INAC’s “Expert” Panel on First Nation Education – Big Bucks, Zero Results

Back in December of 2009,  Indian and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) (as it then was) announced that it would be putting together an “expert” panel on First Nations education and that the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) would have some say over the mandate of the panel and the appointment of its members. The members of the panel were expected to be announced in early 2011 with a view to having a report in mid-2011. Up until this announcement, I had seen no call for proposals from INAC and no call from the AFN for educators to put their names forward for consideration. Then, on February 20, 2011 out of the blue, we see a notice posted on the MERX website that three individuals had already been chosen for the panel and were to be paid $200,000 EACH plus hst for a three month contract that was due to end July 31, 2011. The contract was awarded without tender because INAC felt that no one else other than the three people chosen would be as “uniquely qualified” to conduct a national panel on First Nation education. The three chosen were: (1) David Hughes, CEO of Pathways to Education Canada, who was chosen to be the Chair of the panel, (2) George Lafonde, former Vice-Chief of Saskatoon Tribal Council; and (3) Caroline Krause, who described the present post-secondary funding system for First Nations as “corrupt” and thus offered her “unequivocal support” for Calvin Helin’s report “Free to Learn” which advocated for giving education funds directly to students and skip bands altogether. It is no surprise then, how she came to be regarded as an “expert” or chosen for this panel. This “blue ribbon” panel was to study the issue of First Nation education (once again) and come up with substantive recommendations. Their contracted mandate included the following: (1) They will be responsible to conduct face-to-face and online engagement activities across Canada to hear from First Nation leaders, parents, students, elders, teachers, provinces, and others with an interest and a view on how to enhance the education system and outcomes of First Nation learners at the elementary and secondary levels. (2) This will entail organizing and leading eight regional roundtables across Canada and one national roundtable and having key meetings with other stakeholders. (3) Based on work, the Panel will provide a summary following each roundtable, a progress report to the Minister of INAC and to the National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations mid-way through the process, and they will submit a final panel report with recommendations by July 31, 2011. The report was to be tabled at the AFN’s national assembly in July which is to be held in Moncton, NB this year. This panel received instant criticism from Chiefs all over the country but national Chief Shawn Atleo asked Chiefs to work with this panel despite their concerns. Despite ongoing concerns expressed by many Chiefs, the AFN stood by the Conservatives and encouraged chiefs to participate. Some chiefs were so upset with AFN that they wanted to meet without AFN present. Once can hardly blame their feelings given the lack of action on education – which has been a crisis issue since the 1950’s, if not earlier. Yet, we are already at June 23, 2011 and from what I understand, there has not been a single community meeting or engagement session held to discuss any of the important issues around First Nation education. This makes me wonder whether it is even possible for this expert panel to have a report by July 31, 2011 and if so, how such a rushed report would be worth the paper it is written on? Perhaps $200,000 per person was not enough financial incentive to have them conduct any of the work? This money will no doubt be added the the billions already spent on the bureacracy that “manages” First Nations. Then, last night on APTN National News, it was reported that David Hughes, the Chair of the expert panel had resigned. There was no information reported about whether he had been paid any of the $200,000 under the contract, whether and to what extent he had done any of the work or when he had resigned. Again, no announcement was made by either the AFN or INAC (now ANAC). Ironic that the very government who set up a panel that will make recommendations on how First Nations need to be more accountable with education funding is not very transparent or accountable with its own funds. What should have been considered an embarrassing fiasco for both INAC and the AFN was turned into a National Aboriginal Day “announcement” that an expert panel on First Nations education was “set to begin”. In fact, it was reported that the panel might start as early as “this week”. Downplaying the resignation of the former Chair David Hughes, it was quietly noted that the new Chair is now Scott Haldane, the President of the YMCA. Atleo explained that the goal was to have a report sometime “this calendar year” and was promising real “action”. Is it just me, or are we all being presented with smoke and mirrors instead of seeing any real accountability by INAC or the AFN? It boggles my mind that the AFN would continue to prop up the Conservatives when clearly they are not taking any action on our critical issues. In fact, APTN reported that INAC was NOT committing to any action on education and Minister Duncan said INAC was not prepared to simply “write a blank cheque” to address funding inequities. I think it is time for the Conservatives to practice what they preach and start showing us some accountability. I also think its time for our real leaders to step up and start calling INAC on their sustained lack of action. Here are some of the questions I want answered: (1) Was any money paid out under the original MERX contract that was due to be completed on July 31, 2011? If so, how much? (2) Has a new contract and/or extension of the old contract been made with the current panelists? If so, what are the terms and how much is it for? (3) If there is a new contract and/or an extension of the old one, why would we enter into yet another contract and/or an extension of the current contract when the original objectives of the first contract were not completed? (4) What is the real reason why the former chair of the panel resigned? Who choose this Chair and why? (5) Did the AFN really have any say in the decision to create a panel, the madate of the panel and the membership? Really? Did Atleo choose another non-First Nations person as the chair? Finally, why is the AFN keeping us in the dark about this critical issue for our people and propping up the Conservatives instead of holding them to account? First Nation leaders are staring to speak up, grass roots citizens are expressing their concerns – is anyone listening? This situation is starting to look eerily familiar to the CAP-Brazeau affair. While that may have won Brazeau a Senate seat, it did little for the grass roots Aboriginal people who most needed someone to stand up for them. Trying to cover up a fiasco on First Nation education on National Aboriginal Day has to be one of the most insulting things INAC or the AFN could do to First Nations. I think we deserve a little better than that. At least the Auditor General thought so…… How many more studies do we need to be certain that there is an issue in First Nation education? How many more Auditor General’s have to confirm INAC funding inequities before funding is increased? How much more of this will we allow to happen before the real leaders step forward?


