Harper’s belated move on native education

TheStar.com – opinion/editorials
Published On Mon Dec 20 2010

Five years after scrapping the Kelowna Accord, Prime Minister Stephen Harper is proposing to start all over again. In a letter earlier this month to Shawn Atleo, national chief of the Assembly of First Nations (AFN), Harper said he is open to the idea of a “Crown-First Nation gathering” to discuss education, economic development, governance reforms and accountability.

All these issues and more were part of the accord negotiated in November, 2005, at Kelowna, B.C. by then prime minister Paul Martin and the 10 premiers with the leaders of various aboriginal groups, including the AFN. The accord committed Ottawa to spend $5 billion over five years improving the delivery of education, among other things, to aboriginal peoples.

But Harper disowned the Kelowna Accord when he became Prime Minister two months later. In office, Harper has made progress on the symbolic front of the aboriginal file, including the apology for abuses in residential schools and the ratification of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. But he has been slow to embrace Kelowna-like measures to improve the quality of life for First Nations and other native peoples. As a result, the problems have continued to fester, notably in native schools. In the United Nations index of educational attainment, Canada’s status Indians rank 71st in the world, as opposed to the No. 1 ranking for non-aboriginal Canadians.

“Regarding First Nations education, we agree that this matter is an important priority for advancement,” said Harper in his letter.

Better late than never.

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