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February 19, 2014 - No. 15

Harper Government's Anti-First Nations Education Act

First Nations Reject
Prime Minister Harper's Clumsy Attempt
to Bamboozle Them

(Deidre Kahwinetha Diome)

Harper Government's Anti-First Nations Education Act
First Nations Reject Prime Minister Harper's Clumsy Attempt to Bamboozle Them
Opposition to Proposed First Legislation -- Who Said What
Iroquois Caucus Resolution
For Your Information: Harper Government's Proposals for First Nations' Control of First Nations Education Act

Yukon Peel Watershed
First Nations Stand Up for Their Rights

Harper Government's Anti-First Nations Education Act

First Nations Reject Prime Minister Harper's
Clumsy Attempt to Bamboozle Them

On February 7, at the Kainai First Nation High School on the Kainai (Blood Tribe) First Nation, the largest First Nations reserve in Canada located about 200 kilometres south of Calgary, Prime Minster Stephen Harper, along with Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada Bernard Valcourt and National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations Shawn Atleo announced "re-tooled" First Nations education legislation aimed at blunting the nation-wide resistance of First Nations and Canadians to the First Nations Education Act (FNEA) and other bills aimed at extinguishing First Nations title and claims in Canada.

According to Harper, the proposals to be incorporated into a new law called the First Nations Control of First Nations Education Act, would give unprecedented control of education of First Nations children to First Nations. The new agreement was the result of a "years-long, unprecedented process of consultation and discussions," the press release from the Prime Minister's Office said.

Outside the meeting where the announcement was to take place, a rally was organized by the Kainai First Nation Idle No More group to oppose Harper. Invited guests were ushered into the auditorium where the announcement was made, while "uninvited guests" such as Idle No More members and others opposed to Harper were moved by security into the gymnasium to watch the proceedings via television. Amongst the invited guests were several business representatives there to represent "industry" and guarantee a receptive audience to the announcement. The announcement had nothing to do with immediately increasing education funding to First Nations to address the unjust education funding caps that have been in place since 1996, which have severely disadvantaged First Nations children and youth. Instead, it made promises of future funding linked to employment and training for the "job market" -- what Valcourt called looking at the changes through an "economic lens."

On February 6, one day before Harper's announcement and photo-op at the Kainai First Nation, the Chief and Council put out a press release rejecting the unilateral manner in which the FNEA was drafted and foisted on First Nations by the Harper government. It said the FNEA is unacceptable and does not address the concerns of the Kainai First Nation's educational needs.

On the same day, the Iroquois Caucus, representing over 55,000 people and made up of the elected representatives from seven Iroquois communities in Ontario and Quebec, passed a resolution unanimously "rejecting the First Nations Education Act in its entirety, including all of its components and contents, and any and all federally or provincially imposed legislation in this matter" and pledging to "take all actions necessary to work with partners to counter the proposed legislation. (See the Caucus' resolution below.)

Several other First Nations have subsequently taken their stands against Harper, ranging from expressions of skepticism about his "historic" announcement to outright denunciation of his "political opportunism."

Click to enlarge. (Deidre Kahwinetha Diome)

Harper's announcement of the "re-tooling" of the FNEA is a clumsy attempt to bamboozle First Nations and divide First Nations across Canada politically, as well as the undermine the political unity of the Canadian people and First Nations, based on the promise of a few extra phantom dollars. The announcement is not fooling anyone -- First Nations and the Canadian working class and people have first-hand experience with the Harper Conservative government's brutal anti-social offensive that does not respect anyone's rights. It is not even clear if this is new money or recycled funds from cuts made to other programs.

The announcement on February 7 was presented by the Harper government as "historic." It can only said to be so in the anachronistic sense of being framed in the 19th century, racist colonial outlook of the Canadian state expressed not only by the Harper government but also the provincial and territorial governments, which refuse to acknowledge international laws and treaty obligations as concerns Indigenous Peoples as well as the hereditary, historic, constitutional and political rights of First Nations in Canada.

As we approach the 150th anniversary of Confederation in 2017, what comes to the fore is the necessity for First Nations, the Quebec nation and the Canadian nation to work together for the renewal of the political institutions and processes in Canada and to establish a new and modern Constitution based on enshrining the rights of First Nations, the nation of Quebec and the rest of Canada. There is no possibility of Canada leaving its colonial past behind if the Canadian state persists in treating First Nations as subject peoples and not sovereign nations which have the right to self-determination in all their affairs. In this regard, the future of the people of the First Nations, the people of Quebec and the people of Canada are bound together by our political unity and the Fight for the Rights of All!

