New 'historic' reforms to First Nations Education Act unveiled today
Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced changes to First Nations Education Act in Alberta today that included $500 million for new infrastructure on reserves starting in 2015.
"In Canada we have never had the First Nation education system that we need," he told the gathered crowd at the Kainai High School on the Blood Tribe reserve north of Cardston.
He also announced $1.25 billion over three years in funding for aboriginal schools across Canada beginning in 2016, which would increase by 4.5 per cent each year after.
Total funding announced for reforms to the newly-named First Nations Control of First Nations Education Act amounts to $1.9 billion.
The legislation promises to give First Nations control of their education system.
But the bill requires teachers on reserves to acquire provincial certification and include measures to improve attendance records and low graduation rates on reserves.
Harper was joined by Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt, Assembly of First Nations National Chief Shawn Atleo and regional chiefs from across the country for the announcement today.
It comes after many First Nations reacted with anger and disappointment to the federal government’s education legislation proposed last October.
Alberta chiefs and the Blood Tribe chief and council also rejected last year's proposal, but Chief Charles Weaselhead said it is important to continue engaging Canada on improving education and graduation rates among First Nation students.
The band agreed to host the announcement after a request from Atleo.
“We agreed to host this national announcement, but in no way endorse the proposed legislation in its present form," said Weaselhead in a release.
"However, we are open to continued dialogue and building relationships.”
The AFN passed a resolution in December that officially rejected the proposed act, demanding long-term funding guarantees, First Nations control over education and a recognition of their languages and culture in curriculum.
Harper said today's announcement is part of a "historic" agreement with the AFN that addresses those issues.
"This is a significant shift and I believe it results from our strong direction from chiefs to take all steps necessary to secure the future of First Nations children," Atleo said in a statement.
The federal government wants the act to be in place in time for the next school year in September.
The announcement was followed by a banquet-style meal with the students and leaders of the Kainai Nation Blood Tribe.
Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada says it spent about $1.55 billion on First Nations education in 2011-12 from kindergarten to Grade 12 and another $322 million on post-secondary education.