COAST SALISH TERRITORIES/WEST VANCOUVER, BRITISH COLUMBIA--(Marketwired - Feb. 12, 2014) - The First Nations Education Steering Committee (FNESC) is pleased that there is a national focus and discussion on First Nations education. This is long overdue and must remain a priority until we reach a satisfactory agreement between First Nations and Canada on an appropriate path forward.
On February 7th, Prime Minister Harper, at a joint press conference with the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) held on the Blood Reserve in Alberta, announced a new agreement to implement a First Nations Control of First Nations Education Act, which will include a statutory funding stream for First Nations schools. Included in the announcement was a commitment to work with First Nations to finalize the Bill and develop regulations.
Reflecting on the announcement, FNESC is curious to learn more about the agreement between Canada and the AFN.
"We are very interested in receiving the details of the agreement to better understand the process going forward. For example, is Canada's previous proposal being advanced with a new name and minor adjustments, or is Canada committing to entering into a new process to co‐develop a new Bill altogether? We need assurance that First Nations from every region will have a meaningful opportunity to participate," stated Tyrone McNeil, FNESC President. He added, "These are critical questions that must be answered. We note that the Prime Minister set out a number of elements for new legislation that were included in Canada's October 2013 proposal. First Nations have been unanimous in rejecting that proposal and calling for a process to co‐develop a new Bill."
McNeil continued, "First Nations in BC simply require more information about the agreement before we can determine if it will meet our interests and concerns. We need to know why there is no commitment to short‐term funding, whether a funding formula has already been developed, and whether the funding amounts announced will in fact address the needs of our schools and learners. We also have questions about the standards and governance models referred to in the announcement and what room there is for true negotiation." McNeil noted, "much of what the Prime Minister said sounds much like Canada's latest proposal, with the addition of some general information on funding, a new advisory council and a renewed commitment to engage on the development of regulations."
Nathan Matthew, Advisor to FNESC and the First Nations Schools Association, stated, "In BC, we have existing agreements with the Governments of Canada and BC that address First Nations jurisdiction over education, and which commit to funding for First Nations schools that is comparable to provincial public school funding, with certain adaptations. These are fundamental elements we seek to build upon." He added, "we have commented extensively on Canada's various proposals for legislation and hope that the agreement announced on February 7th will finally create the space for meaningful engagement."
McNeil stated, "We have long been advocating for First Nations driven education that is strongly rooted in language and culture. For years we have sought funding to support this and to meet the needs of First Nations schools to improve student outcomes. FNESC remains committed to assisting with the development of any education legislation or policy to ensure that it supports the overall BC First Nations Education System and, most importantly, improved First Nation learner outcomes."
First Nations in BC have expressed that any new education legislation or policy must support the evolution of the BC First Nations Education System, including achieving needs‐based funding, including for language, culture and technology. First Nations in BC seek a meaningful engagement process that honours this System and where the Government of Canada engages in a manner that fulfills its legal, constitutional and international obligations.
First Nations in BC will carefully monitor progress and FNESC will support First Nations to engage in the co‐development of legislation, as committed by the Prime Minister.