(With files from: www.bloodtribe.org, www.tworowtimes.com)

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Opposition to Proposed Legislation -- Who Said What

Nishnawbe Aski Nation Deputy Grand Chief Goyce Kakagamic speaks to media in Thunder Bay at a rally to oppose the First  Nations Education Act, December 4, 2013.

Many First Nations organizations and individuals spoke out against the announcement by Prime Minister Harper on February 7 on features of the renamed First Nations Education Act (FNEA) now called the First Nations Control of First Nations Education Act.

The Blood Tribe (Kainai First Nation) Idle No More and its allies noted, "The FNEA is the latest proposed Bill in a suite of unilateral federal Bills amending the Indian Act to assimilate First Nations into the Canadian mainstream while denying First Nations' Inherent, aboriginal and Treaty Rights. The track record of the Harper government leaves no choice but for grassroots peoples to stand up and say 'NO to the FNEA and other legislation, agreements and policies' that undermine our sovereignty and right to self-determination."

The Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations Vice Chief Bobby Cameron said: "The $1.25 billion announcement by Prime Minister Harper is not coming fast enough. First Nations education programs are experiencing a $335 million shortfall now. They cannot wait till 2016 [...] We will all prosper from the honouring and implementation of treaties and advancement of our rights as indigenous peoples that are recognized globally and our inherent rights of self-determination."

The Assembly of First Nations of Quebec and Labrador (AFNQL) in a February 11 press release pointed out that the announcement made by the Prime Minister "was political opportunism at its best. The so-called commitment amounts to little more than a name change accompanied by recycled promises." The AFNQL noted that Harper's announcement had no concrete measures that would see First Nations having more control over the education of their children, but would seem to be a ploy to "seize jurisdiction over education from First Nations and confer it on the Minister." Chief of the AFNQL Ghislain Picard pointed out: "We have been looking to engage the government of Canada in a respectable manner and through a collaborative effort. We wrote to Minister Valcourt to set out what we felt were winning conditions to have our support. Not only did the Minister not respond to our calls, he chose to continue with his unilateral approach."

Ontario Regional Chief Stan Beardy stated on February 10: "Although Friday's announcement states that Canada and First Nations agree to work together on the passage of the new 'First Nation Control of First Nation Education Act' (FNCFNEA) and jointly develop the associated regulations, it is unclear how this agreement came about and how the joint work will be accomplished." He went on to say: "In announcing a 'new approach', the Harper government continues to cut and exert restrictive guidelines on all funding including education funding for our representative organization. For too long our children have been underfunded and denied opportunity and fairness."

Grand Chief Ford Peters of the Association and Allied Indians in Ontario, who holds the Chiefs of Ontario portfolio on education, stated on February 10: "Our people have agreed that we must continue to assert our inherent jurisdiction over education by developing and implementing our own education laws and regulations which will lead to the establishment of our own education standards and systems."

On February 7, the Confederacy of Treaty Six First Nations in Alberta, which includes part of the Onion Lake First Nation in Saskatchewan and represents 18 First Nations in total, stated in a press release: "Time and again, First Nations and Canadians have called for co-operation between the Government and First Nations. Meaningful change can only happen with meaningful cooperation. Education of First Nations in Canada is not only a necessity for First Nations, but increased First Nations engagement in the Canadian economy can only reap rewards for the nation as a whole. Continued unilateral decision-making will not only harm First Nations but every other Canadian, and is contrary to the Treaty and Inherent Rights enshrined through the Constitution (1982). The implementation of the Treaty Right to Education can no longer be ignored."

Tyrone McNeal, the Chair of the First Nations Education Steering Committee in British Columbia stated in a press release on February 12 concerning the agreement between the Harper government and the Assembly of First Nations: "We are very interested in receiving the details of the agreement to better understand the process going forward. For example, is Canada's previous proposal being advanced with a new name and minor adjustments, or is Canada committing to enter into a new process to co-develop a new Bill altogether? We need assurance that First Nations from every region will have a meaningful opportunity to participate [...] These are critical questions that must be answered. We note that the Prime Minister set out a number of elements for new legislation that were included in Canada's October 2013 proposal [for the FNEA]. First Nations have been unanimous in rejecting that proposal and calling for a new process to co-develop a new Bill."

