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Politics AFN chiefs pan Ottawa’s education plan for First Nations children

Assembly of First Nations National Chief Shawn Atleo speaks during a news conference on Oct. 7, 2013 in Ottawa. Native leaders are denouncing the federal government’s attempts to craft legislation aimed at improving education for First Nations children, saying there has been a lack of consultation and no commitment to increase funding.

Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

Native leaders are denouncing the federal government's attempts to craft legislation aimed at improving education for First Nations children, saying there has been a lack of consultation and no commitment to increase funding.

Shawn Atleo, the National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations (AFN), and Morley Googoo, the chair of the AFN chiefs committee on education, wrote this week to Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt saying attempts to develop a First Nations education act have failed to address long-standing issues between the government and Canada's aboriginals.

"The federal government unilaterally announced legislation and has unilaterally designed an insufficient consultation process rather than pursue a process that enables First Nations to design, develop and implement their solutions for the benefit of their children," the chiefs wrote.

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The government released a blueprint of its proposed legislation during the summer and the proposed act is expected to be tabled in Parliament not long after MPs return to the House of Commons next week. It is intended to form the cornerstone of the government's aboriginal policy.

But many First Nations leaders are angry over what they perceive as paternalism and top-down actions from Ottawa. That could portend a rocky road ahead as the government tries to open dialogues about resource development and pipeline construction.

In their letter, Mr. Atleo and Mr. Googoo call for "stable, fair funding" for First Nations education. Funding increases for native schools have been capped at 2 per cent annually since 1996 and the AFN says the money provided by the federal government has failed to keep pace with rising costs and a growing population.

The chiefs say the money issues must be addressed before there can be any meaningful talk about education reform. The government's role in First Nations education is to provide "predictable, sustainable and needs-based funding" with reasonable annual increases, they wrote in their letter to Mr. Valcourt.

"First Nations have repeatedly sought justice on this issue through resolutions, correspondence and meetings with federal officials," Mr. Atleo and Mr. Googoo wrote. "An initiative which has the goal of improving First Nations education should not leave First Nations people guessing."

Mr. Valcourt said in television interviews this week that the First Nations want to talk about more funding, but funding would not replace reform.

Erica Meekes, a spokeswoman for the minister, said in an e-mail on Friday that the government is committed to ensuring First Nations students have the same access to a good-quality education as other Canadian children enjoy.

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The blueprint for educational reform was developed after extensive regional consultation sessions across Canada and all First Nations in the country are encouraged to provide feedback, Ms. Meekes wrote.

Mr. Valcourt, she wrote, has discussed the proposed education act with aboriginal leaders, educators, technicians and youth across Canada over the past several months and, in addition to setting standards for First Nations education, the legislation would include mechanisms for sustainable funding.

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