Madahbee videoTo:  Anishinabek Leaders and Communities

From:  Grand Council Chief Patrick Wedaseh Madahbee

Anishinabek have better plan to educate our children

Anishinabek leaders, educators and citizens have been saying for years that our students deserve equal access to quality education. They made it clear how they want to achieve that goal at November’s special Assembly on Education in Nipissing First Nation.

After hearing presentations from Anishinabek education experts, Chiefs in Assembly unanimously endorsed a resolution to move forward with the establishment of an Anishinabek Education System.

For over 18 years we have been actively engaged in the design and plan of our own education system, the AES. We have been negotiating a self-government agreement with Canada for all of that time and we are in the final stages of putting that agreement into force.  The negotiated agreement will see our funding levels guaranteed over a period of five years and, importantly, the deal even ensures that our funding is adjusted for any fluctuations during the term of the fiscal agreement.

The AES, which is to be administered by our own Kinomaadsiwin Education Body and the Regional Education Councils, will have unfettered control of how we educate our children as well as allocation of funding.  Our education system will be accountable to our communities and the parents, not to the Minister of Indian Affairs. Our control of our education system is consistent with our inherent right to govern the education of our children as that principle is understood and articulated in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

The government of Canada ignores this fundamental human rights principle by continuing to impose differential treatment of First Nation students including inequitable education funding.

The First Nation Education Act (FNEA) proposed by the Government of Canada will utterly fail First Nation communities by ignoring their inherent rights to educate their children according to their own language, history, culture and life skills.  This fact alone has proven to discourage First Nation student success.

The FNEA would impose the provincial education system on our children.  This approach is reminiscent of the residential and Indian day school systems that caused so much harm in the past, and for which the federal government has already apologized. First Nations need to take full control of the education of their children in order to achieve positive results.

The system we have designed is fully First Nation developed and controlled.  The Minister of Indian Affairs will not have a say in how the system operates nor will he have the authority to place any of our schools under third party management, as is contemplated by his proposed First Nations Education Act.  The FNEA is simply an unwelcome intrusion into Anishinabek Nation inherent jurisdiction

We know that all Canadian citizens have access to the highest-quality education available in their provincial or territorial schools at no direct cost to them. The costs are borne by provincial and federal resources. Meanwhile, the federal government makes no commitment in the proposed FNEA to adequately fund First Nation education.  Instead, the Act leaves it up to the Minister of Indian Affairs to decide though a regulatory process the funding levels for First Nation education.

We all know how that process works. The Government of Canada has been imposing a 2% funding cap on First Nations education for decades, creating the very problems the feds now say the FNEA will fix. They will not even admit there is a funding gap between First Nations schools and those operated by provinces. But, just as one example, the school in Biinjitiwaabik Zaaging Anishinaabek (Rocky Bay First Nation) receives $4,781 less per student than nearby provincially-funded Upsala School in the Keewatin Patricia District School Board.

Anybody who knows anything about education funding knows what the problems are and how to fix them. But in unilaterally designing its FNEA, Canada ignored the recommendations of the experts on its blue ribbon panel that was engaged to study the requirements for successful First Nation education.  The panel recommended that the Act be co-created by the government and First Nations, and that the new education system be child-centred.  Instead, the government has designed it to operate at the whim of the Minister of Indian Affairs.

Many Canadians are starting to understand that the Harper conservatives are very wrong-headed in their approach to First Nations issues generally, and education in particular.  The Canadian Chamber of Commerce issued a report in December, 2013 urging the federal government to invest more in First Nations education and improve First Nations participation in the workforce.

But the Harper government has a reputation for not listening to anything but loud voices. Accordingly, we have developed a lobby strategy that is intended to influence Canada to seriously address our concerns for the education of our children. We are working with all levels of government in an effort to secure the best possible deal we can make.  In the end, First Nations will decide whether the Anishinabek Education System is right for them.

As part of our lobby strategy, we have reached out to our non-native allies to join us in our rejection of the FNEA.  The unequal treatment of our students has to end.  I want to acknowledge those individuals, groups and organizations for their courage in writing letters, signing petitions and postcards and for encouraging their memberships to do the same.

The Union of Ontario Indians has developed an online poll to gather opinions about the proposed First Nations Education Act and help formulate a collective response to it. The survey also solicits input and support for the proposed Anishinabek Education System. We encourage all our citizens and their friends to participate in the survey at .

The Anishinabek Education System is the cornerstone for rebuilding the Anishinabek Nation and reclaiming our inherent right to govern our own communities in our own way.

I urge all of you to put your support behind it.