The names of the three panellists were posted on the government tendering website Merx on Sunday as an “advanced contract award notice.”
The notice names David Hughes, president of charitable organization Pathways to Education Canada and former head of Habitat for Humanity Canada, as chair of the panel.
Hughes will be joined by George Lafond, from Muskeg Cree Lake Nation, Sask., and currently an Aboriginal initiative special advisor to the University of Saskatchewan’s president, along with Caroline Krause, a faculty associate at the University of British Columbia and former principal an elementary school in one of Vancouver’s poorest neighbourhoods.
The independent panel is expected to be officially unveiled sometime between March 14 and 18.
Their final report on elementary and secondary First Nations education is expected for release in July during the Assembly of First Nation’s annual general assembly held this year in Moncton, N.B.
The panel is also expected to submit an initial report in late May to Assembly of First Nations national Chief Shawn Atleo and Indian Affairs Minister John Duncan.
The panellists will each be paid $200,000 for the contract which runs until July 31.
While Atleo could not be immediately reached for comment, a source indicated the national chief was aware of the initial concerns raised by some chiefs over the appointments. Atleo, however, is urging chiefs to work through the panel to force their concerns onto the agenda, including a close study of funding levels.
Duncan’s office issued a statement saying the three panelists were the best choices for the job.
“The national panel consists of three very qualified and respected individuals, each of whom bring an informed perspective to the discussion,” said the statement. “This government is committed to First Nations students and we continue to work with the AFN on this important issue.”
Duncan announced the creation of the panel in the House of Commons last December, saying it was a joint initiative between the government and the AFN.
The panel announcement came in response to consistent calls from First Nation leaders for a major overhaul of First Nations education.
The blue-ribbon panel has been touted by Duncan and the AFN as a major step in reforming First Nations education. The panel’s recommendations, while non-binding, could also lead to legislative changes, Duncan has said.
In December 2009, Kitigan Zibi First Nation Chief Gilbert Whiteduck, with a roomful of chiefs standing around him in in support, dramatically demanded then Indian affairs minister Chuck Strahl make education a pressing priority.
Whiteduck, who sat on a senior education advisory council involved with the creation of the panel, said he was disappointed with the choices.
Whiteduck said he was informed during a council meeting Friday that the panel had been selected but the names would be kept secret until the Merx notice appeared on Sunday.
Whiteduck said he had no idea how the panellists were selected, despite several regions submitting suggestions for candidates.
He said he is upset about the decision to appoint a non-First Nations member as chair of the panel.
“They selected a chair that is not First Nation. What message are we sending to our students that we can’t even lead this thing?” said Whiteduck.
Whiteduck said he was also upset at the appointment of Krause.
Whiteduck said an internet posting by Krause on the Macdonald-Laurier Institute website should have disqualified her as a candidate.
“Is it the intent of the AFN to unconditionally support the candidacy of Ms. Krause who obviously views First Nation education administrative practices as being corrupt? This is unacceptable,” wrote Whiteduck, in an email to Ghislain Picard, Grand Chief of the Assembly of First Nations of Quebec and Labrador.
Krause wrote on the website that she supported the creation of individual education accounts for First Nations students to pay for university because “the current funding system is not working and…it is open to serious abuse, favouritism and other discriminatory practices.”
The proposed Aboriginal Post-Secondary Savings Account has been promoted by the likes of First Nations thinker and author Calvin Helin.
The idea, however, has received lukewarm reception from many chiefs.