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First Nations frustrated over stalled education bill

Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt prepares to take part in a Commons Aboriginal Affairs committee in Ottawa, on Parliament Hill, Thursday May 29, 2014.


The war of words between the Assembly of First Nations and the Conservative government is heating up.

The AFN fired back Friday at Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt, one day after he vented his frustration over a stalled bill to reform First Nations education.

(What is the Assembly of First Nations? Read The Globe's easy explanation)

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"This way of doing things clearly constitutes a breach of the principle of the honour of the Crown in its dealings with First Nations," Quebec and Labrador Regional Chief Ghislain Picard said in a statement. "It is high time the minister seized the opportunity presented to him to honourably make amends instead of closing the door on any alternative as he has already done."

Mr. Picard has been speaking on behalf of the assembly since Shawn Atleo abruptly quit as its national chief in early May.

The chief also accused the government of misleading Canadians about the level of funding for schools in aboriginal communities, which he says do not receive enough money.

"In recent years, First Nations have gone to many lengths to demonstrate that their schools are underfunded," the statement said.

"The government had always denied this up to Feb. 7, 2014, when it announced additional funding that would enable quality education to be provided. Therefore, the government has lied to the public and kept First Nations schools in a precarious financial situation."

In response to Mr. Picard's comments, Mr. Valcourt's office referred to its previous statement on the matter.

"Our government is extremely disappointed that the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) did not honour its agreement with the government," says that earlier statement.

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"As we have said all along, this legislation will not proceed without the support of AFN, and we have been clear 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 latest exchanges between the two sides are sure to further escalate the already heightened tensions around First Nations education.

Chiefs from across Canada voted this week to reject Conservative education reforms, and they demanded a new agreement with First Nations that provides transfer payments to aboriginal communities.

They also want the government to provide $1.9-billion tied to the original bill immediately, with a 4.5-per-cent escalator until a new deal on education is reached.

But Mr. Valcourt is refusing to go back to "Square 1." He says too much time and effort have gone into the bill to start over again.

The legislation remains on hold as the government considers its options.

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Meanwhile, the aboriginal community is also split over the education reforms. Some see it as a starting point with $1.9-billion of badly needed money attached to it. Others feel the government is trying to impose too much control over First Nations.

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