APTN National News
Prime Minister Stephen Harper told the new leader of the country’s largest First Nation organization during a meeting Wednesday Ottawa won’t make any major investments in on-reserve education without first obtaining the type of reforms outlined in the controversial First Nation education bill that is now officially dead.
Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde said Harper told him the controversial Bill C-33 would not be introduced in the House of Commons, but the government also won’t be committing any major funds to education without major reforms.
“He did indicate that resources are tied to reform. He wants to see some reform in the educational system that he believes aren’t working,” said Bellegarde, in an interview with Nation to Nation host Nigel Newlove. “That has to be in place before any kind of resources move forward.”
The full interview with Bellegarde will air Thursday evening on APTN National News’ broadcast.
Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt said last year the bill had been put on hold after AFN chiefs rejected it. The former national chief of the AFN, Shawn Atleo, also resigned in the wake of the controversy around the bill. The government tied $1.9 billion in new education funding to passage of the bill.
Bellegarde said Harper did indicate Ottawa included a $500 million-over-seven-years component to its previously announced $70 billion infrastructure funding program.
Harper also refused to budge from his opposition to calling a national inquiry into murdered and missing Indigenous women, said Bellegarde.
“It was clear that they are still not supporting an inquiry and I said we are going to keep pushing for that,” said Bellegarde. “That is what is needed to educate people across this country.”
Bellegarde said he also spoke to the prime minister about resource revenue sharing, the need to move forward on treaty implementation, reform on comprehensive claims and the need for Ottawa to invest in revitalizing Indigenous languages.
“I told (Harper) once an Indigenous person is fluent in their language by 12, 13 years-of-age, they are more successful in school and more successful in life,” said Bellegarde.
Bellegarde also invited Harper to meet with chiefs during the AFN’s annual general meeting in July. The national chief also floated the idea of having a “working forum” involving the prime minister, select cabinet ministers and the AFN executive.
Harper was non-committal on most of the issues raised during the meeting, said Bellegarde, but officials from the Prime Minister’s Office and the AFN would continue to work on sorting out priorities.