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First Nations education bill to be tabled in Parliament Thursday

Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt to introduce long-awaited bill

By Susana Mas, CBC News

The federal government will table its long-awaited bill on First Nations education Thursday, ahead of a scheduled two-week Easter recess.

The government gave notice on Tuesday that Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt will table a bill “to establish a framework to enable First Nations control of elementary and secondary education, and to provide for related funding, and to make related amendments to the Indian Act and consequential amendments to other acts.”

The notice comes after a retooled education plan giving First Nations control over First Nations education was unveiled with the endorsement of the Assembly of First Nations in February.

Under the proposed bill, the government would also close the funding gap by earmarking $1.25 billion over three years for aboriginal schools across Canada beginning in 2016. That amount would increase by 4.5 per cent each year after.

Ghislain Picard, the AFN’s regional chief for Quebec and Labrador, is challenging the proposed bill in court.

Picard’s group has asked the Federal Court for a judicial review of the proposed legislation, despite the agreement reached between Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the AFN.

The petition to the court was filed on the grounds that the government failed to meet its obligation to consult directly with the First Nations concerned.

First Nations leaders in Saskatchewan have also expressed concerns with the proposed bill.

Shawn Atleo, the AFN national chief, said he endorsed the second version of the bill because it meets all of the conditions set out by a group of national chiefs during a meeting in Ottawa last December.

All eyes will be on the fine print to see what changes — if any — the government has made to the bill since its announcement in February.

A draft of the legislation unveiled in October was rejected outright after it failed to meet the five conditions laid out by the AFN.

Liberal aboriginal affairs critic Carolyn Bennett said it's important that the government get it right this time because the proposal made last fall "badly undermined the trust of First Nations."

"It is critical that this new legislation meets the conditions set out by First Nations themselves," Bennett told CBC News in a written statement Wednesday.

The Liberals will review the bill after it is tabled. The party will also consult with First Nations to ensure they believe that it meets their criteria, Bennett said.

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