By Lethbridge Herald Opinon
It was only a few months ago when Stephen Harper was in our neck of the woods, making a historic announcement regarding First Nations education.
Harper and Assembly of First Nations Chief Shawn Atleo were among the many dignitaries who gathered in Standoff for the signing of a deal which would provide $1.9 billion for First Nations education, all from the federal government’s coffers.
With regional chiefs from across the country, Harper and Atleo appeared united that day at Kainai High School, as an agreement many years in the making, complete with painstaking negotiations, appeared to be in order.
The significance of that day was not lost on those in attendance The Truth and Reconciliation panel, Blood Tribe members, young and old, and several high-ranking federal government officials all realized what the day meant. In the grand scheme of things, it could be viewed as another step in the right direction, another major attempt by the federal government to take action and enact real change for Frist Nations residents across the country.
The education bill, however, was not without detractors. Some chiefs of the Assembly of First Nations executive were particularly outspoken about the bill, as Atleo was under attack from nearly the moment pen went to paper on that fateful Feb. 7 in southern Alberta.
Those same chiefs who made the trek to Alberta began to abandon Atleo, and support for the education bill crumbled. Several federal opposition parties also indicated they would not support the bill and in the end, it appeared Atleo had simply had enough with the process.
Now, with the bill on hold, and a federal election looming in 2015, the question remains – where do we go from here?
It appears the issue of First Nations education is as unstable as ever. It took years to get to the point where everyone could be brought together last winter, as cameras snapped, film rolled and the nation watched as history appeared to unfold.
The questions and concerns many raised about the act may now bubble to the surface with more frequency. Hopefully, real work and real mediation can help both sides formulate an even better agreement.
But without Atleo at the helm, and the leadership vacuum that it may create, and uncertainty at the federal government level, as next year’s election looms, time may not be on anyone’s side in this case.
A possibility of a quick turnaround and a return to meaningful negotiations is unlikely. It would appear, at this point, those living on First Nations reserves throughout the country will have to endure the status quo for the time being.
Making history is difficult. The difference between a highly choreographed photo opp and an in-depth agreement that can serve both sides for decades to come can often be very wide.
This case proved that and, hopefully, both sides can return to the table at some point and sign a deal which benefits First Nations people in Canada. That would make for a truly historic photo opp.