Sunday, September 21, 2014
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AFN chief talks education for First Nations at U of S

Shawn A-In-Chut Atleo gives lecture on the importance of post-secondary education for First Nations

Reported by Kelly Malone

CJME News Talk 980

First Nation education was front and centre during the University of Saskatchewan Students' Union Speaker Series with a lecture from Assembly of First Nations (AFN) National Chief Shawn A-In-Chut Atleo Tuesday night.

Through personal experiences and stories, Atleo has been told during his time as national chief that furthering education was crucial to the success of future generations of First Nations in Saskatchewan and Canada.

"Closing the gap on First Nations education must happen," Atleo explained after the lecture.

The Canadian government announced Feb. 7 that it would invest $1.9 billion into First Nations education over three years through the First Nations Control of First Nations Education Act.

"When you have $2,000 to $7,000 per child gap between First Nation Child and the rest of Canada, Canadians know that this is unacceptable," Atleo explained.

"There is an acknowledgment now because there was always a denial that more money was required. Now more money has been announced. Now it is up to government to do their job to enact that in a way that respects the five conditions."

Atleo referred to the five conditions brought forward by the AFN's chiefs in assembly after they rejected the Federal Governments proposal on First Nation education legislation in October. They are: respect and recognition of inherent rights and title; statutory guarantee of funding; funding to support First Nations education systems that are grounded in Indigenous languages and cultures; reciprocal accountability and no unilateral federal oversight or authority; and ongoing meaningful dialogue and co-development of options.

"I don't have a mandate for example to negotiate that with the federal government. People ask me if it's new money or how did those numbers get arrived at. I don't have the mandate to negotiate those numbers," Atleo explained.

"What we do know is that we have been advocating for years to break the two per cent cap and they came back and said they are prepared to go to 4.5 per cent escalator. We said that we needed resources for language and culture. They have identified that they put that in that $1.9 billion budget announcement that they made."

Atleo and the AFN have received backlash for advocating for the education legislation.

"In my view enabling legislation is the kind of route that is required but it can't be prescriptive it has to honour the right for education to exist at the treaty or nation level and for those treaty nations to control their own education," he explained.

"This should be the kind of enabling legislation that principally establishes a funding relationship between treasury board and the education systems that the First nations establish themselves."

Atleo acknowledged that a lot more work has to be done by First Nations, First Nations leadership, and the federal government but said that it's now time to tackle education funding gaps head-on.

"I do think that there is more work to be done... there is more advocacy work that is required. Some of the chiefs may ask me to do (it) and I will continue to push but the bulk of it though is up to First Nations to press themselves," he said.

"This change must and will occur, over what time frame? I would hope this work happens sooner rather than later."

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