Posts tagged ‘Education’

AFN: A Dysfunctional Mess

Chief Rufus Copage of Shubenacadie (Indian Brook) First Nations, N.S., carries the Assembly of First Nations Eagle Staff during the grand entry as First Nations leaders, elders, youth and delegates gather for the Assembly of First Nations Special Chiefs Assembly in Ottawa on Tuesday, May 27, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

Chief Rufus Copage of Shubenacadie (Indian Brook) First Nations, N.S., carries the Assembly of First Nations Eagle Staff during the grand entry as First Nations leaders, elders, youth and delegates gather for the Assembly of First Nations Special Chiefs Assembly in Ottawa on Tuesday, May 27, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

From the outside looking in, First Nations are looking pretty dysfunctional these days.

The average Canadian does not get into the weeds and complexities of our issues.  They simply see that the government wants to establish legislation to improve education outcomes, set standards and invest $1.9 billion in additional funding to First Nation schools.  And they see that, for some reason, First Nations are absolutely opposed to this.

The average Canadian also sees that First Nation Chiefs are not only unhappy with the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) over negotiating this, but they see the Chiefs outright challenging the AFN and it’s leadership in the media and in front of the news cameras.

Really, this situation looks like a banana republic coup d’état by rogue militant and outspoken revolutionary generals.

There are two issues at hand:

  • the First Nations Control of First Nations Education Act (Bill C-33); and
  • the function of the Assembly of First Nations.

With regard to education, I agree that Bill C-33 is not the best vehicle to addressing substantive education reforms.  But I think the Chief’s frustration over their treatment by the Harper government has clouded just about everything.  Any initiative, no matter how positive or progressive it may be, would not be accepted by First Nation Chiefs.  Years of funding cuts, lacklustre dialogue, substandard consultation and erosion of environmental laws will do that to you.

With regard to education, I really think it’s important to define our objectives.  (1) Is it our objective to improve education outcomes and address funding inequality? or  (2) Is our objective re-assert our jurisdiction and take full control of First Nations education based on implementation of the Treaties?

It’s okay to want to work towards achieving both these objectives.  But one objective can be much more immediate and the other.  By demanding the latter, it seems like an unlikely, all or nothing proposition.  Meanwhile, the horrendous status quo continues as does the reality that the First Nation education system is woefully inadequate and ineffective, ripe with a lack of trained teachers, substandard education, schools and funding.

Regarding the function of the AFN, I get it that former-National Chief Atleo and the Executive may not have delivered an education solution according to the will of the Chiefs.  Their misinterpretation of their mandate, and inability to reconcile the consensus of the Treaty Chiefs may have been a serious error in judgment.

But for heavens sake, this is getting a little embarrassing.  There must be a way to resolve these serious issues and internal reforms amongst ourselves.  Why not treat the Assembly of First Nations as a large parliamentary caucus?  Go in united – debate and resolve the issue – and come our united.  Or at least appear to go in united and appear to come out united.

At the end of the day, if we take our frustrations about Bill C-33 and the Harper government out on our own people, we will continue to be victims of the government’s divide and conquer strategy.  As I’ve said again and again, we need to focus our efforts and our venom on our opponents, not ourselves.

First Nation organizations and leaders – whether they be community-based, regional or national level – are convenient targets of our frustration and political cannibalism.  Every two years, in almost every community across the country, that frustration is vented out by Band Council elections.  We see Chiefs and Councillors turfed and turned over almost every week.

But to take these frustrations with the AFN out in the press, microphones and bright lights of the TV cameras, to the unknowing public, this looks like a prelude to some Indian civil war.

Day 10: What do First Nations want?

Ed Kaiser Photo

We’re into the second week of the election campaign, and parties from all sides are touting their vision of Canada and announcing their various campaign promises.

Which raises the question:  What do First Nations want?

Some requests are quite specific.  Many First Nations leaders would like to see the Kelowna Accord be brought back to life in some form or another.  Others would like to see a new deal for First Nations, exclusive of the Indian Act based on a new nation-to-nation relationship.  Some would like to open up treaty discussions to address outstanding matters like compensation, revenue sharing, self-government and jurisdiction.

But the answer is far simpler: First Nations want the same opportunities as every other Canadian, including more jobs and a better economy.

That being said, I feel the two most important needs for First Nations are both related to the economy.

First, there is a need to address poverty in First Nations communities. We can’t continue to throwing money at the problem by addressing the symptoms.  We must move beyond that to addressing the root causes.  The Closing the Gap campaign is calling for a First Minister’s Meeting on Aboriginal People with the goal of developing a comprehensive strategy to “close the gap” between First Nations people and all Canadians.  The campaign would also like to see increased support to First Nations families through budget investments to reduce child poverty and address housing and overcrowding.

Secondly, it is critical that government and First Nations work together to improve education outcomes in First Nations.

Here is my three point formula for overcoming First Nations poverty, mitigating deplorable social conditions, enabling economic development and being able to look after your family: (1) go to school; (2) stay in school and; (3) succeed in school.

The last census indicated that only 60 per cent of First Nations youth between the ages of 20-24 completed high school.  Perhaps the reason is because First Nations schools, on-reserve, are so poorly funded. The government estimates it spends $5,500 and $7,500 to educate each First Nations student, while the average spending on a non-Aboriginal student in a provincially-funded school is $6,800 to $8,400.  The solution to improving success rates starts by addressing this chronic underfunding.

