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New AFN chief must deal with education, observer says

Now that Shawn Atleo has resigned as national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, others need to step up, says the vice provost of Aboriginal Initiatives at Lakehead University.

Now that Shawn Atleo has resigned as national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, others need to step up, says the vice provost of Aboriginal Initiatives at Lakehead University.

Atleo quit amid controversy over the federal government's First Nations Education Act.

Cynthia Wesley-Esquimaux says the act wasn't perfect, but there was some good in it.

“Was … 2016 good enough? No. Was the fact that he could send in other people to standardize the curriculum and do those kinds of things? No,” she said in an interview Monday with CBC Thunder Bay's Superior Morning host Lisa Laco.

“But is it necessary to standardize a curriculum so that kids coming out of northern communities have a better chance at being successful in urban centres. I think so. As an educator, I see what happens when they come in and they're not ready.”

Esquimaux said the new chief will have to be ready to talk education.

“I think we've done a lot of consultation over the years on education matters. We know what the fundamental principles are that need to be upheld. And those apparently were there. Was everything perfect? Absolutely not.  Is it ever perfect when it comes down from government? No,” she added.

Esquimaux remarked that criticism should not have been levelled at Shawn Atleo.

He was “doing his level best to come to some kind of agreement,” in a difficult environment.

“I think the criticism should be levelled at what was in the document and everybody should have focussed on that and worked together to ensure that what they wanted to have there was actually there,” she said.

Looking ahead, Esquimaux said the correct dollar figures need to be in place.

“That's one of the reasons NAN wasn't able to support this bill,” she said.

“The resources that were attached to it were not enough … We could see that, when we broke it down, that the amount of money distributed across Canada, 632 First Nations and schools, was not going to meet their needs.”

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