Kahnawake Mohawks unhappy with First Nations Education Act

Many Mohawks in Kahnawake, Que., say the Harper government’s proposed First Nations Education Act basically amounts to the government deciding what’s best for Canada’s aboriginal people.

Some fear the FNEA is a cookie-cutter approach to many diverse First Nations

Karonhianonhnha immersion school principal Kanasohon Deer said the FNEA will work to remove the uniqueness that defines Canada's First Nations. (CBC)

Many Mohawks in Kahnawake, Que., say the Harper government’s retooled First Nations Education Act basically amounts to the government deciding what’s best for Canada’s aboriginal people.

The Prime Minister’s office outlines the FNEA here:

The legislation will require that First Nation schools teach a core curriculum that meets or exceeds provincial standards, that students meet minimum attendance requirements, that teachers are properly certified, and that First Nation schools award widely recognized diplomas or certificates.

These requirements do not currently exist. This has resulted in situations where First Nations youth graduate from education institutions on-reserve but cannot demonstrate a recognizable diploma to a workplace or post-secondary institution and are therefore required to return to school.

The bill, which aims to give First Nations more control over education, was met with much consternation by members of several nations.

It was unveiled in Calgary, Alta., last week — and even the unveiling was so contentious that is spurred an online movement against the proposed bill.

The bill will require teachers on reserves to acquire provincial certification and include measures to improve attendance records and low graduation rates on reserves.

It also comes with $2 billion is additional funding.

But while the government said the FNEA is, ultimately, about accountability, many in Kahnawake feel the bill is paternalistic and top-down in its approach.

“We don’t fall in that category, and there are others across this country that don’t fit in that category either — this cookie-cutter, one approach does not work in Indian country,” said Grand Chief Mike Delisle.

This cookie-cutter, one approach does not work in Indian country.- Grand Chief Mike Delisle

Some members of the community fear nations’ uniqueness will disappear under the act.

“When we look at what we are trying to establish here, it’s our Mohawk language, our Mohawk culture, and some of things in the FNEA are not guaranteed,” said Karonhianonhnha immersion school principal Kanasohon Deer.

“Any nation wants to ensure that its uniqueness in the world is going to be maintained,” he continued.

FNEA 'an insult'

For Trina Diabo, a member of the Kahnawake Combined Schools Committee, the proposed legislation in the FNEA is a slap in the face.

Grand Chief Mike Delisle says the "cookie-cutter" approach to First Nations education won't work. (CBC)
“It’s an insult, it really is, to think they’re going to put a pile of money and I’m going to be like, ‘Yeah sure, we’ll take it and we’ll do whatever you say,’” Diabo said.

She said that making provincial certification a requirement for all people who work with students will make the quality of education decline.

“What we need in Mohawk immersion are speakers, so it makes it difficult to say all the speakers in our community who are resources to our school have to have certification,” she continued.

Many First Nations communities have come out against the bill, and will likely come together to determine the next course of action in its protest against the FNEA.