By Alan S. Hale, Kenora Daily MIner and News
The resignation of the National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, Sean Atleo, has stalled the passage of the federal government’s new First Nations education reforms.
Atleo announced his sudden resignation on Friday, May 2, saying he did not want his leadership to distract First Nations from the debate which surrounds the federal government’s new ‘First Nations Controlling First Nations Education Act.’ The Regional Chief for Ontario, Stan Beardy, said he recognizes the hard work Atleo has put in during his time at the head of the assembly.
“I would like to take this opportunity to thank A-in-chut (the National Chief) for his dedication, his perseverance and his passion for the work he did while serving,” said Beardy in a statement. “It’s often very difficult work with many days away from loved ones but it’s the work that leaders have been chosen for and I want to acknowledge him and the personal sacrifices of his family and community for the time he worked to contribute to the betterment of all First Nations people.”
Atleo has been under fire by many First Nations leaders over his handling of the negotiations with the government over the First Nations Controlling First Nations Education Act. Many chiefs believe the Assembly of First Nations is meant to be an advocacy organization and does not have the power to negotiate on behalf of other First Nations.
Because the federal government chose to negotiate the education reform bill with the assembly, many aboriginal leaders feel that the bill is illegitimate. Treaty 3 Grand Chief Warren White is one of the leaders who feels this way.
Although White could not be reached for reaction to Atleo’s resignation, he said in February when the bill was first unveiled he personally could not support the bill because of how it was created.
“That’s the only way this is going to work is if there is a nation-to-nation and treaty-by-treaty process,” said the Grand Chief.
“We’re ready to move, develop and implement our own standards and our cultural language programs in the way that each individual community wants to see it done, not the way the Grand Chief and the Treaty 3 Grand Council sees it.”
At the time, White said he was disappointed with Atleo because the National Chief seemed to have abandoned the individually-negotiated approach he and many other leaders wanted.
“I was shocked and disappointed when the prime minister comes right out and says he has struck a deal with the AFN and the national chief (Sean Atleo) to scrap the First Nations Education Act and (announced a new bill to replace it). I’m very concerned about this because I was always under the impression that the national chief was trying to push a nation-to-nation process and to learn otherwise during the prime minister’s address was very concerning,” said White.
The new education bill would repeal the education section of the Indian Act, opening up the door to First Nations taking direct control of the schools inside their communities and allow them to create new aboriginal education authorities to act as school boards. Then, starting in 2016, the government is promising to roll out $1.252 billion over the course of three years. Funding for aboriginal schools will then increase by 4.5 per cent every year afterwards.
But all that has now stalled because the government has put the education bill on hold.
“Given the recent resignation of the national chief, following today’s second reading vote, any further consideration of this legislation will be put on hold until the AFN clarifies its position,” said Federal Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt.