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230 First Nations Pull Out of National Education Panel

230 First Nations, citing a lack of attention to cultural and language diversity, have pulled out of participation in a nationwide panel studying aboriginal education on reserves
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At least 230 First Nations in Saskatchewan, Quebec and Ontario have pulled out of regional meetings being held by the national panel that was formed to map out a new education system for aboriginal peoples.

“We want our Treaty Right to Education upheld. The Chiefs Legislative Assembly Resolution #1771 rejects the national panel whose stated purpose and process will diminish the federal government’s Treaty obligations with respect to education,” said Vice Chief Lyle Whitefish of the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations (FSIN) in a statement announcing the split.

This represents something of a break with the Assembly of First Nations (AFN), whose national chief, Shawn A-in-chut Atleo, worked with Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada (AAND) to create the panel.

“Unfortunately, the AFN, our own national First Nations organization, is not listening to us, and appear to have been co-opted by the federal government in supporting a process that will only serve to create legislation that weakens our Treaty right to education,” Whitefish said.

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The much-heralded panel was announced in December 2010 by Atleo and what was then known as Indian and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC). The name change to Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development has also been under contention, and the FSIN did not refer to the federal agency by its new name.

Panel members were announced in March, but even the selection process came under fire for a lack of transparency, the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network (APTN) reported at the time.

The FSIN said that the panel’s end goal of crafting “one-size-fits-all education legislation” will not take the diversity of First Nations languages and cultures into account or respect First Nations’ right to control their children’s education. The panel’s terms of reference also do not refer to the signing of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), an omission that also undermines First Nations’ right to education under the Treaty.

“At the end of the day, the panel will consult with an unrepresentative group of First Nations across Canada and then influence federal legislation that is not aligned with our belief systems,” said Whitefish. “While the federal government issued a residential school apology that included a commitment not to repeat the mistakes of the past, this national panel seems like a step back to the ‘we know best’ colonialist attitude.”

He said that the FSIN, which represents 74 nations across Saskatchewan, is consulting directly with elders and communities to get their vision on what a true treaty-based education system would look like. First Nations in Saskatchewan, Quebec and northern Ontario will compile a parallel report for the AFN and AAND.