Thursday, August 28, 2014
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First Nations education act spurs protests

By Andrea Hill, The Leader-Post

The chiefs of Saskatchewan's First Nations will do "whatever they have to" to protest the federal government's controversial First Nations Education Act, says Chief Delbert Wapass of the Thunderchild First Nation.

"We are open to do whatever to ensure that we are heard," Wapass said Tuesday.

"People are going to come out in numbers, and you're going to see it."

Earlier this week, First Nations leaders from across Canada met in Ottawa to denounce the First Nations control of First Nations Education Act, which aims to standardize education provided by First Nations schools on reserves.

Leaders said they will target the Canadian economy if the government refuses to listen and said they could possibly stop traffic on the Ambassador Bridge that connects Windsor, Ont., to Detroit.

Wallace Fox, chief of Saskatchewan's Onion Lake Cree Nation, was among the leaders in Ottawa. He said he hopes differences can be resolved without such drastic measures, but that he's prepared to participate in such a blockade if the federal government refuses to scrap the act.

"Other Canadians wouldn't tolerate this. Why do we have to?" he said.

Though the national Assembly of First Nations has described the bill as a "constructive and necessary step" to improve the quality of education on reserves, Fox and other First Nations leaders feel the proposed legislation gives the federal government too much control over aboriginal education.

"A foreign government is telling our people what to do once again, as they've done for the last 135 years," Fox said. "The minister of Indian affairs has exclusive control and authority to say yea or nay in terms of curriculum and other developments in education."

Fox said anger over the education act will likely spark a wave of protests across the country this summer, similar to what was seen at the height of the Idle No More movement that launched in late 2012.

"The energy is there, the environment is there," Fox said.

Idle No More activist Erica Lee agreed there will "absolutely" be more protests this summer because of the significance of the proposed education act.

"Education for First Nations people is something that we struggled so hard to gain control of. It's something that we've had to work so hard to protect," she said.

Perry Bellegarde, regional chief for Saskatchewan on the AFN executive, said more analysis of the bill is needed before people rush to protest it.

"There's a huge gap in teacher's salaries, there's a huge gap in lack of resources and libraries - that's just not on in 2014, so we have to look at options," he said. "It's such an important piece to close the education gap among First Nations people that you can't dismiss anything that may have an impact on that."

Bellegarde said the bill will be discussed further at a provincial chiefs meeting at the end of May.

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