The colonialist arrogance of the Harper Tory government was exposed in Bill C-33, the “First Nations Control over First Nations Education” act. In true Orwellian fashion that language hid the fact that the education plan was written without real consultation or input from First Nation communities.
In a move that sent shock waves through Ottawa, a majority of chiefs in the Assembly of First Nations voted to reject the bill. AFN Grand Chief Shawn Atleo, who had acted as cheerleader for the bill since it was tabled in April, was forced to resign.
Following that, a meeting of some 50 chiefs in the Confederacy of Nations drafted a statement that included: “We will strategically and calculatedly begin the economic shut-down of Canada’s economy from coast-to-coast. First Nations will determine whether or not there is intentional economic for the economic development on Turtle Island.” The working document was leaked to the press.
The group asked for a meeting with Minister of Aboriginal Affairs Bernard Valcourt. He escalated the situation by saying: “We should have members condemn, in the strongest terms, the threats of those rogue chiefs who are threatening the security of Canadians, their families, and taxpayers.”
Atleo had no doubt been swayed by the promised $1.9 billion in education spending in C-33. But Ottawa’s generosity was more show than substance. The money was to be doled out over many years, and in many cases would not be released for two years.
Given the history of Residential Schools and the genocide they attempted, it is no wonder education is a crucial matter for First Nations. And the money in C-33 hardly makes up for the chronic underfunding of First Nations education in recent decades.
Since 1996 the federal government has capped spending increases for First Nations education at 2 per cent per year. This ignores inflation and a rapidly growing number of elementary and secondary school students. An AFN report estimates that First Nations schooling has been underfunded to the tune of $3 billion since 1996.
Finally, the Tories have withdrawn Bill C-33, for now. They are unwilling to seriously consult First Nations about developing a First Nations education plan that addresses their needs.
The reality of colonialism means that education has always been a means to assimilate and destroy First Nations cultures. Until First Nations control their eduation--in reality, not just in Tory double-speak–that colonialism continues.