When news of Shawn A-in-chut Atleo’s resignation as National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations hit NDN country last week, the moccasin telegraph/social media sphere lit up with discussion about moving Indigenous controlled education and governance forward while mainstream media maintained a stereotypical narrative of failed Indigenous leadership and stubborn, ‘hard to please’ Natives.
In the wake of months of controversy and opposition to Bill C-33 (first named First Nations Education Act, and then renamed First Nations Control of First Nations Education Act) by Chiefs and grassroots community members, Atleo stated that he could no longer be an “obstacle or lightening rod” to the process. Atleo made his announcement just two days after the Bill had it’s second reading in Parliament.
Opponents to the bill were critical of the unilateral imposition on Indigenous communities, which disregards the inherent rights to self-determination and full participation of First Nations with education of First Nations children. While the name of proposed Bill C-33 “First Nations Control over First Nations Education” is a direct reference to the critical 1972 report ‘Indian Control of Indian Education’ published by the National Indian Brotherhood (which later became the Assembly of First Nations), Bill C-33’s contents are a far cry from its original 1972 namesake. According to People for Education, “After the federal government produced a famous white paper calling for assimilation of the First Nations of Canada, there was widespread political organizing by First Nations across Canada. One of the main issues was education, seen as key to both individual success and cultural survival.” ‘Indian Control of Indian Education’ was a critical document, setting out key demands for the education system. It is still an important part of organizing. Here’s a summary: “Indian parents must have FULL RESPONSIBILITY AND CONTROL OF EDUCATION. The Federal Government must adjust its policy and practices to make possible the full participation and partnership of Indian people in all decisions and activities connected with the education of Indian children. This requires determined and enlightened action on the part of the Federal Government and immediate reform, especially in the following areas of concern: responsibility, programs, teachers, facilities.”
Atleo’s resignation has led the federal government to announce it will be shelving the Bill until further notice, leading to speculation of what will happen to the money, however analyst Russell Diabo dismisses these concerns as fear mongering on the part of the feds.
Depending on the future of the AFN leadership, (and AFN structure) the shelving of the Bill secures the possibility for a more meaningful policy that will respect the vision and self-determination of Indigenous people articulated over three decades ago. Since “Indian Control over Indian Education” was first published, First Nations across Turtle Island have developed and implemented successful education models that reflect their cultural diversity with language inclusion, often at its core. First Nations leaders continue to assert that one of the most pressing issues for First Nations schools is lack of adequate funding levels, which are 20% less per student than in Non First Nations communities. Here is a list of 10 models of First Nation’s Control of First Nations Education. Please add to the list!
2. Anishinabek Nation’s, Kinomaadswin Education Body (KEB) Education System
3. First Nation Education Council’s Educational Governance
4. The Kahnawake Education Centre
6. Chief Atahm School/T’selcéwtqen Clleqmél’ten
8. Onion Lake Cree Education System
MUSKRAT was republished on CBC Aboriginal and we would like to add this vital information to the article:
Mi’kmaw Kina’matnewey (Sydney, Nova Scotia with authority for 13 Mi’kmaw communities
across Nova Scotia)
In 1999, the Mi’kmaw community won a legal battle for the rights of full management of the education of Mi’kmaw children, and the Mi’kmaw Kina’matnewey is the educational authority doing just that. Mi’kmaw Kina’matnewey has various programs, including the First Nation School Success Program (FNSSP).
Thanks to FNSSP, Mi’kmaq language courses are offered in all high schools in Nova Scotia, both on and off reserve. In Eskasoni, Chief Allison Bernard Memorial High School will see it’s first generation graduate this year after completing JK to high school in the Mi’kmaw immersion program.
According to the Executive Director of Mi’kmaw Kina’matnewey, Eleanor Bernard, the graduation numbers have grown substantially since students moved out of the provincial system and into the Mi’kmaw Kina’matnewey system: “in the provincial system we might have had nine or ten graduate, in the first year of the Eskasoni school, we had forty graduate”.
Over all, First Nation high school student graduation in Nova Scotia has increased to 88% (compared with the national average of 35%). Last year, more than 500 First Nations students from Nova Scotia were enrolled in post secondary institutions.