The Liberal platform announced yesterday is a huge commitment to addressing these issues.  This is a tremendous start and shows great leadership.  However, every party must make a similar commitment to First Nations.  Addressing poverty and support education is the key to improving social conditions in First Nations.

Canada’s Dirty Little Secret

Tiger Woods isn’t the only one with a dirty, little secret.

Canada still has fundamental human rights challenges. This is related to the conditions and history of Canada’s First Nations people. Sadly, these challenges are not generally known outside of Canada. Even some Canadians have blinders on. Many try to refute the truth and the statistics while never stepping foot in a remote First Nation community.

Today is International Human Rights Day. 61 years ago, the United Nations passed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights outlining the 20 fundamental human rights that every human being is entitled to. According to Guinness World Records, it is also the most translated document in the world.

I wish it could only be translated into Canadian.

Last week, Stephen Harper was carrying his message of human rights to China – while fully ignoring the realities of his own backyard. Canada is not squeaky clean when it comes to human rights.

Here are just a few of the main human rights issues faced by Canada’s First Nations:

Third World Conditions – Canada currently ranks 4th in the world on the United Nations human development index. However, when Indian and Northern Affairs Canada entered First Nations-data only in the index, Canada ranks 63rd. Officially, this places Canada’s First Nations firmly in the realm of third world conditions.

Quality of Life Indicators – Infant mortality, life expectancy, homelessness, inadequate housing, incidents of tuberculosis, health disease, HIV-AIDS, diabetes – First Nations in Canada are near the top of the statistics. Suicide is the leading cause of death among First Nations between the ages of 10 and 24.

Aboriginal Women – Article 3 of the Universal Declaration states: “Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.” Yet, in recent years, there have been over 500 missing and murdered Aboriginal women in Canada. Most are the most vulnerable people in Canada, forced into homelessness, prostitution and unsafe situations. Many women and children are forced away from their homes, due to inequalities under the Indian Act and lack of matrimonial property laws. Once again, article 17 of the Declaration states: “No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his property.”

Residential Schools – Article 5 states: “No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.” For decades, First Nations children were forcibly removed from the homes, families and communities and forced to attend government sanctioned, church-run residential schools. Inside they were subject to systemic assimilation, physical abuse and sexual abuse. Entire generations of people endured inhuman and degrading treatment on behalf of the government and in the name of the Lord. First Nations survivors and victims were only given an apology in June 2008. Individuals and affected families were provided long-awaited compensation. Many more are still unresolved. Many thousands of Elders, the survivors, have died in anguish without any acknowledgement. Yet, the government has yet to deal with multi-generational trauma and the affected of residential school on language and culture. A truth and reconciliation commission will be travelling throughout Canada documenting the stories from Canada’s saddest chapter in it’s history.

Child Poverty – According to Campaign 2000, one in four Aboriginal children grow up in poverty. That is utterly signficant. Canada has attempted to address child poverty, and in 1989 passed a motion in the House of Commons to rid poverty by the year 2000. Not even close. Statistics are not improving.

Child Welfare – The Assembly of First Nations is currently before the Canadian Human Rights Commission after filing a complaint against the federal government over child welfare. There are over 27,000 First Nations children in care which is considered by many to be a state of crisis. Former National Chief Phil Fontaine described the conditions as a “national disgrace”. To this day, funding of First Nations child protection agencies is woefully inadequate to address the current need, much less lead to proactive, preventative measures. The situation is similar to what was referred to as the “Sixties Scoop”, another Canadian historical taboo. In the 1960s, thousands of First Nations children were removed from their homes on reserves and placed into non-native care. Many of those children never reconnected with their First Nations culture and roots. Others were adopted out to non-native families without proper consent.

Education Inequity – Article 20 of the Declaration states: “Everyone has the right to education.” But apparently this right is provided in varying degrees, at the discretion of the Crown. First Nations students going to school on-reserve are funded at least $2,000-$5000 less than non-native students attending public schools. On-reserve school facilities are inadequate and in many cases unsafe. As a result, the drop out rate for First Nations students is three times the Canadian average. About 70% of First Nations students on-reserve will never complete high school. This is all according to Government of Canada statistics.

Clean Drinking Water – Article 25 states: “Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family,” However, there are still hundreds of boil water advisories in First Nation communities. That is boil water advisories for the entire communities, affecting every single home, affecting every single man, women and child. There is a fundamental lack of funding, standards and training for First Nations, much less the infrastructure needed to treat water and wastewater. Schools do not have clean potable water.

Indigenous Rights – Canada and the United States continues to refuse to be signatory to the United Nations Declaration of Indigenous Rights. This document entrenches the aspirations, values and rights of First Nations people including the right to have full enjoyment of the Rights under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, not to mention the right to self-determination and self-government.

Perhaps, this message needs to be sent out during the Olympic Torch Run, leading up to and throughout the course of the 2010 Winter Olympics and perhaps during the Pan-Am Games. The message should be loud and clear during the upcoming G-8 meeting in Huntsville and the G-20 in Toronto.

I suggest that First Nations, as represented by the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) should join the fledgling “G-77”, the group of seventy-seven on the world’s poorest countries as a means of contributing to world affairs and gaining international attention to Canada’s dirty little secret.