jurisdiction. 

Elsipogtog Community Meetings 

Immediately, on October 17, myself and my office were in touch with the Elsipogtog First Nation leadership, Regional Chief Roger Augustine and other regional contacts.  That same day, I wrote to New Brunswick Premier David Alward to voice serious concerns about the actions by the RCMP and reiterating the urgent need for safety and security for the people.  I also wrote to Chief Sock to reaffirm our ongoing support for the people of Elsipogtog First Nation and to offer any support that would be helpful.  The AFN Executive also pulled together a support team that could travel to the community on short notice at request of the Chief and Council. 

Throughout this process we have respected the leadership of the Chief, Council and community of Elsipogtog First Nation and assured them we would act based on their direction.

Throughout the following days, important conversations occurred including with the Mikmaq Grand Council referencing the broader impacts and the concern of the broader Nation of all Mikmaq expressing concern and care for Elsipogtog. 

On October 24, I was honoured to be invited to a meeting of the Mi’kmaq Grand Council, Elsipogtog Chief Arren Sock and other leadership and community members in the Atlantic region.  Myself and AFN Regional Chief Roger Augustine were invited to meet with the leadership and community members to discuss strategy, community safety and next steps. 

The leadership offered support for the development of a community safety plan and ongoing strategy to protect and advance Mi’kmaq and Indigenous Treaty rights to lands.  We also discussed the need to advance a broader national First Nations energy strategy specific to green energy, fossil fuels, and an overall agenda for sustainability and economies grounded in traditional understandings and the Treaty relationship. 

Resource Development and Energy Interests 

The situation in Elsipogtog is not isolated. First Nations across this country are confronted by similar interests and sometimes pressure from industry to develop our lands and our natural resources. First Nations have been clear.  We are not against all development but we will not support development at all costs.  We must be engaged from the beginning. We must be active participants in any development or proposed development that will impact our lands, our territories, and the future of our children and families. The duty to consult must be met and the standard of free, prior and informed consent must be honoured. 

The AFN and First Nation leaders from coast to coast to coast have consistently called for governments and industry to respect Indigenous rights, the Treaties, and the principles of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. 

Some First Nation communities are working together with industry and there are many best practices and models we can look to, yet every situation is different and specific to the First Nation government and citizens. 

First Nations are not only ready for meaningful discussions on the broader issue of development, including energy and clean energy, we demand it. The Chiefs Committee on Economic Development is meeting November 13-14 in Moncton, New Brunswick. Part of their work in November will be reviewing follow up from our very successful International Indigenous Summit on Energy and Mining held in Niagara Falls, June 2011.  They will be discussing the possibility of a second Summit to build on the outcomes and to drive the agenda forward.  A special panel on energy will be scheduled for our upcoming Special Chiefs Assembly in Gatineau, PQ on December 10-12. 

At the same time, AFN is closely monitoring and becoming more actively engaged in international environmental forums.  Without a doubt, Indigenous peoples must be heard on climate change and the full spectrum of impacts on the lands and waters. We will seek every opportunity to take this forward in new ways.  Upcoming international meetings including the UN Forum on Climate Change taking place in Poland November 11-22nd, 2013 as well as the UN Open Working Group meeting on Sustainable Development Goals taking place at the end of November are two such opportunities.  We must and will find new ways to support our voices being heard. 

As a final note, it is clear that achieving full respect and recognition of First Nations rights, including the right to free, prior and informed consent on any proposed development that could affect our lands, our waters or our people, is a primary objective underlying all our work.  The support we’ve seen for Elsipogtog compels action to address the broader issues of development across the country.  It is clear that First Nations are key players in this work and Canada cannot ignore this longstanding issue. Now is our time. This is the era of action. 

We will keep you informed on all of this important work as we move forward and you can always visit www.afn.ca for more information. We have a dedicated web page to Elsipogtog specific information at http://www.afn.ca/index.php/en/elsipogtog-solidarity-en

Kleco, Kleco! 

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rdbrinkhurstCommuniqué from the National Chief Shawn Atleo – October 2013

National Chief Atleo spoke to a packed room at Queen Elizabeth House, University of Oxford on 9 October 2013

on October 11, 2013

National Chief Atleo spoke to a packed room at Queen Elizabeth House, University of Oxford on 9 October 2013, as part of commemorative events marking the 250th anniversary of the Royal Proclamation. National Chief Atleo spoke to the priority issues facing First Nations in Canada, from education to resource development opportunities and the enduring requirement for recognition and affirmation of relationships to achieve fairness, justice and harmony. Listen to the podcast of his speech.

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rdbrinkhurstNational Chief Atleo spoke to a packed room at Queen Elizabeth House, University of Oxford on 9 October 2013
Assembly of First Nations
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