Thunder Bay·Updated

Ontario chiefs demand feds abandon Education Act

First Nation leaders in Ontario have rebuffed the federal proposal on a First Nations Education Act and plan to build their own “education vision.”
First Nations chiefs in Ontario says the federally proposed First Nations Education Act is a major step backward and a springboard for a collision course with indigenous peoples. (Nicole Ireland/CBC)

First Nation leaders in Ontario say they reject a federally proposed First Nations Education Act and plan to build their own “education vision.”

“We discussed education at length over the last two days and along with maintaining our rejection of the federal legislation on education we also collectively affirm our inherent right to establish and control our own educational systems and institutions,” Regional Chief Stan Beardy said in a news release issued by the Chiefs of Ontario on Wednesday.

“Additionally, we are developing a plan of action to assert our jurisdiction over education.”

The chiefs, who are meeting on Fort William First Nation near Thunder Bay, said they would refuse to abide by the new education act and demanded the federal government abandon the process.

"Right now they need to set this legislation aside and say, 'Okay, fine ... Obviously people have rejected this'," said Grand Chief Gordon Peters, who holds the education portfolio for the Chiefs of Ontario. "[The government should say] 'Let's stop. Let's come back to the table. Let's set up a negotiating team and let's start to be able to figure out what the best way to move forward is.'"

Peters said that Canadians need to understand that First Nations' jurisdiction over their own education systems is one of their human rights, and that they are capable of managing those systems successfully. 

But he added that the federal government must commit to sustainable funding that reflects the growing aboriginal population. He dismissed Aboriginal Affairs Canada's explanation that it did not include funding in the proposed legislation because it is waiting for First Nations to submit their education proposals. 

"Nobody comes along and says, 'I've got this beautiful car I want to sell you ... you agree to buy the car first and then we'll talk about the price secondly.' [That] doesn't happen," he said. 

Quinn Meawasige, 20, from Serpent River in northern Ontario was among the young people who stood with the Chiefs of Ontario on Wednesday to publicly reject the federal government's proposed First Nations Education Act. (Nicole Ireland/CBC)

Twenty-year-old Quinn Meawasige from Serpent River First Nation in northeastern Ontario said many indigenous youth are ashamed of who they are because of failures in the current education system. 

"It's tough because people don't know the treaty rights," he said. "They don't know the history of residential schools [and] the intergenerational impacts we still live with today."   

Meawasige said it's essential for First Nations students to have an education grounded in their culture. "Once we have our own systems, we teach them who they are," he said. "They know their language.  And they can still learn, you know, the western society ... at the same time. But you need to know who you are first."

The Conservative government released the document “A Proposal for a Bill on First Nation Education” in October. The Ontario chiefs say that prior to the public release of the draft legislation, the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs stated to the National Chiefs Committee on Education that he would not proceed with the act if there was enough First Nations opposition.


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