Conservatives set to back motion to end aboriginal education funding gap, fulfilling Shannen’s Dream
TheStar.com – news/canada/politics
Feb. 27, 2012. By Tim Harper, National Affairs Columnist
When the House of Commons reconvenes Monday, the focus will rightly be on allegations of electoral fraud and signs of any Conservative climb down on the Internet surveillance bill.
But shortly after the featured bout, the Commons is also expected to make history later in the day.
The government has signalled it will back an NDP motion declaring that all First Nations children in this country are entitled to the basic human right of access to high quality education.
The motion also commits the government to closing the funding gap between aboriginal education and provincial school systems.
There have been many feel-good, non-binding symbolic motions passed in this chamber over the years.
In his last act in the Commons as NDP leader in 1989, Ed Broadbent convinced Parliament to back a resolution promising to end child poverty in this country by 2000.
It didn’t happen.
But Charlie Angus, the New Democrat whose motion goes to a vote Monday, says the government is “running out of road” on the question of aboriginal education.
The Timmins-James Bay MP worked with a young girl from Attawapiskat, Shannen Koostachin, whose fight for proper schools in her community became one of the largest youth-driven civil rights campaign the country had ever seen.
Tired of attending school in rundown portables sitting adjacent to land contaminated by a massive diesel spill, Shannen began a campaign that took her to Parliament Hill where she faced down cabinet ministers, demanding the right to be educated in a dignified manner.
At 14, she was the face of a young aboriginal movement demanding better and she was nominated for the International Children’s Peace Prize.
Shannen perished in a 2010 car crash at age 15, but others took up her cause, and it became known as “Shannen’s Dream.”
The motion on Monday calls on the House to adopt that dream and her family will be here for the vote.
The timing of Angus’ motion is no accident.
The housing crisis in Attawapiskat dominated the national news late last year. (Promised housing has arrived and should be ready by the end of March.)
In January, at an Ottawa summit with First Nations leaders, Prime Minister Stephen Harper spoke of the need for training aboriginal youth to feed an employment shortage in this country, something that should start with education.
A mere 40 per cent of youths living on reserves finish high school.
Each student receives, on average, about $3,000 less in funding every year from kindergarten through Grade 12 than non-natives.
A national panel on First Nation education in early February reported at least 100 schools on reserves were unsafe for learning and called for immediate funding increases to bring them in line with provincial funding.
It also said teachers on reserves should receive pay hikes to put them on equal footing with their provincial counterparts.
Don Drummond broke from his doom-and-gloom report to the Ontario government earlier this month when it came to aboriginal education, saying the crumbling and underfunded reserve schools in the province must be financially supported to the same level as their provincial counterparts.
The McGuinty government must push Ottawa and, if the Conservatives refuse, then Ontario must step up to the plate, he said.
Last week a United Nations panel of human rights experts severely criticized the Harper government on the disparities between First Nations communities and the rest of the country.
Angus believes the level of awareness about the education inequity in this country has been raised.
Shannen briefly lived with the MP and his family.
“I was a school board trustee and I’m a politician and you see these issues from 30,000 feet,” Angus said. “She made me see it through a child’s eyes.
”She could tell by Grade 7 her life was slipping away. She had a spark, a fire that I’ve never seen. I don’t know where she got it, but she was fearless.’’
As symbolic as Monday’s vote promises to be, Shannen’s Dream will never be fulfilled unless a government backs that symbolism with some cash.
< http://www.thestar.com/news/canada/politics/article/1136945–harper-conservatives-set-to-back-motion-to-end-aboriginal-education-funding-gap-fulfilling-shannen-s-dream >