UOI OFFICES (April 14, 2014) – Just promising more money for First Nations education won’t make it better, says Grand Council Chief Patrick Madahbee, unless First Nations have a real say in how the money will be spent.
Madahbee was responding on behalf of 39 Anishinabek Nation communities to Bill C-33, Canada’s latest response to First Nations demands for equity in federal funding for education.
“They just don’t get it, either that or they’re hell bent on legislating First Nations to death”, said Grand Council Chief Patrick Madahbee of the Anishinabek Nation. Madahbee was referring to the federal government’s announcement of Bill C-33, First Nations Control of First Nations Education Act (FNCFNEA).
Madahbee says that the Anishinabek Nation has been in negotiations with the Harper government over an education system that was developed by First Nation parents and educators. “A true Anishinabek Education System is not about control, but about educating our children hand-in-hand with their cultural identity intact.”
Bill C-33 was announced by Canada late last week as an improved education act, but many experts are not seeing much of a difference between the FNCFNEA and its predecessor that was introduced in October 2013.
“The Minister of Indian Affairs has all the power and authority over First Nations education while taking on no legal responsibility whatsoever- that’s the reality of the kind of control this government is talking about,” said Madahbee.
“They talk about the FNCFNEA like it’s the best thing First Nations could ask for, but this legislation is not anything close to what First Nations have been asking for.
We asked for an integration of language and culture, but they’re making French and English mandatory with an option of First Nation language, if the Minister approves it. Madahbee continued, “We asked for fair and equitable funding, so they announce vague promises of increased funding after the next federal election with no specifics on how it will be allocated.
Their idea of First Nation control of First Nation education is to allow First Nations to be administrators of legislation that’s forced onto them. If a First Nation school fails to meet provincial standards, regardless of being vastly underfunded, the Minister has the legal right to put the school under third party management- that’s real control of First Nation education.
Madahbee says Bill C-33 ensures that the Minister of Indian Affairs has more authority and less responsibility due to a clause that indemnifies the government of any liabilities from the bill itself.
“If they really want First Nations to have control of their own education then they’ll close the funding gap on education immediately, and recognize our own processes that were developed by First Nations teachers and parents, it’s really that simple”, said Madahbee.
They’re using political tricks to convince the public that they’re doing what’s best for First Nations by highlighting big budgets without any specifics on where the money will go. Meanwhile First Nations are expected to administer policies they don’t agree with, but this time they’ll have a federally-funded, federally-appointed oversight committee as a government watchdog to ensure First Nations don’t veer from government control.
“We don’t need more legislation and oversight, what we need is equitable funding and for the government to completely get out of the way. In this modern era, teachers working in First Nation schools should be getting paid the same wages as their counterparts working in an average Canadian town or city.
First Nation children should have access to the same quality of school supplies and equipment as other Canadian children do when they go to school. First Nation children should be taught their own language, just like English and French kids are. That’s the kind of practical equality First Nations want – not threats to go into third party management for not meeting provincial standards with less money.
Our Chiefs have told us that we need to exercise jurisdiction, especially when it comes to educating our children. Allowing federal and provincial powers to dictate what’s best for us in our own communities is not jurisdiction, that’s government control of First Nation education and that’s what the government wants, not what First Nations want. Our kids in our communities expect us to fight for their right to a fair and equitable education, and that’s exactly what we as leaders must continue to do.