The national chief of the Assembly of First Nations is standing firm beside the Chiefs of Ontario when it comes to education.
National Chief Shawn Atleo addressed the provincial chiefs on the final day of their three-day winter assembly at the Fort William First Nation Community Centre Thursday and said there is a strong consensus across the country on the need for First Nation control of First Nation education.
"We reject the proposed unilateral federal oversight. That's what we had in the residential school era. It's completely unacceptable," said Atleo.
On Wednesday the Chiefs of Ontario announced they will create their own education system for First Nations in the province that includes their culture and beliefs.
The decision came in the wake of the rejection of the federal government's proposed First Nation Education Act by Aboriginal groups across the country.
"There has to be a guarantee for First Nation language and culture. I feel that we've got to reach out to Canadians and say this is the moment we seize to make sure that we support the children," Atleo said.
While in Pikangikum Wednesday, Atleo said he saw houses without access to clean drinking water or indoor plumbing. And children in the community cannot attend kindergarten because there is no facility for it.
"This in a country that is ranked third in the world as far as being one of the most wealthy," he said.
The national chief said about 60 schools are needed and they also need the resources to put their culture back into the curriculum.
It's the right thing to do morally and economically, said Atleo.
"If we close the education and employment gap, First Nations will contribute over $400 billion to the Canadian economy in the coming decades and we will save $115 billion in government expenditures," he said.
"We're talking about the future of Canada resting on investing in children now."
Atleo also spoke to the provincial chiefs about issues around the need for implementing treaty rights and the relationship between First Nations and the Crown.
Ontario Regional Chief Stan Beardy said the last three days have been full of honest and open discussions.
With representation from the majority of Ontario's 133 First Nations at the assembly, Beardy said everyone has talked about what's most important to them.
Education has been one of the most talked about subjects and Beardy said they made their position clear on the topic and they were heard by the Assembly of First Nations.
"AFN does fully support the opposition by (the Chiefs of) Ontario in regards to that proposed education act," he said.