First Nations leaders are calling last week's unanimous parliamentary motion on aboriginal education a major step forward, even as they press for more action.
All 268 members of Canada's House of Commons approved a motion introduced by the New Democratic Party MP Charlie Angus affirming the right of First Nations children to a solid education in the February 27 vote.
"First Nations leaders, educators and our inspiring young leaders like Shannen Koostachin have made a clear and compelling case for investing in First Nation education," said Assembly of First Nations (AFN) National Chief Shawn A-in-chut Atleo in a statement. "Our kids deserve good schools—schools that nurture them in their languages and cultures and schools that create the opportunity for success. The support of all Parliamentarians is a key next step and a solid indication that we are on the right path forward. We now look for action and commitment to implement this motion including investment. We will look to all of Parliament to uphold today’s commitment."
Shannen Koostachin was a student from Attawapiskat First Nation who lobbied Ottawa starting in 2008 for functional education facilities because the closure of her school after a 2000 oil spill had forced her to attend boarding school. Using social media, she began a campaign to put an end to the inequities in funding that First Nations students receive. She was killed in a car accident in 2010, but her friends and fellow students carried on her legacy in the form of a group, Shannen's Dream, that has continued to raise awareness of education on aboriginal reserves.
The Parliamentary motion outlines the right of all First Nation children to top-notch education that speaks to aboriginal cultures. Parliament also pledged financial and policy support for making First Nations schools and education systems on par with those off-reserve. Most important, it committed to working with First Nations themselves, input that aboriginal leaders have said is sorely lacking. Whether the Conservatives follow through with action will be partly known when the federal budget is unveiled on March 29, according to news agency Canoe.com.
“This motion is a positive step forward," said Regional Chief Angus Toulouse of the AFN, in a statement on behalf of the Chiefs of Ontario. "It shows that parliamentarians recognize that the funding allocated for First Nations education has been woefully inadequate for many, many years and that this requires immediate redress. The underfunding of education for First Nations learners has created an unacceptable gap in educational outcomes for First Nations peoples in comparison to the general Canadian population. It is clear that the time has come to address what is a glaring example of inequality."