Our unity on First Nation control of First Nation education has been broken by one of our own representative organizations: the Assembly of First Nations. While most of the attention has focused on Atleo, and his recent surprise resignation, we can’t forget that some of the Regional Chiefs have allowed this to happen.
Recently, Regional Chief Augustine issued an open letter in the Globe and Mail arguing that Chiefs should be supporting Bill C-33 – First Nation Control of First Nation Education Act. In his letter to the Globe and Mail he publicly insulted chiefs by saying if they don’t support this legislation, they clearly don’t understand it.
Regional Chief Augustine, against the majority of Chiefs across the country, seems to think he can belittle Chiefs into supporting Bill C-33. He says he has lost patience with them, accuses them of having not read the bill; and implies they are not experts enough in education, or they would see how this bill will save the Indians. Further, he implies that if he and Atleo disagree with dissenting Chiefs, his and Atleo’s views should reign.
Yet, Augustine does not point to a single provision of the Act that is an improvement for First Nation education, nor does he show how this Act will improve outcomes for our children. He simply mimics the AANDC Minister’s speaking points and tries to scare Chiefs by presenting them with a false choice: Bill C-33 or the Minister’s many scary powers over education in the Indian Act.
This sort of uninformed rhetoric does more to harm to Augustine’s position, than help it. First of all, anyone familiar with the Indian Act knows there are relatively few education provisions in the Indian Act, most of which are not even used any more. In comparison to Bill C-33, the Minister will have greatly enhanced powers over First Nation education.
The majority of all analysis to date by actual First Nation legal, policy and education experts are in agreement that this Act increases Ministerial power and decreases First Nation control. Augustine refers to experts, but doesn’t name any. There is a reason why there is such a mass opposition to this bill, and it’s not a fear of losing the status quo. We are all wanting to overturn the status quo and make changes for our people. Most of us however, want to go forward, not backwards. Most of us want to preserve our sovereignty and jurisdiction over education, not give up control to the Minister, his education co-managers or third party managers.
This Act lays out a path for the assimilation of First Nations into provincially-directed curriculum, the incorporation of provincial laws on reserve, forces First Nations to educate non-First Nations students, and all must be done in either English or French. This is not a “new journey” – it’s the same path of assimilation Canada has been trying to force us down for the last 500 years. We are trying to undo the damage of residential schools – not repeat it.
Augustine goes on in his letter to chastize Chiefs for allegedly adopting an all or nothing approach, yet presents Chiefs with a defeatist approach: something or nothing. He uses the same logic and persuasion tactics that the federal government has used for decades. He essentially argues that we have to take whatever deal we can get, because we won’t get anything better. He forgets we have survived many Prime Ministers, Minister of Indian Affairs and other adversaries over the years. This Prime Minister too, will pass. The question is: will we have sold the farm out of fear or preserved our rights for future generations?
Augustine is so ingrained in colonial ideologies that selling out rights for beads and trinkets becomes the only logical option – a very defeatist and weak approach. It is certainly not an approach befitting our strong, proud, independent Nations that have thrived on Turtle Island since time immemorial. We have a choice – we don’t have to give up control over our education. That doesn’t have to be the sacrifice we make to advance our cause for properly funded education systems.
Our Aboriginal, inherent and treaty rights are solid – we have had them since time immemorial and they cannot be unilaterally extinguished. We can only lose them if we voluntarily give them up. Augustine wants us to embrace inevitable assimilation – the standardization of the Indian in the child, until there are no Indians – all in exchange for a little money.
Some things that are not negotiable and our sovereignty and jurisdiction over education is one of them. Our rights are not for sale. To voluntarily allow Canada to legislate the treaty right to education is an insult to the ancestors who fought to protect those rights for future generations. Harper wants First Nations to voluntarily transform their treaty right to education into a discretionary program entitlement that is subject to the whims of Parliament. Why would anyone do this?
Augustine’s impatience with Chiefs is more of a reflection of his own skewed view of First Nation politics. He thinks the quick deal is the best deal – one battle at a time he says. He equates “winning” with money. He forgets that sometimes the real win is the protection of what makes us who we are: our sovereignty as Nations. No amount of money can ever be as powerful as the sovereignty bestowed on us by the Creator and defended by our ancestors for generations.
There can no compromise on First Nation Control of First Nation Education. The solution is simple:
In the short term we must address the crisis in First Nation education created by the purposeful, chronic underfunding by the federal government. Amendments can be made to contribution agreements by adjusting funding levels AT LEAST comparable with the provincial rates, with additional amounts to build and repair schools, teach Indigenous languages and build capacity and training. There is a cumulative deficit in the billions in underfunded education on reserve. Even if we are funded now, it will take decades to catch up.
In the longer term, it will be up to each Nation to decide how they want to go about addressing the larger issues of treaty implementation, restitution of lands and resources and the recognition of First Nation governance. It’s not for any one leader, organization, Minister or Regional Chief to make that decision for us.
#StayUnited against #FNCFNEA