This blog represents my own personal opinions, thoughts and ideas, and should never be relied on as legal advice. My goal is have a national discussion with the grass roots citizens to see where we can affect the changes we want for our families, communities, and Nations. We owe it to our ancestors to protect our cultures and territories for our future generations.
DEFENDING OUR SOVEREIGNTY
Tuesday, October 8, 2013
Defer, Deflect, Deny, Destroy: Harper’s First Nation Education Act
*(My apologies for the length of this blog - it's too critical of an issue to cover lightly)
the federal government first assumed control over First Nation education, First
Nations have suffered poor educational outcomes. During the residential school
era, federal control over First Nation education meant a very real chance of
starvation, torture, abuse, medical experimentation, beatings and death for the
students. Upwards of 40% of the children who entered residential schools never
made it out alive and others were permanently scarred.
Minister Harper apologized for the residential school policy, but has not
taken a single step to address the disastrous results which stemmed from it
like lost culture, language, identity, traditional Indigenous knowledges, belief
systems, values, customs and practices. No sooner was the weak apology offered
when Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre condemned it as a waste of money. The
Harper government soon followed the apology by cutting funding to Indigenous
languages which confirmed the lack of sincerity in the apology.
a child knows that an apology is more than words; it requires an
acknowledgement of the harm done, acceptance of responsibility for that harm, a
promise not to do it again and actions to try to make amends for the harm done.
Harper has not offered a true apology nor taken real actions to address the
significant harms done. A litigation settlement for personal injuries, rapes
and molestations that happened in those schools does not address the
Harper was sincere about the wrongfulness of Canada’s long-standing
assimilation policy, it would not continue to have assimilation as its number
one policy objective with regards to First Nations. If there was a true
interest in righting wrongs in First Nation education, Harper need only read
the many reports, publications, studies and statistics in relation to First
Nation education which have clearly outlined the problems and the solutions.
Yet, Harper has implemented his standard modus operandi in relation to First
Nations issues: deny, deflect, defer and destroy.
when faced with contrary evidence, Harper’s government has consistently denied
that there is a problem with funding or federal control over First Nation
education. Instead they issue press releases and make public statements about
how much they fund First Nation education and focus on isolated First Nations
which have recently built schools. The Office of the Correctional Investigator,
The Auditor General, Special Ministerial Representatives, United Nations
investigators and numerous experts have raised the alarm on the serious nature
of federal control over First Nation education. Some of the conclusions include
Affairs has failed to implement recommendations “most important to lives and
well-being of First Nations” (Auditor General 2011);
of all water, 65% waste water systems in FNs are high risk - INAC so behind in
infrastructure funding, will take $4.7 billion just to fix current systems
-The “inequitable and differential
outcomes for Aboriginal offenders” are the direct result of “federal correctional
policies and practices” (Correctional Investigator 2010);
funding practices do not lead to equitable funding among Aboriginal and First
Nation communities” (OAG 2008);
inequities results in inability for First Nations to provide adequate child welfare
services (Auditor General 2008);
access to services for First Nations…contributing factors to the
over-representation of Aboriginal children in child welfare system” (INAC
formula created by INAC does not ensure equitable access to education & gap
widening (Auditor General 2004);
failed to give Parliament real picture on FN housing – said increased housing
stock overall, but found an actual decline of 30% (Auditor General 2003).
the evidence is too overwhelming and the media will not let the issue drop,
then the Harper Conservatives deflect responsibility and try to either change
the subject or shift the blame to First Nations themselves by making
allegations against First Nation leaders as corrupt or mismanaging funds. This pattern
has been too consistent and one need only look at the housing crisis in
Attawapiskat, the corresponding allegation of mismanagement and the court case
which cleared Chief Spence’s name to see this m.o. in action.
like in the case of First Nation education, the public criticism is so intense
that deflection will not work and then Harper usually defers the issue to be
studied. In the case of First Nation education, many successive federal
governments have followed the same pattern of deferring the issue to study and
the result is numerous studies. The problem for Harper is that all these
studies continue to say the exact same thing: the problem is federal control
and chronic underfunding of First Nation education. It should be no surprise that
the studies were nearly unanimous in their solutions for poor First Nation education
outcomes: First Nation control and appropriate funding. It’s not rocket science
faced with an issue that simply won’t go away, and the usual deny, deflect and
defer tactics won’t work; Harper usually reverts back to federal policy
objective of assimilating Indians: destroying the “problem” all together. In an
aggressive full blitz attack, Harper has introduced a complex legislative agenda
which will have essentially the same effect as the White Paper 1969 would have:
destroy Indians, reserves, treaties and any programs and services associated
with them. With regards to education, Harper will introduce the First Nation Education
Act, national legislation designed to trick First Nations into voluntarily
giving up their treaty right to education in exchange for a
federally-controlled legislative program.
are the implications of this legislation? The draft legislation has not yet
been shared with the public, so I can’t comment on the specifics, but based on INAC’s
Blueprint for Legislation document shared with First Nations, one can clearly
see that First Nation concerns were valid:
federal controls, inspections and approvals will be tight;
option of local First Nation control is limited and conditional;
(3)There will be no
guaranteed funding as funding will still be policy-based; and
promoted as optional legislation, the legislation proposes to set out a process
for legal recognition and authorization to run schools.
need only look at the current suite of legislation to see where this
legislation is headed.
serious concerns related to this legislation include the fact that there were no
consultations which respect Canada’s legal obligation to obtain the free,
informed and prior consent of First Nations required under section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982 and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of
Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). Instead, engagement sessions were held in
urban areas across the country and largely skipped the 615+ First Nation communities.
This legislation is paternalistic, unilaterally drafted and meant to be a
one-size fits all approach to deflecting the real issue: federal control and
chronic under-funding. The majority of First Nations did NOT ask for
legislation and in fact passed numerous resolutions at the national, regional
and provincial levels specifically opposing this legislation.
cannot forget that for many First Nations, First Nation education is a treaty
right and those treaties are protected in both domestic and international law.
Treaties are forever and are now protected in section 35 and cannot be
unilaterally amended. This, together with the fact that this legislation also
proposes to off-load (at least in part) First Nation education to the provinces
makes this legislation unconstitutional. Canada is forgetting that when it
supported UNDRIP, that article 14 states that First Nations have a right to establish
and control their own education systems and Canada has an obligation to ensure
that First Nation children have access.
failure to address First Nation education outcomes doesn’t even make economic
sense. The 2% cap placed on funding has only made a bad situation worse. Yet,
the studies show that were Canada to eliminate the gap between Canadian and
First Nation education outcomes, this would yield $179 billion on GDP back to
Canada. Why then would Canada continue to pay $100,000 a year to wrongfully imprison
First Nations peoples, when a 4 year university education only costs $60,000
and we know the social and economic benefits of a good education? Canadians
enjoy good education systems funded in large part from the wealth obtained from
Indigenous lands and resources. It’s time to share the wealth as envisioned in
time Canada comes up with an idea on how to “fix” the “Indian problem” our
people are oppressed, assimilated or lose our lives. Canada has failed
miserably in their First Nation education policies. It’s long past time to step
aside and allow First Nations peoples to heal from the inter-generational
devastation caused by federal controls and fully support First
Nation-controlled education systems. The treaties promised to fund these
systems so that First Nations would prosper equally with our treaty partners.
It’s time the treaties were honoured and all parties to the treaties enjoyed
more paternalistic federal legislation and honour the treaties.