Rally against the First Nations Education Act, Toronto, December 4, 2013.

(Sources: www.digitaljournal.com, www.treatysix.org www.chiefs-of-ontario.org, www.apnqu-afnqu.com, www.fnesc.ca, www.fsin.com; Photos: Chiefs of Ontario)

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Iroquois Caucus Resolution

WHEREAS the Iroquois Peoples are self-determined Peoples, that consistently and historically assert their right to govern their own affairs;

WHEREAS the Iroquois Peoples abide by the philosophies, values, traditions, concepts and principles of Peace, Power and Righteousness prescribed in, and in accordance with, the Kaianere'kó:wa [the Great Law of Peace of the Iroquois Confederacy -- TML Ed. Note];

WHEREAS these principles have governed, and continue to govern, the direction of the Iroquois Peoples since time immemorial;

WHEREAS the Iroquois Peoples have an historic, inherent and inalienable right to education;

WHEREAS the Iroquois Peoples have never ceded traditional territory, Title or Rights, and continue to assert their rights as Peoples;

WHEREAS the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples affirms the right the Iroquois peoples the right to establish and control our education systems and institutions providing education in our own languages, in a manner appropriate to our cultural methods of teaching and learning.

WHEREAS the Declaration further calls upon Canada to work with the Iroquois Peoples to "take effective measures, in order for Indigenous individuals, particularly children, including those living outside their communities, to have access, when possible, to an education in their own culture and provided in their own language."

WHEREAS "effective measures" include the guarantee of funding that will cover the actual costs of linguistically and culturally responsible education, from early childhood to post-secondary.

WHEREAS the member communities of the Iroquois Caucus are aware of plans of the Federal government implement legislation known as the First Nations Education Act;

WHEREAS the Federal government has not properly, nor meaningfully, met its duty to engage member communities of the Iroquois Caucus in the development of any federal legislation related to education;

WHEREAS the member communities of the Iroquois Caucus are strongly opposed to imposition of federal or provincial legislation upon any Indigenous communities, and in particular, Iroquois communities, which do not explicitly acknowledge the exclusive jurisdiction of our communities;

WHEREAS the member communities of the Iroquois Caucus reiterate that the Federal government unfairly and chronically underfunded community education systems, jeopardizing student success and outcomes;

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that the member communities of the Iroquois Caucus reject the First Nations Education Act in its entirety, including all of its components and contents, and any and federally or provincially imposed legislation in this matter;

THEREFORE BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the member communities of the Iroquois Caucus demand that Canada immediately cease any further development, passage or implementation of legislation on First Nations education;

THEREFORE BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the member communities of the Iroquois Caucus demand that Canada recognize and respect the Aboriginal Right to jurisdictional control of our own educations systems and meet with our communities who are the legitimate rights holders to discuss and take steps necessary to address the chronic underfunding of our education systems;

FINALLY BE IT LASTLY RESOLVED that the member communities of the Iroquois Caucus take all actions necessary to work with partners to counter the First Nation Education Act.

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For Your Information

Harper Government's Proposals for First Nations' Control of First Nations Education Act

Information from the Prime Minister's Office issued on February 7 noted that the "historic agreement between the Government of Canada and the Assembly of First Nations" announced at the Kainai (Blood Tribe) First Nation, would proceed with the final drafting and introduction of the First Nations Control of First Nations Education Act (FNCFNEA). The proposed legislation has the intent of "improving K-12 education outcomes for First Nations students" and to provide them with a high quality of education "just like every other Canadian." One has to ponder that statement a moment because the education of "every other Canadian" is being seriously underfunded and privatized and is failing every other Canadian youth.

In addition, Harper announced more than $1.9 billion that will account for "language and cultural programming."

These proposals, the details of which will be worked out with the view of having the new legislation in place by the new school year in 2014, will "establish minimum education standards, consistent with provincial standards off reserve." Under this arrangement, First Nations will be required to follow a "core curriculum that meets or exceeds provincial standards." Furthermore, First Nations students will have to attend school regularly and First Nations teachers will be "properly certified" by provincial authorities. According to Harper, this would solve the problem of First Nations students graduating from First Nations schools without the prerequisite demonstrable qualifications to enter the workforce or gain admittance to post-secondary institutions. Nothing is mentioned about the serious underfunding of First Nations schools the last 20 years schools where students receive on average 25 per cent per capita less funding than their non-First Nation peers.

