Harvey Yesno says new federal education act falls short

The Nishnawbe-Aski Nation says it’s disappointed with the federal government's revised First Nations Education Act.

Nishnawbe-Aski Grand Chief says chronic underfunding causing numerous issues

Prime Minister Stephen Harper visited Kainai High on the Blood Reserve, Alberta, for an announcement on Friday of the revamped First Nations Education Act. (Erin Collins/CBC)

The Nishnawbe-Aski Nation says it’s disappointed with the federal government's revised First Nations Education Act.

Harvey Yesno is the Grand Chief of NAN, a political organization representing 49 First Nations in northern Ontario. He said one of the problems is that investment won't flow until 2016 or later. He said the key issue for First Nations education is chronic underfunding.

“For instance ... Pikangikum, today, had 50 kindergarten students [who] couldn't enter school this fall,” said Yesno. “That could be 65-70 students in a few years from now.”

Yesno said First Nations aren't able to attract and keep teachers in northern Ontario because they can't afford the salaries and benefits, let alone computers and library facilities.

He noted the treaty area has already been waiting three years for a response from the federal government on its own education proposal that was agreed to in principle.

"Since 1999 we've been engaged with the federal government on negotiations as far as education jurisdiction, so that's something we're disappointed [with],” he said.

NAN Grand Chief Harvey Yesno says First Nations "children are not getting the education facilities and the supports" they need. (CBC)

“There [are] very few details, if any, other than to say that existing arrangements will be honoured or will complement," he said. "We've been waiting … with the agreement in principle that had been initialled off by the parties, and we're still waiting for government's response whether we can move to final agreement."

In a news release issued Monday, NAN officials said the proposed federal funding does not meet the current 12-year backlog in school construction in NAN alone.

"I was disappointed in the overall investment,” Yesno said. “Over seven years, half a billion across the country [for infrastructure] ... we could use that ourselves, just in NAN territory, building schools.”

Yesno added NAN’s biggest concern is that the deal will be a federal legislative framework, “and yet there have been deals across the country that [have] been done by the provinces and the federal government on control of First Nations education.”

First Nations leaders are worried the new initiative “will usurp all the work that we've done on our assertion to control our education in our communities,” he said.

As for the federal government assertion that First Nations are not meeting provincial school standards, Yesno remarked, “We don't have any issue around standards … it's really an issue of chronic underfunding. We're not attracting teachers ... because we can't offer them the salaries and benefits, or even the home.  That should not be a factor for them to teach in the north."


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