Atleo to Conservatives: First Nations education bill ‘not acceptable’

Assembly of First Nations National Chief Shawn Atleo looks on as Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Minister Bernard Valcourt holds a copy of the Royal Proclamation issued 250 years ago as they visit a Grade 7 class at a school in Ottawa, Monday October 7, 2013 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

A battle appears to be brewing between First Nations leadership and the federal government over a key piece of legislation on aboriginal education.

Shawn Atleo – the Assembly of First Nations’ National Chief – says the Conservative government’s plan for an aboriginal education act is “not acceptable.”

In an open letter to Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt, Atleo calls on the government to work with First Nations on a “mutual plan.”

“The current Federal Proposal for a Bill for First Nation Education is not acceptable to First Nations,” Atleo writes.

“We must work together on a mutual plan that fully respects and reflects partnership, that is consistent with Treaty relationships, and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and re-affirmed in countless studies and recommendations.”

Atleo says First Nations leadership will meet in Ottawa from Dec. 10 to 12 and seek “clear commitment” from the government on five conditions laid out in the letter.

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The conditions are: First Nations control and treaty rights; commitment to funding in the 2014 budget; recognizing importance of languages and culture; no unilateral federal oversight on education and meaningful engagement.

“We seek clear commitment to these conditions and we will be relentless in our advocacy and actions expressing our full support for our children to achieve this change now,” Atleo writes.

In a statement, Valcourt said the government believes First Nation students deserve access to a school system that meets provincial and territorial standards, while respecting First Nation culture, language, rights and treaties.

“The draft legislative proposal for First Nation education would put in place a system that is accountable to students, and ensures that First Nation students have access, like all Canadians, to a good education,” he said.

“Our government has listened to the calls from First Nation leadership, educators, technicians and youth who are unhappy with the current ‘non-system’ that has been failing First Nation students for years. This draft legislative proposal is a significant step forward, in the spirit of reconciliation, in pursing our shared goal with First Nations of closing the gaps between First Nations and all Canadians.”

Atleo’s letter comes after James Anaya, the United Nations special rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, urged the government not to rush the legislation.

The government released a proposal for a First Nations Education Act online in October and said aboriginal communities are invited to give their input before it is tabled in Parliament. The Conservatives have promised the bill by 2014.

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“Ultimately, all input will contribute to improved education on reserve that guarantees minimum standards, provides the mechanism required for stable, predictable and sustainable funding, and improves First Nation control over First Nation education. First Nations students deserve no less,” said Valcourt.

Below is a copy of the letter:

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