© Herald photo by Tyler Clarke
Surrounded by educators and administration from the Prince Albert Grand Council Education Board, Grand Chief Ron Michel reads a statement at the Sturgeon Lake Complex in Prince Albert on Thursday, outlining the council’s intent to develop their own education acts.
Surrounded by Prince Albert Grand Council educators, Grand Chief Ron Michel gave the proposed First Nation Education Act a failing grade on Thursday.
“How dare they try to stand tall in the marbled halls of Parliament and state with confidence that they know what is good for education First Nations youths,” Michel told reporters.
“It stinks of contempt of our people, our youth and our communities. We will not stand for this obnoxious disrespect from the government.”
Rejecting the government’s plans, Michel said that the Prince Albert Grand Council is preparing their own education acts, tailored to each of its 12 member bands of Cree, Dené and Dakota ancestry.
“Through the development of our own education acts we are asserting our indigenous right and authority over our children’s education, not only for this generation but for generations to come,” Michel said.
The Prince Albert Grand Council’s education acts will face government-imposed barriers, Michel said, adding that he believes that they’ll find success “with the support of our communities, with the support of our schools, with the support of all of our people and the First Nations of Saskatchewan.”
Their education act follows the same guiding principals as other schools for the high-school grades, Michel said, noting that their goal will remain centred on preparing students for post-secondary institutions.
“We have to abide by that, and certainly we do,” he said. “And the elementary -- we upgraded processes that we value our language and we value our culture just like any other nations.”
The First Nation members of the Prince Albert Grand Council have a long history of taking a leadership role in their children’s education, Michel said. In the 1970s, parents took their children out of school en masse, home-schooling them on reserve.
“We did this because main-stream education and the federal government was failing our children. Since this time we’ve had significant gains in education of First Nations youth,” he said.
“Forty years later, the First Nations of the Prince Albert Grand Council have strong, well-developed systems and that includes good governance.
“No system is perfect, and I am certainly not saying that ours is the perfect system, but we have gone along way in 40 years compared to what the government had done to us in the last 100 years.”
Prince Albert Grand Council director of education Edwards Mirasty notes that prior to First Nations taking control of their education in the early ’70s, graduation rates among Prince Albert Grand Council students was “dismal,” around the 20 per cent mark.
“Today, the graduation rates are about 30 per cent behind the provincial numbers,” he said, adding that the provincial graduation rate is in the 70s.
These numbers factor in about 200 graduates across the Prince Albert Grand Council and about 20,000 Saskatchewan-wide.
How dare they try to stand tall in the marbled halls of Parliament and state with confidence that they know what is good for education First Nations youths. Prince Albert Grand Council Grand Chief Ron Michel
In the early ’70s, there were fewer than 10 First Nations students attending post-secondary programs, nationally. By 2004, this number had grown to 21,500, Mirasty noted.
The Prince Albert Grand Council has had an established education board since the early ’80s.
“Our chiefs and our communities have worked hard to develop these systems and the proposition of imposed education legislation is a definite slap in the face to our First Nations leaders -- to the hard work and research that have been done thus far,” Michel said.
The Prince Albert Grand Council’s education acts will recognize First Nations language, culture and academic achievement, First Nations jurisdiction over education, and the inherent treaty right to education, Michel said.
Article 14 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People reads; “Indigenous peoples have the right to establish and control their educational systems and institutions providing education in their own languages, in a manner appropriate to their cultural methods of teaching and learning.”
Michel said that since Canada has continued to ignore this declaration, he plans on presenting the Prince Albert Grand Council’s proposed education acts to James Anaya, the special rapporteur on indigenous issues at the United Nations, during a visit to Calgary in October.
The intent is to get their message across before the new parliamentary session resumes on Oct. 16.
A draft education act will be shared among the Prince Albert Grand Council’s 12 bands in the coming weeks, Michel said, adding that any feedback they receive will help further shape a document that’s been underway for “the last 40 years,” Michel said.
Now is the time to stand up, he said, adding that the federal government has been able to implement various policies that affect First Nations people because they are a majority government.
“I think it’s time that we start telling government and the whole non-aboriginal community that we are people and that we will guide our own lives.”
The Daily Herald will seek the federal government’s counterpoint to the Prince Albert Grand Council’s stance on the proposed first Nation Education Act as soon as possible.
In July, the government sent a blueprint for the proposed First Nations Education Act to more than 600 chiefs and band councils across the country, asking for their feedback.
A draft of the proposed First Nations Education Act is expected to reach the House of Commons some time this fall, allowing time for implementation by the next school year.