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. http://aptn.ca/pages/news/2010/12/09/govt-afn-launch-panel-to-study-education/ 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. http://www.merx.com/English/SUPPLIER_Menu.Asp?WCE=Show&TAB=1&PORTAL=MERX&State=7&id=214289&src=osr&FED_ONLY=0&ACTION=&rowcount=&lastpage=&MoreResults=&PUBSORT=0&CLOSESORT=0&hcode=gltUDmepFZnIFIhHGp3Jiw%3D%3D 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. http://www.macdonaldlaurier.ca/files/pdf/FreeToLearn.pdf 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. http://aptn.ca/pages/news/2011/03/03/blue-ribbon-education-panel-quietly-unveiled-draws-immediate-fire/ 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. http://aptn.ca/pages/news/2011/04/07/chief-wants-quebec-fn-gathering-without-afn/ 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. http://aptn.ca/pages/news/ 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…… http://www.oag-bvg.gc.ca/internet/docs/parl_oag_201106_04_e.pdf 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?