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

on November 4, 2013


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!

Assembly of First NationsCommuniqué from the National Chief Shawn Atleo – November 4, 2013
Assembly of First Nations