After speaking with Canada’s Minister of Aboriginal Affairs, Nishnawbe Aski Nation Grand Chief Harvey Yesno is no happier with the country’s planned First Nations education reform than when it was first announced last week.
Yesno, who was in Alberta for the three-year, $1.9-billion announcement, met one-one-one with Bernard Valcourt in Thunder Bay on Tuesday and said while he sees some room for negotiation, Ottawa does not seem inclined to address a 12-year gap in funding for building new schools schools and maintaining existing education facilities.
All the federal government has done is provided the facilities, he said. There doesn’t seem to be any real commitment to ensure students are prepared to hit post-secondary education with the prerequisite knowledge to succeed.
Schools are more than bricks and mortar, he added.
“There was no education system that was transferred to First Nations. It was always underfunded. We don’t have libraries. We can’t attract the kind of teachers that will stay in the North with a good benefit plan and so on,” he said.
“We’ve become a revolving door of teacher-graduates and they move on to bigger schools ... We can’t do with the resources that we have to have a stable education system for our children.”
Valcourt said it’s a system that’s going to take time to fix. But to get the ball rolling, he intends to push the legislation through as quickly as possible.
The new laws will prove transformational, Valcourt insisted and First Nations will benefit. He’s heard concerns that the money won’t start flowing for at least a year, if not longer.
He blamed any delays on endless red tape.
“If we want to ensure that the money is there past the (next) election, we have to pass the bill now, as soon as possible. We are going to keep working diligently with the Assembly of First Nations to develop the bill so that we can present it and have Parliament pass it as soon as possible,” Valcourt said.
Yesno took issue with this line of thinking too.
He expressed concern about regional issues that might get overlooked at the national level. He was also disappointed the federal government has set up a panel to oversee the process with little or no consultation at the local level.
“We’ve got 32 communities that are remote and we represent 25 per cent of all the remote communities across the country, out of 600 First Nations,” Yesno said. “We believe that we need to address some things, some of the challenges that we have. We’ll keep pressing the Aboriginal Affairs department on our issues.”
He’s not giving up hope just yet.
“There’s always room to co-operate. I don’t know how that’s going unfold yet ... There are many First Nations organizations asking how do we fit in?”
The new act gives First Nations the right to administer education systems on-reserve, while creating a funding mechanism to ensure the money’s there to pay for it.