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AFN Chief confident Ottawa is committed to improving native education

Shawn Atleo, National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, holds a press conference following the Crown First Nations Gathering in Ottawa on Wednesday, January 25, 2012.

Sean Kilpatrick/THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick/THE CANADIAN PRESS

The Assembly of First Nation's National Chief says he remains confident that the government is committed to improving the quality of First Nation education.

Shawn Atleo, the AFN's national leader, said he feels encouraged by the urgency conveyed in a panel report commissioned by the AFN and the federal government to assess the state of First Nations education.

"Unlike many other plans in the past, and there have been so many that just come and go, this one panel was appointed by the AFN and the government jointly," Mr. Atleo said. "I think that partnership means the government will take the recommendations seriously as we work together on it."

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Mr. Atleo made these comments after Aboriginal Affairs minister saying the timelines suggested in the report were "aspirational."

The panel recommended appointing an interim commission to oversee the implementation of the recommendations within three months. It also recommends new legislation, a First Nations Education Act.

"Our next step is to go back to the First Nation communities and the recommendations analyzed by First Nations themselves," Mr. Atleo said. "I'm sure the government will be doing the same before we can have any further discussion on it."

Mr. Atleo, however, refused to set a date for when he would like to see that sit-down happen between the government and AFN. Instead, he said the AFN will be hosting various forums to get feedback from First Nation stakeholders.

First nations students are among the most likely to drop out of high school, with just 39 per cent of youth between the ages of 20 and 24 living on reserves have completed high school.

The panel also calls for the establishment of a special fund focused on education infrastructure, a full inventory for infrastructure needs, a 10-year capital plan and the allocation of an emergency fund.

The panel also called for an increase in funding for the 2012-13 fiscal year to help retain qualified teachers in these schools. Currently, First Nations schools often serve as training grounds for new teachers because administrators can't afford to keep experienced staff.

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