APTN National News
KITIGAN Zibi, Que.–The Assembly of First Nations’ response to the wide-spread opposition to a blue-ribbon education panel created by the organization and the federal government is “quite disturbing,” says a Quebec chief who has been a key player on the education file.
Kitigan Zibi First Nation chief Gilbert Whiteduck says he believes National Chief Shawn Atleo never took the concerns of chiefs seriously when he agreed to put his organization’s approval on a government created education panel.
The panel, announced last December, is tasked with giving Ottawa recommendations on creating federal legislation on K-12 First Nations education.
“The AFN structure has not recognized that there are over 200 communities that are not going to present to the panel, yet I believe this has been taken quite lightly and this is quite disturbing,” said Whiteduck. “We were being somewhat mislead in regards to our involvement…The majority of decisions in regards to the panel membership and the terms of reference were going to be made by (Aboriginal) Affairs.”
Whiteduck said the make-up of the three-person panel, which only has one First Nations person, showed “disrespect” to First Nations people.
“This panel should have been made up of First Nations people. This panel is about First Nations and no one else,” said Whiteduck. “We hold the solution, the federal government has to support us to make sure those solutions are implemented.”
The panel is chaired by Scott Haldane, head of YMCA Canada. Former chief turned consultant George Lafond and British Columbia education Carolyn Krause were also appointed to the panel.
The panel is expected to submit its final report before the end of the year.
First Nations chiefs in Ontario, Quebec and most recently Saskatchewan have rejected involvement in the panel.
The Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations issued a statement this week saying the AFN had been “co-opted” by the federal government on the issue.
The panel’s focus on legislation instead of funding is at the root of the chiefs’ decision.
The FSIN said talk of federal legislation on First Nations education raised the spectre of Indian Residential Schools.
The AFN has yet to respond directly to the increasingly public discontent aired by chiefs representing one-third of First Nations communities in the country.
The AFN issued a “communique” from Atleo Friday morning which made no mention of the chief’s concerns and simply repeated media lines issued to reporters on Thursday.
“The work of the national panel…is one avenue to advance these interests and confirms the federal government’s commitment to improving First Nations education,” the communique said.