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When Shawn Atleo sat with his grandmother to watch Prime Minister Stephen Harper apologize to First Nations people for the brutal system of residential schools, she said to him, "Grandson, they are just beginning to see us." She had raised 17 children - all went to residential school.
Shawn Atleo was among the first in his family not to go. He had an opportunity for another way. As his grandmother said to him, "we no longer fight our fights with our fists. We fight our fights with education."And Shawn went on, against the prevailing narrative, to finish high school and university. He says education is the key to survival for Native communities.
Right now, only 40% of Native children graduate from high school - that's half the rate of non-Native kids. And there are other problems - housing, economic development, and, most profoundly, the Indian Act. Shawn Atleo, national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, says these are just some of the areas First Nations and Canada's federal government need to revisit.
On January 24th, for the first time, Prime Minister Stephen Harper sat down for a face-to-face meeting with Shawn and all the chiefs across the country to talk about how to help First Nations communities help themselves. At the forefront of that discussion was education - how to improve it and how to better fund it so that all First Nations children can have a fighting chance.