Community in limbo over fate of FNEA

SIX NATIONS: The Community Education Meeting was well attended last Wednesday night as the Cayuga Room at Six Nations Polytech was packed shoulder to shoulder. Facilitated by Richard Powless, the meeting opened up with an update on the First Nations Education Act. 

Band Council Chief Councillor Ava Hill told the gathering that the most important issue is, “What are we going to do with education? They (the federal government) are forcing us to do something and if not then they’re going to do something (on our behalf).”

The newer FNEA, which is now entitled First Nations Control of First Nations Education Act (FNCFNEA), was announced by Prime Minister Stephen Harper in collaboration with Assembly of First Nations Chief, Shawn Atleo on the Blood Indian Reserve in Alberta on February 7 of this year.

Under the new Act, First Nations would receive a fund of 1.9 billion dollars, which would start trickling down to Band Councils in smaller amounts in 2015. Hill questioned whether or not this is actually ‘new’ funding as the federal government claims and wondered if funding cuts were being made elsewhere in order to facilitate this proposed new funding. Hill speculated that funding cuts might be being made to other First Nations organizations, infrastructure and education programs. In reality, she said, “It’s not very much money at all.”

Hill furthered questioned the proposed new Act on education on reserves, stating that, ‘If First Nations have control over First Nations education, then why is it an Act under the federal government?”

Back on January 27 of this year, Hill mentioned that a high-level meeting took place between the Minister of Indian Affairs, Chief Committee for Nova Scotia and band representatives from BC and Chippewa of the Thames. “We still don’t know what really happened in that meeting. We’re still trying to find out information on it and we can’t find out what’s going on,” Hill declared.

Hill went so far as to contact AFN Chief Shawn Atleo for ‘clarification’ on the proposed new FNCFNEA and was told that, “We didn’t make the announcement, the federal government did.” But according to Hill, others are saying that it was a joint announcement between the federal government and the AFN.

“We’ve got to put a Plan of Action in place in order to combat this,” said Hill. “All schools on the reserve” Hill stated, “are currently federal schools but we don’t know if they are going to hand that over to the province or even third parties (if or when the education act gets legislated).”

District Councillor Helen Miller asserted that, “the best idea for Six Nations is to just take over our own education.” But even with that, Miller worried, there might be problems. One of the biggest concerns if Six Nations does take over their own education is that teachers and principals on the territory are currently funded under Indian and Northern Affairs Canada and would get laid off meaning that everyone, ‘loses their pensions and teachers would have to get re-hired,’ stated Miller.

Most people are worried that if they don’t know what the agreement between the federal government and the AFN consists of, then they can’t act effectively. Both the AFN and the federal government are keeping very tight-lipped about the agreement which is causing a stir among First Nations across Canada, including Six Nations, and especially those who feel the AFN has no authority or jurisdiction over them.

Two Row Times attempted to contact Shawn Atleo for comments regarding the issue but calls were not returned.

A few community members had concerns about the process of how a Bill such as the FNCFNEA gets pushed through Parliament. Richard Powless explained that it goes through 3 readings in the House of Commons, then goes through 3 more in the Senate but explained that he’s seen bills go through Parliament in as little as 2 or 3 weeks. Powless explained that as far as he knows the Act will be legislated this coming September.

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