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(Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

The department of Aboriginal Affairs denies its proposed First Nations Education Act violates treaty rights. 

The chiefs of Anishnawbek Natio and Nishnawbe Aski Nation have rejected the draft bill.

NAN Grand Chief Harvey Yesno said Ottawa continues to fail First Nations children — from residential schools to underfunding.

"There can be no meaningful change until we, the First Nations of Nishnawbe Aski Nation, assert our inherent jurisdiction over education,” he said.

But the education policy director for Aboriginal Affairs said the legislation is a work in progress that is designed to give First Nations more say in building their own school systems.

"We've taken this almost unprecedented approach of releasing an entire draft of proposed legislation publicly for First Nations to be able to see, to comment, to shape and help develop further,” Chris Rainer said.

‘We want to hear from First Nations’

The act lays out standards to make sure students graduate with diplomas recognized by post-secondary institutions and employers.

"We think [that] can be done in a culturally and linguistically sensitive manner by First Nations themselves,” he added.

Aboriginal Affairs is listening to concerns about the act, Rainer said, including the issue of funding. Once First Nations solidify their education plans, the money will follow. 

“We want to hear from First Nations about if they have other proposed structures than what we've proposed,” he said.

“Once we can come to that point, then yes, the minister's been clear: money will follow to make sure that this education system [will] work."

Aboriginal Affairs will meet with First Nations to hear their proposals and consultations will continue, as there is no specific time line for the First Nations Education Act, Rainer said.

He said he believes Aboriginal Affairs and First Nations all have the same goal — to deliver quality education for First Nation students — but are interpreting the draft legislation differently.