  1. "How much more of this will we allow to happen before the real leaders step forward? "

    Here is the challenge. Those who strive forward for these roles are typically the kind of people you don't want in leadership (often ambitious, power seeking or self-serving). The people you do want in leadership are those who have the ability, but are reluctant to take such positions because they do not feel superior to anyone.

    The best leaders are those whom the people recommend and request, repeatedly if necessary.

    In any case, political leadership is incredibly intimidating… especially if you have a line of integrity.

  2. I'm not going to throw the panelists under the bus, which I don't see Pamela as doing here, but seeing that Caroline Krause is a Panelist and has done a lot of amazing work for Aboriginal students in East Vancouver, and whom refused to give up when everyone but the students and parents had seemed to give up, and broke a tradition of failing our kids and instead turned out successful graduates – Caroline should get a medal. So her reputation is solid, and I do like the work of the Y in each of the cities. Again, a solid organization. Whether we need another study is totally debatable because it is happening again, and it is completely fair to think that this will go nowhere.

    Many can easily rattle off a list of problems and solutions to this issue, not just experts. It's been debated for far too long with no action. And action needs to come from Government. And yes, the Chiefs probably will not like it because they can move those education funds to other priorities and treat it as a discretionary fund, in the end no one is better off.

    After the election, people voted, and people who didn't vote allowed for a Conservative majority government. It wasn't my vote, and we are stuck with this for the next four years.

    And everyone knows that the AFN is tied to government, regardless of who it is or not. The AFN represents First Nations band and reserve issues – I don't really see the AFN doing anything particular on education issues beyond this new panel, so either they do nothing much, or see where this goes. Was this direction their idea? Doubt it.

    I don't recall the Conservative government ever making strides for Aboriginal people. I don't expect much to happen in the next few years, regardless of who is leading the AFN or the panel. Yes it would be great if some transparency on the whole process and some timelines were released. Maybe it is being held up in the mail strike.

  3. Hi Ginger;

    Thanks so much for sharing your perspective. I appreciate hearing from readers about all sides of an issue.

    You are absolutely correct – no one is throwing anyone under any buses. I do not know any of the "panelists" personally – I am simply assessing their positions and actions or lack thereof.

