APTN National News
GATINEAU, Que.-What will they do?
After deciding Wednesday to reject the Conservative government’s plan to introduce legislation on First Nations education, First Nations chiefs are now preparing a “plan of action” which will be presented at an upcoming special assembly in December.
Every option is on the table, from “one extreme to another,” said Kitigan Zibi Chief Gilbert Whiteduck, from Quebec.
The resolution rejecting the government’s proposed legislation passed in secrecy in a closed session during an education summit at the Palais de Congres in Gatineau, Que., across the Ottawa River from Parliament Hill.
One senior chief said the resolution was discussed in camera to prevent the media from airing divisions within their ranks.
Chiefs want the Conservatives to come to the table with massive new funding for education which they say is guaranteed under the treaties.
“The Chiefs-in-Assembly demand that the federal government uphold the honour of the Crown and fulfill its obligation to First Nations by providing needs base, sustainable education funding that supports First Nations lifelong learning,” said the resolution, which was moved by Six Nations Chief Bill Montour.
“Everyone rejects the unilateral approach of Canada,” said Snuneymuxw Chief Doug White, from British Columbia. “There has to be a better way.”
The Harper government plans to introduce legislation impacting K to 12 on-reserve education by 2014. The government’s idea for legislation came in response to recommendations from a blue-ribbon education panel it co-sponsored with the Assembly of First nations.
The panel also recommended major new funding after discovering at least 100 reserve schools were not safe for learning.
Duncan has said there are plans to consult extensively with chiefs in drafting the legislation, which, according to an Aboriginal Affairs official, doesn’t exist yet.
Many chiefs, however, believe the fix is in and there is word Duncan has a group of experts consulting him on the legislation.
Duncan’s decision to hold a press conference Tuesday to re-announce $275 million in funding for education and infrastructure previously unveiled at budget time also upset First Nations leaders.
A day before the press conference, Six Nations residents took a protest inside Aboriginal Affairs’ regional office in Brantford, Ont., over the department’s failure to deliver needed school supplies.
Sensing the anger and frustration, AFN National Chief Shawn Atleo closed the education summit by telling chiefs they were on the cusp of a watershed moment in their history.
“This is our time as Indigenous peoples,” said Atleo. “Something is happening in this moment in our history that has compelled the kinds of discussions that we are having now.”
It’s clear, the relationship between First Nations leaders and the Harper government has soured significantly since the much vaunted Crown-First Nations gathering where the prime minister promised a new relationship.
Whiteduck said chiefs are exploring a number of options as part of their plan, including a day or days of action and taking the issue to the international sphere.
“The issue of funding has to be settled,” he said.
Fort Albany First Nation Chief Rex Knapaysweet said he’d like to see an occupation of Parliament Hill. He suggesting filling the lawn of Parliament Hill will school desks and students. Knapaysweet said “all the nations” could also gather and encircle the Hill.
“If that time and time again the door is closed to us,” he said, whose community sits in Ontario. “It is very clear they are not listening to us, disrespecting our elders and our ancestors who signed the treaties.”
The latest looming showdown on education echoes much of the rhetoric filling the airwaves in late 2006 and 2007 when former Roseau River First Nation chief Terry Nelson tabled a resolution calling for a day of action.
Jim Prentice, the Aboriginal Affairs minister at the time, warned First Nations organizations would face serious funding cuts if they participated in any civil disobedience on June 29, 2007.
Prentice then cut a deal with Nelson and the heated rhetoric fizzled, leaving only the Mohawks from Tyendinaga blocking Hwy 401 and a main CN rail line between Ottawa and Toronto for several hours.
According to a CSIS report, the Tyendinaga blockade cost Canada $100 million in “economic damage.”
On Tuesday, Rolling River First Nation Chief Morris Shannacappo from Manitoba called for blockades on multiple highways.
“What is the way forward?” said Atleo, during his closing speech. “Many of you will now go to your respective territories, speak to your elders and youth…It will be important to consider now what will we do in this moment in history.”