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What does the future hold for Canada's First Nations? Add to ...

Frances Abele: This is another one of those questions that is hard to answer generally. There are important initiatives in some places that show the value of parental engagement in the school (Alkali Lake in BC is one example). Improved access to post-secondary support is another, particularly support that takes into account that many new students will be older and have families. Another aspect of this is the part that universities and colleges play in reaching out to ABoriginal students.

Tom Flanagan: Many reformers are suggesting that most reserve schools are too small and isolated, and that it would be better to create First Nations school boards for larger areas. Something like that is being tried in BC, though implementation has been slow. I hope this will help, though I don't know if it deals with the underlying cultural issue. Many, many reserve teachers report a lack of support from families and communities. No structural changes will succeed if families don't support the effort.

Tom Flanagan: Fran makes an important point about the danger of generalizing. Many, many First Nations parents do care deeply about education. But under current circumstances they often send their children to school off reserve.

Comment From Guest: How can we balance economic development of First Nations people with cultural preservation?

Frances Abele: This is a matter that all First Nations communities are addressing, and to my knowledge, it has not been a huge problem. Their goal is usually cultural continuity, not preservation, and healthy societies now. Much like the rest of the country! Do you have something specific in mind?

Tom Flanagan: Guest, your question about economic development and cultural preservation is a very fundamental one. Personally, I think that First Nations that succeed in developing the economic potential of their lands will have more money to spend on things like language preservation.

Comment From Guest: Nothing specific. Thank you for your answers.

Tom Flanagan: Good point, Fran, about continuity rather than preservation. First Nations are not museum pieces. Their culture is what they do. The earth belongs to the living, as Jefferson said.

Frances Abele: Thanks, Guest. There might be a difference between how Tom and I see this matter. Cultural continuity to me means that people have the opportunity to build their future on the foundations oftheir original culture.

Comment From Shawn: What do you see as an advantage and disadvantage to keep the Indian Act for the First Nations of Canada?

Frances Abele: I don't see any advantages to the Indian Act. To me, the issue is how to move away from it in away that maximizes First Nations' discretion and nation-building.

Tom Flanagan: Shawn, we absolutely have to have something like an Indian Act. The constitution makes First Nations islands of federal jurisdiction within the provinces. There have to be ground rules. If we repeal the Indian Act, we have to immediately pass a replacement. There are many ways to improve the Indian Act, but I think it's a fantasy to try to simply abolish it.

Frances Abele: Tom, what do you mean by "islands of federal jurisdiction"? The RCAP envisioned a process of mutual recognition, entrenched, that would replace the Act.

Tom Flanagan: Agreeing to a degree with Fran, I think we can amend and supplement the Indian Act so as to increase First Nations' self-determination. But we would still need legal prescription of federal responsibilities. By "islands of federal jurisdiction," I was referring s. 91(24) of the Constitution Act, 1867, which gives Parliament jurisdiction over "Indians, and the lands reserved for the Indians."

Comment From Guest 2: further to the question re: Aboriginal history, how can political will be created to be pro-active in addressing fundamental issues of racism and assimilation in Canada?

Frances Abele: I see. But for an example of how it could be done differently, you can look at the so-called "modern treaties" as an example. These become the fundamental legal document entrenching the relationship between the Indigenous signatories and the Crown. No Indian Act or replacement.

Frances Abele: Hello Guest 2. Sorry my reply just crossed your comment. I think open conversation, discussion in public, and lots of interpersonal contact is a big part of the answer.

Tom Flanagan: In response to Guest 2, I think racism hardly exists in contemporary Canada. I see the issue as allowing and perhaps helping First Nations to get beyond the dependency created by past policies.

Comment From Ted Winters: I do not believe there should be any treaties or Federal agreements. How are treaties or hand holding helpful to First Nations people?

Frances Abele: Ted, can you explain why you think negotiating a treaty is hand-holding?

Tom Flanagan: Ted, if we could start over, I might agree with you. But we've been negotiating treaties for 200 hundred years, and we entrenched them in the constitution in 1982. We have to make the best of the path our own governments have chosen.

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