Education Act a distraction from 18-year process, says Chief Madahbee

THUNDER BAY—Anishinabek Nation chiefs are concerned that the government’s proposed First Nations education legislation ignores 18 years of negotiations for the Anishinabek Education System, according to the Union of Ontario Indians (UOI).

The Anishinabek Nation Chiefs Committee on Governance has been discussing the latest developments in their negotiations on comprehensive self-government and education.

Anishinabek Nation Grand Council Chief Patrick Madahbee says that federal legislation on First Nation education is not First Nation control over First Nation education.

“Only First Nations people know what’s best for First Nations and if the government is serious about working with First Nations then they’ll bridge the funding gaps in our negotiations on our own education system,” says Chief Madahbee, leader of 39 First Nations. “Our system was developed by First Nation educators, parents and leadership and it’s ready to go—we just need the government to put their money where their mouth is. Stop trying to legislate First Nations and listen to them. We cannot stop fighting for jurisdiction over children.”

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Anishinabek leaders are concerned that the February 7 announcement in Alberta by the Assembly of First Nations and the Harper Conservatives about a proposed First Nations Control of First Nations Education Act could remove focus from Anishinabek-Canada negotiations for the Anishinabek Education System and the ratification to make this deal a reality.

Deputy Grand Council Chief Glen Hare, the Anishinabek Nation Commissioner on Governance, said, “Our children are near and dear to my heart and I have said many times before, I will pull out all stops to protect their rights. This includes the right to a fair and equitable opportunity for education. Our kids deserve nothing less than a quality education funded at a comparable level to that received by non-Native kids in provincial schools. I will fight to the end of my life for this and I am calling on all of our leadership to take up the fight.”

Lake Huron Regional Chief Isadore Day, chair of the Chiefs Committee on Governance, says the Harper government’s proposed education legislation does not take precedence over Canada’s legal obligation to respect First Nations Constitutional rights to manage their own affairs.

“It’s impossible to be optimistic about the AFN-Canada announcement on the First Nation Control of First Nation Education Act. The main concern is that the Anishinabek Nation has been in negotiations with Canada for 18 years—we are nearing conclusion of a very important and costly process and Canada has not yet been explicit about how it will protect and preserve the integrity of these negotiations for all of our First Nation communities in the Anishinabek Nation. What concerns me deeply is the current federal slash-and-burn of First Nation funding. This clearly signals that the government is taking millions from First Nations over a three-year period to recycle that money and re-purpose those funds to fit their education agenda. The Chiefs Committee is examining the details, but we are not in favour of AFN and Canada joint announcement and will be outlining our positions about the troubling details of the Harper government’s unclear education announcement.”

The Chiefs Committee on Governance is launching a comprehensive agenda of community awareness activities to ensure that Anishinabek Nation citizens are more aware of the details of the Anishinabek Education System, compared to the federal government’s legislated approach, according to a UOI press release.

Anishinabek Nation communities will have the opportunity to allow every eligible voter the chance to decide whether their children will be schooled in an Anishinabek Education System, the release states.