In addition, the proposals are to "improve transparency and promote accountability by establishing clear roles and responsibilities for First Nations education administration with annual reporting requirements." First Nations will also be "allowed" to establish First Nations Education Authorities much like the provincial school boards.

The Harper government also intends to "repeal the provisions in the Indian Act related to residential schools." It claims this measure "is of great symbolic importance and aligns with the purpose of this bill; namely, to turn the page on the dark chapter of the Residential School system, and provide the framework for First Nations to develop and implement a quality education system under the control of First Nations." The fact that the same racist paternalist outlook that informed the Canadian state's establishment of the residential school system in the 19th century to assimilate First Nations -- which continued until nearly the 21st century -- now informs the First Nations Control of First Nations Education Act is as clear as clear can be.

The proposal also contains provisions to form a "Joint Council of Education Professionals" to provide "advice and support" to the Government of Canada and First Nations to implement the FNCFNEA.

The Harper government also proposes to commit $1.25 billion over three years to core funding that would include language and cultural development and increase this budget by 4.5 per cent, beginning in the 2016-17 period. It would commit $500 for infrastructure funding over seven years beginning in the 2015-16 period and an additional $160 million over four years beginning in 2015-16 for the implementation of the proposals. It is noteworthy that Ontario Regional Chief Stan Beardy observed that the infrastructure funding commitment proposed by Harper is not even enough to cover the infrastructure needs of First Nations schools in Ontario, let alone across the country. When one considers that there are about 630 First Nations communities across Canada and that the First Nations are the fastest growing demographic in Canada, as well as the fact that the First Nations have been underfunded across the board in terms of education, child welfare, housing and other needs in violation of their Treaty rights, the funding proposed by the Harper government can only be considered criminal.

(Sources: www.pm.gc.ca, www.chiefs-of-ontario.org, www.afn.ca)

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Yukon Peel Watershed

First Nations Stand Up for Their Rights

Two Yukon First Nations with the support of two environmental groups are taking the Yukon government to court over a plan of the territorial government to open the Peel Watershed to mining and other resource development. The Peel Watershed is an area the size of New Brunswick. The Nacho Nyak Dun, the Tr'ondek Hwech'in, the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society Yukon and the Yukon Conservation Society state that the governing Yukon First Party's land use plan violates land claims signed by the First Nations, the federal government and the Yukon government. Court papers were filed at the Yukon Supreme Court in Whitehorse January 27.

Map of Peel Watershed Planning Region -- click to enlarge.

According to lawyer Thomas Berger who represents the plaintiffs, the Yukon government's plan unilaterally ignores the Peel River Planning Commission's proposed land use plan, the latter of which is supported by First Nations and consistent with the principles of the Umbrella Final Agreement. This agreement, signed by 11 of the 14 First Nations in the Yukon and the federal and Yukon government in 1996, enables the concerned First Nations to settle land claims within the Yukon. Berger pointed out that the First Nations did not want to bring a lawsuit but the government of the Yukon "has forced these plaintiffs ... to go to court not only in defence of First Nations' rights and environmental values in Yukon, but also to uphold principles entrenched in the Constitution."

The Peel River Planning Commission comprising First Nations and representatives of the Yukon government had worked for more than five years getting feedback from the public and First Nations, businesses and others concerned. It received close to 8,000 submissions concerning the future of the Peel Watershed. At the end, the Commission produced a report that called for up to 80 per cent of the Peel River Watershed to be protected from mining and other resource development in order to protect the natural environment and waters of the area. The Yukon government rejected this s recommendation stating that it cannot ban mining in such a large area and has instead proposed to protect 71 per cent of the Peel Watershed.

Chief Eddie Taylor of the Tr'ondek Hwech'in First Nation, one of the plaintiffs, points out that this fight is not between First Nations and miners, but that the First Nations consider the area to be the source of their livelihoods and their "breadbasket" and they are interested in preserving 80 per cent of the area for their future and that of all Yukoners.

(Source: www.yukon-news.com)

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