The dizzying calendar speed and final celebration of colonial holidays rushed the Assembly of First Nations to pass a resolution at their 2017 December meeting that will compromise the inherent and Treaty Right to education for the First Peoples.
Education in mainstream has prepared our people. It has armed our people to think as strategists and more importantly, it has taught us to anticipate and question the policies or workers of the oppressor state. For some of the original people, this mainstream education is a piece of paper, a tool similar to the horse that our people can take and then use for the betterment of the whole. Unfortunately, while we still retain our visionary, communal thinkers, we also retain our petty, small-minded individuals as well.
In our histories, when the original people were carted into 1/50th of their original land bases, Indian Agents began to unravel the governance and organizational system in place. Governance was specific for each First Nation and; the roles and responsibilities that had carried the people through the centuries were understood by all members of the nation. With the coming of the settlers, the imposition of the Indian Act and the policies for the First peoples placed with unschooled Indian Agents, division and upheaval quickly took root.
The policies of the Indian Act that restricted movement, trade, selling of harvested materials, hiring legal assistance, going to school past grade nine, or starting a business were all to strip the original people of their pride, resilience and autonomy. The policies quickly including punishments if children were not taken to residential schools which had their own mechanisms of assimilation, torture or despair.
Throughout all of this directed action, Canada has been either a willing partner or the conductor of the orchestral movements. Canada, has seen fit to interfere in hereditary governance structures and to bring ideas of individual greed, glory and ego to our peoples quashing our communal sharing, humility and spiritual thinking. In turn, this deliberate attempt to break the original societal values has resulted in a checkerboard of First Nations with some nations more colonized that others.
The colonized First Nations will not say they are colonized but are more likely to say they are “willing to compromise”. How willing were our ancestors to die by genocidal processes, whether by smallpox or tortuous residential school experiments, so that we can now say we owe them no debt? We owe our ancestors nothing for the horrors that Canada has put upon them. Instead, we are adopting what these oppressors think and we are forgetting that the ways on this island have come about with the death of our people, our languages, and our worldview.
It was not my father, or my grandfather’s plan to see our forests cut down, to see the skies filled with toxic gases or the waters kill the fish and life within the rivers. This was not the plan that the Creator laid down for all original people. The original people were gifted with distinct obligations; to steward and protect this land and the waters for all Creation. Why have we walked away from these teachings?
That is our indigenous education system. It is the memory of our ancestors that flows through each of us, pushing us forward to stay respectful, to remember the original instructions and to pass this information on. It is this ongoing teaching that we must protect and share for future generations.
Now currently, the clash of these systems is resurfacing. Indian Affairs, the offices of the Federal Government, and the Courts each play a role in controlling the lives of the first people in this country. The government cuts funding. DIAND administers these cut funds. The Indians complain and it goes to court where justice is complicit in bringing harm to the original people.
This is the kind of analysis and understanding that must be taught not only to our own people, but also to Canadians in general. With processes such as the RCAP, Penner Report, TRC recommendations, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People – we have countless aspirational documents, points, directives and proposed policies. What the original people do not have is the buy in from the non-Indigenous on maintaining who we are as a people.
Currently, there are attempts to “indigenize schools” programs and curriculum. This is whitewash for “indigenize the colonial version” with some neutral language and a few token indigenous instructors. This weak approach will be called reconciliation.
At the same time, the Assembly of First Nations has forgotten their purpose. The AFN is a lobby organization. It is not representative of any one nation or of over six hundred nations. Why? The approach of Canada continues to treat all the original people as one little, two little, three little Indians, when in fact the original people of this land are linguistically distinct, geographically separate and have their own spiritual teachings. The sad fact is that the Assembly of First Nation is wearing the required stand around the fort outfit that Trudeau the younger has given them.
Why are our “leaders” willing to be jesters in Trudeau’s court? Is it because they have forgotten that Trudeau only has this court because of the original people’s agreements? That is a long fall from leaders, ambassadors, medicine people, healers, educators, and spiritual people to buffoons or clowns.
The resolution passed by the AFN December 2017 assembly had 13 pages of “transforming” the education relationship between DIAND and the First Peoples. Measuring attendance and graduation rates (provincial benchmarks) has shown that our First Nation students are not graduating. It has nothing to do with mold-infested schools, racist curriculum or no continuity of teaching staff. Giving all First Nations “the promise” to unlock funds to equalize tuition payments for students will solve infrastructure, second level concerns and certification issues (OH! Those are not being discussed).
At the December meeting, AFN states that they managed to get a quorum and a resolution to support sending these 13 pages (now 53?) as a memorandum to cabinet to finally, finally address the First Nation funding shortfalls. What AFN continues to address is the surface of problems that Canada the colonizer allows them to address. Any real funding or control issues must contain government “oversight” which is code for paternalism. From AFN’s botched process of allowing proxies to speak for communal rights to Trudeau’s attempt to put in White Paper 2018, it is clear that no one is understanding that the Treaty or Inherent right to education is a communal right and as such all the people must be involved in any decision making.