View Full Version : Government poised to unveil ‘transformational’ aboriginal education reforms: Minister

10-22-2013, 06:39 PM
Government poised to unveil ‘transformational’ aboriginal education reforms: Minister (http://www.canada.com/Government+poised+unveil+transformational+aborigin al+education+reforms+Minister/9068478/story.html)

OTTAWA — The Harper government is poised to release a contentious plan to reform education for First Nations children which one cabinet minister says will be “transformational,” but which aboriginal leaders worry could be a setback for their languages and culture.

Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt will soon distribute a draft of the First Nation Education Act to aboriginals for their reaction before tabling the bill in Parliament in coming months.

It was expected Valcourt’s department would release the draft bill Tuesday morning, but that didn’t happen — presumably because of some last-minute tinkering.

Still, the bill will be the centerpiece of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s aboriginal affairs agenda and the governing Tories want it passed in time so that a new education system is in place when First Nations children start their school year in September 2014.

According to a blueprint released this summer, the upcoming bill will allow schools to be community-operated through First Nations or an agreement with a province, and there will be standards for qualifications of teaching staff and curriculum and graduation requirements for students. There will be regulations governing discipline (such as codes of conduct and policies on suspension and expulsion), hours of instruction, class size and transportation.

“I personally believe that the First Nation Education Act will be transformational, like no other measures that have been taken in 50 years, 100 years,” Valcourt told Postmedia News in a recent interview.

He said that as aboriginal parents see more of their young people graduate with a solid education, the effects will ripple throughout communities and help end many of the social problems that have affected First Nations.

“All of these things are affected by what? At the bottom of it all, it’s education.”

“However you cut it – whether you look at those social indicators. Suicide rates. Violence against aboriginal women and girls. Incarceration rates.”

Aboriginal chiefs agree on the fundamental need for improvement in education but they have raised concerns about the “unilateral” and “top-down” approach taken by the Conservative government.

Earlier this month, Assembly of First Nations (AFN) National Chief Shawn Atleo told Postmedia News the government’s approach to working with First Nations on the forthcoming act has been reflective of how federal governments have always acted – “paternalistic at best and assimilationist at worst.”

Aboriginal leaders worry the upcoming act will impose standards that don’t reflect indigenous culture, and that funding for aboriginal education won’t be increased.

In an Oct. 10 letter written to Valcourt by Atleo and AFN Nova Scotia Regional Chief Morley Googoo, the government was told aboriginals have not been properly consulted.

“An initiative which has the goal of improving First Nations education should not leave Firsts Nations peoples guessing,” they wrote.

Moreover, they reminded Valcourt of how Harper had apologized in 2008 for residential schools and had said the “attitudes” that led to that system should never prevail again.

“The path forward must honour the prime minister’s commitment. Never again should the government proceed to determine solutions for us without us, nor engage in sharp dealing. The honor of the Crown is at stake and so is another generation of First Nations children who hope for a better future.“

The aboriginals recently received a boost from James Anaya, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, who wrapped up his visit to Canada by urging Valcourt not to “rush forward” with the education bill because of insufficient consultation with aboriginals.

Critics say aboriginal education is significantly under-funded.

But Valcourt boasted the initiative will be “revolutionary” because, for the first time, aboriginal schools will have the stability of predictable funding that has a “statutory base.”



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