By Jorge Barrera
APTN National News
The proposed First Nation education bill partly unveiled this past Friday will still retain the “assimilating and paternalistic nature” of its previous incarnation, according to a Quebec First Nation education organization.
The First Nations Education Council released an analysis Monday of the agreement between Ottawa and the Assembly of First Nations on education which was announced Friday. The deal would see the introduction of a proposed bill governing on-reserve education called the First Nation Control Over First Nation Education Act.
The proposed bill, which is in its final draft, is expected to be tabled in the coming months.
Ottawa is expected to negotiate with the AFN and First Nations leaders on the bill’s final content, according to the agreement.
The council said available information is still limited about the proposed bill and it based its analysis what has already been released publicly. The council found that many of the elements of the previously named First Nations Education Act rejected by chiefs have not been scrubbed from its current incarnation.
“The current agreement made between the AFN and the federal government has retained several disputed elements of the bill presented in October,” said the council. “The name of the draft bill was changed…to create an illusion of a major change, while the bill in its present form goes completely against the First Nation jurisdiction and control of First nation education.”
The deal would see the 18 year-old two per cent a year funding cap on First Nation education lifted after the next federal election. Ottawa also promised to commit $1.252 billion over three years for core education funding along with a new yearly 4.5 per cent escalator. The agreement would also see the federal government invest $500 million for infrastructure over seven years beginning in 2015-2016.
Yet the education council, which counts 22 Quebec First Nations as members, cast a skeptical eye on the promised cash, including concern over the wait reserve schools face before they see any changes and that the main chunk of many and funding changes would only take place after the 2015 election.
“Is there an analysis that shows that this funding is based on needs? How is the funding calculated? Is it new money?” said the council. “Do we have the guarantee that the current programs will not be cut or recycled to meet the announced budget?”
Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt’s office refused to provide a breakdown of the funding, saying that the announcement would be included in Tuesday’s federal budget. A Valcourt spokesperson also emailed Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s speech from Friday to APTN National News.
The council also raised concerns that the AFN-Ottawa agreement was silent on funding for post-secondary education.
“(There is) no mention of the need to implement a funding formula that takes the current reality in schools into consideration,” said the council.
The council also questioned how the proposed legislation could both enable First Nations to implement cultural and language programs while also requiring adherence to provincial standards.
“There are no provincial programs or standards for teaching languages and culture,” said the council.
The council said the new proposed bill would also “increase the power of the government to determine the operation of on-reserve schools by legislating a requirement First Nation schools teach curriculums that meet provincial standards.
First Nations already agree to meet those standards through their funding agreements with Ottawa.
The council also said the bill would “impose’ a provincial model on communities through First Nation education authorities.
“These school authorities, thus named by the federal government, will become federal agencies,” said the council.
The council said any control First Nations would get under the bill would be purely “administrative” in nature
“An agreement was made giving the minister the go ahead to introduce a bill in the House for which we do not have all the details that an act going completely against First Nations aspirations will be adopted,” said the council. “All it took was a promise of future and uncertain funding to accept the unacceptable-increased government control over our institutions and the obligation to fall in line with provincial standards and policies.”