Tribal Chair says BC First Nations should strike own education deal with Ottawa

Thursday, May 29, 2014
Jorge Barrera
APTN National News

The chair of a British Columbia tribal council says it may be time for the region to strike its own First Nation education deal with Ottawa.

Chief Shane Gottfriedson, tribal chair of the Shuswap Nation Tribal Council, said the turmoil at the Assembly of First Nations could force individual regions to seek out their own education agreements with Ottawa.

“It is chaotic right now with what is happening with the (AFN) national chief resigning and the executive taking over,” said Gottfriedson. “We need to get on with looking after our citizens’ interests. I will be the one driving in B.C,. talking about an education process that works for B.C.”

Gottfriedson wrote Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt on May 20 saying his tribal council was willing to work with Ottawa on improving Bill C-33, the now scrapped First Nation Control of First Nation Education Act. The letter to Valcourt included a list of several amendments to the bill.

“Those that call for outright rejection of Bill C-33 are arguing for the status quo,” wrote Gottfriedson. “Our Tribal Council does not support the status quo. We are prepared to do our part in transforming the education system to achieve better education outcomes for our children.”

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The Saskatchewan tribal councils of Meadow Lake and Battleford also wanted to work with Ottawa on improving Bill C-33, which was rejected by chiefs at a special AFN meeting this week.

These tribal councils, however, are out of luck, based on initial statements from Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt’s office. Valcourt’s office said this week there would be no bill without the support of the AFN. Valcourt’s office also said the promised $1.9 billion for reserve education would also be pulled.

According to federal officials at federal budget time, the money was set aside in the federal government’s fiscal framework. It remains unclear what will happen to the money now. Treasury Board and Aboriginal Affairs did not respond to requests seeking clarification as of this article’s posting Thursday afternoon.

The Harper government made education its central plank on the First Nation file. The promise of an education bill was first mentioned in the 2010 federal budget and a national panel of experts was struck to study the issue that December. Now, the Harper government is set to discard four years of work on the file.

TheBill C-33 struck a discordant chord with B.C. First Nations because it contained a clause that would have seen the proposed legislation apply in the province once the tripartite First Nation education agreement expired in July 2017.

B.C. First Nations are currently covered by the First Nations Jurisdiction over Education in British Columbia Act which passed in 2006. The legislation allowed for the establishment of regional education authorities to support on-reserve schools and provided legal recognition of First Nation authority over its own schools.

Gottfriedson said there is still time to avoid wasting the work on the file.

“I think there is always a chance to salvage something,” he said. “Education is now on the agenda. When you look at strengthening the relationship with government from a regional perspective from B.C., I would stand at any podium with government and talk about a process that benefits our citizens.”

Gottfriedson aIS couldn’t make it to the Ottawa AFN meeting this week because of a death in his community, but said he would have argued against rejecting Bill C-33.

“I truly believe whenever there is challenges that are put before us, our leadership should stand up and rise to those occasions rather than sit back and not do anything,” he said. “(Education) is too important of an issue for us to sit idle. Voting something down is something that I don’t really support. I would rather be looking at sitting at that table, redrafting legislation to make it work for us.”


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