Rejection of the federal government’s proposed First Nations Education Act isn’t limited to the Prince Albert Grand Council.
© Submitted photo
Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations vice chief Bobby Cameron.
All 74 bands within the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations (FSIN), including the Prince Albert Grand Council’s 12 bands, are in the process of drafting their own unique education acts.
The blueprint for all of these education acts is within the FSIN’s education act template, which was drafted in 1984.
“Now what we did at the FSIN, along with my staff, is we made sure our bands had a copy of this (template) probably three months ago … so that our bands can start the work at revising it, editing it and making additions or corrections or deletions that can suit their community needs,” Cameron explained.
“It’s all for the bands. Everything starts at the band level. We’re just ambassadors. We’re messengers and we’re advocators, so that’s what we’re doing.”
The individual First Nations bands are “revising and revamping, and that’s coming from the direction of each individual chief and each First Nation.”
Last week, Prince Albert Grand Council (PAGC) Chief Ron Michel held a press conference in Prince Albert announcing that each of his council’s 12 member bands expect to have their own education acts drafted before Parliament resumes next month.
This is good timing, Cameron said, adding that he hopes to see all of their 74 bands be as proactive as the PAGC in customizing their education acts so they have something concrete to pit against the federal plan.
In July, the federal government released a barebones blueprint of the First Nations Education Act, which they expect to have in place across the country by September, 2014.
Releasing an expected implementation date as the federal government has done is like saying, “Well, this is going to happen anyway, whether you guys like it or not,” Cameron said.
“That’s like me, as an Indian man saying to the City of Saskatoon, here’s a new bylaw, take it or leave it,” Cameron said.
“Even though I don’t live in Saskatoon, even though I don’t know what you guys want and need, here it is, and if you don’t abide by my bylaw I’m going to withhold my funding.”
Withholding funding is exactly what Cameron anticipates the federal government will do, should First Nations adopt their own education acts over the federal plan -- not that there’s much funding to withhold, he asserted.
It’s all for the bands. Everything starts at the band level. We’re just ambassadors. We’re messengers and we’re advocators, so that’s what we’re doing. Vice Chief Bobby Cameron, on the FSIN's role
On reserve education is funded at about $6,500 per student, whereas off reserve students are funded at a level of about $10,500 per student.
What Cameron said perplexes him even further is that when students who live on a reserve seek education outside of their reserve, the band has to pay the $4,000 difference.
“Something’s going to give,” Cameron said.
With First Nations control over First Nations education a treaty right, Cameron said that it only makes sense that education acts be drafted on reserve.
“They’re on record saying they’ve held consultation sessions, but not once did they go to a reserve and ask for their input and advice,” Cameron said of the feds.
“They go to the major centres, like Saskatoon and Regina. It would have made sense had they gone to a few reserves and pitched their idea.”
Despite what he currently perceives to be the federal government stacked against them, Cameron said that he remains optimistic that First Nations-specific education acts will prevail.
“I honestly believe … that the treaty right to education will always be there as long as we have vocal leaders and our elders guiding us along the way.”
The PAGC’s proactivity in putting forth education acts early on this fall is an extension of their trailblazing when it comes to First Nations education, Michel said during last week’s press conference.
In addition to Michel noting that parents began taking their children out of school en masse in the 1970s in order to home school them under a stronger cultural framework, Cameron cites the drafting of the FSIN’s 1984 education act template as a pioneering moment in First Nations education.
The act was written Carole and Sol Sanderson, who were both members of the PAGC -- Carole from Sturgeon Lake First Nation and Sol from James Smith Cree Nation.
The next parliamentary session is expected to resume on Oct. 16. Before then, Michel plans on meeting with James Anaya, the United Nations’ special rapporteur on indigenous issues, who is visiting Calgary next month.