    Ms. Krause may have done wonderful things for Vancouver schools, but it is her stereotyping of First Nations as corrupt that lead to her selection as a conservative pick for this panel that I do not like.

    There is no possible way that this "expert" panel will come up with anything other than what Helin, Krause and others have already advocated. By the time we are done paying for these experts we'll be no further ahead. I can see the same process happening for reserve privatization too.

    Is it First Nations or INAC that is corrupt for:

    – grossly underfunding First Nations in critical essential services like social assistance, health, child and family services, housing and water;
    – grossly underfunding First Nations in education and capacity building;
    – for creating the inequitable funding formulas in the first place and
    – for creating the situation which at times encourages First Nations to take from one budget line to address a crisis in another.

    I think the situation is far more complex than the anti-First Nation critics would have the public believe.

    So far, the only people to have benefitted from this expert panel are the panelists themselves – sadly.

  4. Given all of this, it seems that the real solution is empowerment of each community to rise up and overcome their challenges; with or without government resources.

    Since we know that Governments are wholly inadequate at addressing the issues AND that such top down approaches, however well-meaning they may or may not be, do not work; maybe we need to begin pooling our own intellectual resources together.

    For example, what if we create a pool of volunteer First Nation experts nation-wide to begin capacity building. The expert pool would include such skills as human resources, strategy development, social programming, youth engagement, employment and training project development, business/entrepreneurial training, economic development, social economy, legal, good governance, community engagement, etc.

    Instead of chiefs needing to contract a lot of this work out (with money they really can't afford to spend), they could draw on this pool of volunteer experts. The only cost that the community might need to pay is travel and accommodations if the volunteer is willing to go to the community for face-to-face assistance.

    The volunteers could also use a mentorship model, where any interested community folks can work along side the volunteer and learn.

    Perhaps ideallistic, but if each of us who have skills to share helped even just once per year for a couple days, it would make a huge difference.

    Finally, part of the overall goal would be to find adjacent communities and try to do a skill mapping where they can share skills and mentorship with each other too.

    Just some thoughts…. of course, it requires someone to pull all of this together…


  5. Keep up the good work! I'm just curious as to the panelists: it doesn't mention when and if they were ever in the K-12 system. I think if they are going to talk about improving this system they should at least have been a part of it at some point in time.

  6. In 1967 the government of the day commissioned and published the Hawthorn Report, "A Survey of the Contemporary Indians of Canada."

    As part of my research for my thesis I a have reviewed the two volumes and find it very interesting that as far back as then the Government knew exactly what the issues were. The panel made many recommendation that appear to be just as valid today as they were so many years ago.

    The real tragedy is that here we are almost 50 Years later and we still fact the same problems. The horror is that the government spends $350 million per year on special needs programming that is based on the wrong type of assessments. In our school district they use the Myers-Brigg Type Indicator Test to justify our children as sever learning disabled with the need for English as a second language.

    Since 2003 I have brought the issue up at the AFN, FNS, and in meetings with INAC and the Minister of Education.

    I appealed in the Aboriginal Peoples Congress of the Federal Liberal Party at the Biennial Convention as one of the issues that we need policy change in, only to be cut off by the chair.

    We have not had any political leadership on this for issue for a very long time. Our own experts have not had the resources to effectively deal with the substance of underlying problems we face.

    The fact that we have a chronic 60 – 90% unemployment rate is reason enough to deal with the issues, but we seem to not be heard because the $10 Billion in Indian Programming keeps a lot of non-First Nations people in business or employed.

    With all of the vast amounts of wealth created from resource development and extraction/export from lands and resources subject to our Constitutionally protected rights and title, is deplorable.

    Yet there are ways to address the substantive issues but we need a coordinated approach and we need leadership to achieve the results we need.

    There is a great need for policy change because the bureaucracy will not risk setting bad precedent without clear rationale.

    In order to achieve that we need to complete research that leads to the legal objectives that lead to legislation that in turn drives policy.

    The research is needed because change has to have withstood the rigorous challenge of academic scrutiny before it will be taken seriously. Only we can lead that for change will only be successful if it starts from the inside.

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