Hot! First Nations urged to implement their own education acts

leaderpost.com – news
JULY 11, 2013.   By Betty Ann Adam, The StarPhoenix

First Nations across Canada need to implement their own education acts to assert their Treaty right to control their own schooling, a vicechief of the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations (FSIN) says.

Vice Chief Bobby Cameron has shared a version of a First Nations-created education act with Saskatchewan bands and is urging them to localize it and have it authorized by their band councils before the federal government introduces its draft First Nations Education Act in September.

Cameron also gave the FSIN’s version to chiefs from across the country when they met last month in Ottawa to discuss education. “They had a big-time interest in it. We’re sharing it with everyone,” he said, adding the document will also be shared at the AFN’s gathering in Whitehorse next week.

The federal government’s planned legislation promises to improve First Nations education outcomes by imposing mandatory standards, but First Nations-run schools already meet those standards, Cameron said.

The real causes of poor literacy and graduation rates are poverty among First Nations people and chronic federal underfunding of onreserve schools, he said. “Let’s be honest. If they want to improve on-reserve education systems, prove it by backing it up, committing more dollars to our onreserve school systems.” That money could provide better computers and science labs, and raise on-reserve teacher salaries to the same level as those in provinciallyfunded schools, he said.

“Then and only then will we see improved outcomes.”

First Nations are wary of any promises from Ottawa that adherence to the government’s new legislation will open the coffers.

Ed Mirasty of the Prince Albert Grand Council pointed to the federal government’s disappointing performance in its threeparty agreement with the Mi’kmaq and the province of Nova Scotia.

“The federal government has not funded their programs adequately. The province is sending invoices to the Mi’kmaq to cover tuition costs which the federal government has not fulfilled as of yet. Even those education acts (the federal government) speaks very highly of are not really working,” Mirasty said.

“They’re still fighting the federal government for adequate funding.”

The proposed federal act threatens the self-determination goal of Indian control of Indian education, Cameron said.

“They’re going to say, ‘We passed legislation and if you don’t abide by us we’re going to withhold your funding.’ It’s disrespectful.” The federal government honours and respects francophone language and culture, providing around $18,000 per year per student, he noted. Meanwhile, it provides around $6,500 per student to on-reserve schools, Cameron said, referring to an FSIN-commissioned funding analysis released earlier this year.

As the proportion of First Nations people in Saskatchewan heads toward 25 per cent by 2035, governments must respect their autonomy and sovereignty, he said. The federal proposal was drawn up with inadequate consultation, he said.

The FSIN’s template was created in 1984 by Sol and Carole Sanderson, pioneering leaders in Indian control of Indian education. That act has been sitting on the shelves of federal Indian Affairs departments ever since – but now, some bands, such as Onion Lake Cree Nation, have revised it and made it their own, Mirasty said. badam@thestarphoenix.com

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