Given that 58% of on-reserve aboriginal young people do not graduate from high school (compared to 16% when all Canadians are included), it’s really unfortunate that the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) Chiefs have rejected the native education reforms recommended by the Conservative government and Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Duncan.
Specifically, the current Conservative government wants to move ahead with a new native education act, the purpose of which would be to provide money for reserve and regional school boards — thereby providing the same type of publicly funded programs and services available to Canadian children and youth living off-reserve. And, they want to have everything in place for September 2014!
To begin with, the federal government set up a “joint” Native Education Reform Task Force, a committee that was initially approved by the AFN. Meaning, that Minister Duncan built in a way to consult with the aboriginal community.
However, not long ago, everything came crashing down. Why? Well, as John Ibbitson (H/T Jack’s Newswatch) reported on October 13th and Global News on October 3rd, the reasons the Chiefs give for their outright rejection were that:
- Decisions were being made behind closed doors;
- They personally had not been consulted;
- Legislation would be too one-size-fits-all and restrictive; and
- Treaty Rights couldn’t be built into the legislation.
First of all, no decisions were made behind closed doors. The AFN was co-sponsor of the “joint” task force. So, the “joint” members would have had private discussions as expected.
Second, it is simply not possible to have general widespread consultations every time a decision is made. That is why we elect MPs and the National Chief.
Third and fourth, the legislation would not have been restrictive or unable to incorporate Treaty Rights. We only need to look to the ten provincial Education Acts and three territorial Education Acts to know that any number of flexible accommodations can be built into legislation.
No, I suspect the Chiefs were not only worried about giving up power and control over education spending but that a native education act might precipitate amendments to the Indian Act.
Yet, unfortunately, that attitude is not new. For example, check out this historical analysis by four writers at Memorial University in Newfoundland (Wayne Nesbit, David Philpott, Mildred Cahill and Gary Jeffery), as well as this information about the White Paper of 1969.
The White Paper was released by former PM Jean Chretien when he was Native and Aboriginal Affairs Minister. It was an earlier attempt to repair the patriarchical and deterministic nature of the Indian Act, which stifled personal and community initiative then as well as now. Yet, it was rejected by the aboriginal community as a sure path to total assimilation and cultural genocide.
That was 43 years ago!! Now the Harper Conservative government is attempting to improve education outcomes and, indirectly, the lives of today’s aboriginal youth, who will become tomorrow’s community leaders.
Yet, the distrust and tendency towards preserving the status quo continues. As such, I can’t help wondering if there is anything that can be done, by either the AFN Chiefs, National Chief Shawn Atleo or the Aboriginal Minister, John Duncan, that would put the current process back on track.
Could they, for instance, ensure that if there are any public-private partnerships to built schools on reserves, it will be aboriginals who get the first option to bid (assuming they have the abilities and skills needed)?