First Nations leaders from across Canada have dismissed federal attempts to impose oversight of on-reserve education, saying the government should instead negotiate the transfer of the money required to support their schools.
Chiefs and their proxies who attended a special meeting Tuesday of the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) voted overwhelmingly in favour of a resolution to “reject” Bill C-33, the First Nations Control of First Nations Education Act, and demand its “immediate withdrawal.”
(What is the Assembly of First Nations? Read The Globe’s easy explanation)
Chief Ava Hill of the Six Nations of the Grand River in Southwestern Ontario, backed by the chiefs of Ontario, moved the resolution that also calls for the government to negotiate a new fiscal transfer framework.
“We don’t want anything more to do with it,” Ms. Hill said of Bill C-33. “What they [the government] need to do is to start providing the funding that is needed in our communities. And let’s start talking about fiscal transfer arrangements directly between us and the government.”
Bernard Valcourt, the Aboriginal Affairs Minister, responded that there will be no new money for First Nations education without significant change to the way on-reserve education is delivered.
“As we have said all along, this legislation will not proceed without the support of AFN,” Andrea Richer, a spokeswoman for Mr. Valcourt, said in a statement. “And we have been clear,” she said, “that we will not invest new money in an education system that does not serve the best interests of First Nations children; funding will only follow real education reforms.”
The bill was put “on hold” earlier this month when Shawn Atleo resigned as National Chief of the AFN because his support for the legislation put him offside with the majority of First Nations.
The federal Conservative government wanted to set standards for First Nations education that would be enforced by a council of educational professionals dominated by federal appointees.
In exchange for First Nations support of the bill, Prime Minister Stephen Harper promised in February, at an announcement attended by Mr. Atleo, to provide an additional $1.9-billion over several years. The bulk of that money would not start to flow until 2016.
But the resolution passed by chiefs on Tuesday calls for the cash to start being paid immediately. And Ms. Hill said the extra funding promised by Mr. Harper would not be enough to close a gap with provincially funded schools that the chiefs say has been growing since 1996 when annual increases for First Nations were capped at 2 per cent.
It was unclear Tuesday how the First Nations plan to negotiate a new fiscal arrangement with the government. The departure of Mr. Atleo served to emphasize the fact that the executive committee of the AFN has no power to strike deals on behalf of First Nations and the committee was repeatedly scolded by chiefs for overstepping its bounds.
A special confederacy of chiefs has proposed to take over the education file. The confederacy, which was convened earlier this month for the first time in 10 years, is subordinate to an assembly of chiefs like the one that took place Tuesday but superior to the executive committee.
The executive committee, which is made up of a representative from each region, put forward a resolution Tuesday that called for the education act to be “substantially amended” or withdrawn. But it was taken off the table when the chiefs said no amendments could fix legislation that is so flawed.
The chiefs who met Tuesday were supposed to talk about the timing of the election to replace Mr. Atleo but the discussion about the education act used up all the available time. So talk about the election has been delayed until the First Nations leaders meet again at an annual assembly in Halifax in July.