Roger Augustine is the Assembly of First Nations regional chief for New Brunswick-Prince Edward Island
I understand my fellow chiefs who are deeply skeptical about the new First Nations Control of First Nations Education Act (Bill C-33). Given the track record of the Harper government in dealing with First Nations issues it would be naive to not be skeptical. And, I understand those who wanted legislation that went further in advancing our demands.
But let me make three things perfectly clear:
First, this is a huge improvement on what we as First Nations parents have had to force our children to suffer under the Indian Act until now. Anyone who suggests otherwise has not read the legislation or our analysis by First Nation education experts. It sets us on a path to developing and managing our own education system for the first time since first contact.
Is there enough funding? No. Does it lay out a path on which we can begin a new journey that has the promise of delivering decent schools and education for our children? Absolutely, it does.
Second, I have little patience with those who complain about how we got here and whether they were given a big enough role in “consultation.” Our Chiefs in Assembly adopted unanimously the resolution that laid the foundation for this work. That resolution and the hours of discussion that preceded it followed years, even decades, of discussion and consultation on these issues in our communities and at our assemblies. Some chiefs appear to think that consultation means that they get a veto over the decisions of our assembly. The national chief doesn’t. I don’t. And neither do they.
Finally, those of us who have actually been at the table in treaty implementation negotiations, land-claims battles, fighting for justice for our children and their access to culturally sensitive teachers and curriculum and schools, know one thing: you fight to make progress one step at a time. You fight hard for that next step and when you win it, you seize it and you plant your flag on that victory. And then you prepare for the next battle.
Strong, effective leaders in our communities never say “all or nothing” because they know that means we will only end up, every time, with another handful of ashes – with nothing. It’s easy to shout “no!” and walk away from the table, in a blaze of TV lights.
But it’s not leadership focused on our work, our agenda, our people. It’s a lot harder to seize a smaller victory, to defend it and implement it and then move to the next round. So we will take this progress, this improvement in our right to educate our children. We will take this new funding and be ready to demand more. And we will seize this progress to lay the foundation for new gains.
To those who throw away this opportunity, I would simply ask: Do you really think that our people believe that what drives you to attack the decisions of our assembly, our educators, the vast majority of our chiefs, and the AFN itself is your commitment to our children’s future?