APTN National News
Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde has responded to a broadside from Conservative leader Stephen Harper who accused the First Nation leader of flip-flopping on the controversial First Nation education bill.
Harper criticized Bellegarde during a media interview over the weekend, accusing the AFN leader of changing positions on the education bill. Harper also said he wasn’t sure if Bellegarde would be willing to work with the Conservative government if it retained power.
Bellegarde said he opposed the bill, known as the First Nation Control of First Nation Education Act, because it was fatally flawed.
“First Nations widely rejected Bill C-33 because it was not about First Nation control. My position is based on that conviction and the position of my constituents when I was regional chief and as national chief,” said Bellegarde, in a statement sent to APTN National News.
Bellegarde said the chiefs were ignored after they offered to work on an improved approach with the Harper government to get the balance right.
“We extended the offer to work on a real approach to First Nations control of First Nations education based on a new and honourable process being put in place, but there has been no response,” said Bellegarde. “We’ll continue to press for action on First Nations education and closing the gap during the election and after.”
Bellegarde said he is ready and willing to work with whoever gets into power after Oct. 19.
“Whoever forms government after this election must understand they have the same responsibility to work with us because our priorities are Canada’s priorities,” he said.
During his interview with CBC’s The House, Harper blamed chiefs in the AFN for scuttling the bill, which came with a $1.9 billion incentive.
“This government worked with former chief (Shawn Atleo) and the AFN to create a massive overhaul to reform our Aboriginal education system to provide standards and transferability to other education systems,” said Harper. “The AFN as a whole, unfortunately, some in the AFN reversed their position. I think Mr. Bellegarde was one of those. But there are many communities and groups of communities in this country who want to move forward with that reform because they understand it’s the best thing for their children.”
The broad strokes of the bill was actually drawn up over a weekend of secret negotiations in February 2014 between Atleo, Harper, Aboriginal Affairs Minister Barnard Valcourt and Wayne Wouters, the former Clerk of the Privy Council.
A week later, Atleo and Harper announced they had reached a “historic” agreement on education. The majority of the AFN executive didn’t know about the press conference until the eleventh hour.
Atleo resigned as a result of the furor triggered by the bill.
AFN chiefs rejected a previous version of the bill in the fall of 2013 after a months-long consultation process by Aboriginal Affairs.
Critics of the bill said it gave the minister of Aboriginal Affairs too much control over education in First Nation communities.
Valcourt said the government would not release the bulk of the new education funds unless the AFN agreed to the bill which died when the writ was dropped to begin the current federal election.