UN investigator urges Ottawa not to ‘rush’ First Nations education

OTTAWA – It’s poised to be a centrepiece of the government’s vision for aboriginals in Wednesday’s throne speech, but a human rights investigator says the Conservatives shouldn’t “rush” their anticipated First Nations education legislation.

James Anaya, the United Nations special rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, said the government’s proposed First Nations Education Act risks losing legitimacy because Canada’s aboriginal people are not behind it.

“I have heard a remarkably consistent and profound distrust toward the First Nations Education Act being developed by the federal government,” Anaya told a press conference in Ottawa Tuesday.

“I urge the government not to rush forward with this legislation but to re-initiate discussions with aboriginal leaders to develop a process and ultimately a bill that addresses aboriginal concerns and incorporates aboriginal viewpoints on this fundamental issue.”

Anaya spent the last nine days touring six provinces in the west and in the Prairies, talking to aboriginal communities and both federal and provincial government officials. He is expected to make his findings public in a report to the UN next September.

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While Anaya said there is agreement among governments and First Nations that improving educational outcomes is necessary, aboriginal communities feel they are not being properly consulted on the government’s upcoming legislation.

“Any legislation that goes forward that affects in a direct sense indigenous peoples rights and interests without their buy-in, without their participating in the process for developing that legislation, will lack legitimacy and will ultimately probably be ineffective,” said Anaya.

“That’s my concern.”

Anaya also endorsed the call for a national public inquiry into missing and murdered aboriginal women, which the Conservative government has thus far resisted.

While he acknowledged federal and provincial governments have taken steps to address various aspects of the issue of missing women, Anaya said there is a “widespread lack of confidence” in the effectiveness of those measures.

“I have heard a consistent call for a national-level inquiry into the extent of the problem and appropriate solutions moving toward the participation of victims families and others deeply affected,” he said.

“I concur that a comprehensive and nationwide inquiry into the issue could help ensure a coordinated response and the opportunity for the loved ones of victims to be heard and would demonstrate a responsiveness to the concerns raised by the families and communities affected by this epidemic.”

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The government has promised a First Nations Education Act by 2014. It released a blueprint document this summer which promises sections on interpretation, education standards, and funding, and notes that the proposed act would place accountability in the hands of First Nations.

Last week, Assembly of First Nations National Chief Shawn Atleo said he does not support the blueprint as it does not give First Nations control over their own education. He also wants the government to commit to more funding for First Nations schools, with increases capped at two per cent since 1996.

In a statement to Global News, Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt said he was pleased to meet Anaya and happy to hear the rapporteur pointed to the government’s cooperation during his visit.

“The comments of the Rapporteur encourage us to continue working hard to achieve result,” said Valcourt. “We look forward to the Rapporteur’s final report and recommendations and look forward to recommendations that will help us complete the goal of reconciliation so that we can collectively achieve, as Canadians, the business of Confederation.”

It is also expected First Nations will have the opportunity to view draft education legislation before it is introduced in Parliament.

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