ARCHIVED - Minister's letter to Chiefs - April 15, 2014
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Dear Chief & Council/Grand Chief/Regional Chief/Executive Director:
Our Government has prioritized improving education outcomes for First Nation students. This is a goal that we share with First Nation parents, teachers, students and communities across the country. Indeed, First Nations have for decades been calling for education reform, notably beginning with the Indian Control of Indian Education policy paper by the National Indian Brotherhood in 1972. Since 2006, our Government has also entered into many tripartite education arrangements with First Nations across the country with the goal of working together to improve First Nation student outcomes. These arrangements have been supported by several Budget investments. As you know, 2011 was a particularly important year for First Nation education. The Auditor General and the Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples both released reports on First Nation education. Our Government also partnered with the Assembly of First Nations to announce the Canada-First Nation Joint Action Plan to improve the lives of First Nation people. This was followed by the launch of the jointly-appointed National Panel on First Nation Elementary and Secondary Education whose final report was released in 2012.
After years of partnership and intensive engagement to examine the challenges facing First Nation students, our Government took further action by beginning consultations for a legislative framework for First Nation education in December 2012, which culminated in the announcement by the Prime Minister and the National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations on February 7, 2014.
That is why I am very pleased to inform you that on April 10, 2014, the Government of Canada introduced Bill C-33, the First Nations Control of First Nations Education Act in the House of Commons.
This legislation entrenches in law the five priority areas outlined by the National Chief and crystallized in Assembly of First Nations Resolution #21/2013. Specifically, the bill addresses these priorities by:
- establishing in law the control by First Nations of their elementary and secondary education systems, recognizing First Nation treaty rights, and respecting the inherent right to self-government;
- creating an independent Joint Council of Education Professionals to ensure a cooperative regulatory development process between First Nations and the Government of Canada. In turn, it would then provide advice to the Government of Canada and First Nations on the implementation of the legislative framework, and undertake a five-year review of the Act, with the input of First Nations, to ensure its ongoing effectiveness. The Joint Council would have a robust oversight role and ensure Ministerial powers are used as a last resort, informed by the benefit of the Council's expert advice;
- ensuring in law the incorporation of First Nation language and culture programming in the education curriculum, including immersion in a First Nation language in a manner that ensures transferability of students between education systems and allows for students to obtain a recognized high school diploma;
- establishing in law for the first time in history, a statutory obligation on the part of the Minister not only to fund First Nation education, but to fund it in a manner that allows for comparability of provincial and on-reserve education services, supports the study of a First Nation language or culture as part of an education program, and enables a responsible authority to manage the property of any school it administers; and,
- establishing in law the requirement for ongoing and meaningful engagement on First Nation education by the Government of Canada supported by the Joint Council of Education Professionals.
We agree with First Nations that a child-centred approach to education founded in mutual transparency, accountability and reconciliation is needed and the legislation reflects this. It supports the achievement of First Nation students by establishing clear standards, roles and responsibilities for all parties involved in the delivery of education on reserve.
Our Government has always been clear in our position that funding cannot replace reform, but it will accompany reform. That is why the First Nations Control of First Nations Education Act will be supported by a new funding approach which streamlines existing elementary and secondary education funding and provides new investments in three key areas, which were confirmed in the Government of Canada's Economic Action Plan 2014:
- core statutory funding for First Nation schools, including funding for language and culture, beginning in 2016-2017, in time for the first school year when we anticipate that the full legislative and regulatory framework will come into force. On top of current expenditure levels ($1.55 billion annually in 2011-12), this stream will see an additional $1.25 billion over three years which will increase thereafter at an unprecedented rate of 4.5 percent on the total amount of core funding. As described earlier, this funding will support First Nations in providing education services that are reasonably comparable to those in the provinces and manage funds in a manner that aligns with their priorities;
- an Enhanced Education Fund, which will provide $160 million over four years, beginning in 2015-2016, to support transition for First Nations and First Nation education authorities into the new legislative framework with a focus on strengthening capacity, building partnerships, and developing the required policies, agreements and systems to deliver a full range of education services; and
- an Education Infrastructure Fund, which will invest $500 million over seven years starting in 2015-2016, to support the efficient and effective construction of and renovations to schools on reserve. This investment builds on our Budget 2012 investment of $100 million in on-reserve school infrastructure.
Building on Prime Minister Harper's historic Statement of Apology in 2008 and our Government's commitment in 2010, the First Nations Control of First Nations Education Actproposes to repeal the provisions in the Indian Act related to residential schools. The great symbolic importance of this measure aligns directly with the purpose of this bill; namely, to turn the page on the dark chapter of the residential school system and provide the framework for First Nations to develop and implement a quality education system under their control.
As I indicated, this bill builds on existing education tripartite and self government arrangements with First Nations across the country and is not intended to detract from them. For First Nations which are not already in these types of arrangements, the bill will serve as a bridge for them to move towards innovative partnerships or self-governing jurisdiction over education if they wish to do so. Meanwhile, the bill will not affect those First Nations who have already taken responsibility for education through a self-government arrangement.
First Nations and all Canadians are welcome to participate in the Parliamentary process to provide further input on the Act. Upon passage of the Act, the Government of Canada will work with First Nations, through the Joint Council of Education Professionals, to develop regulations in a manner that allows for regional and local flexibility. Let me be clear: our partnership does not end with the introduction of this bill.
For more information about Bill C-33, I invite you and your members to consult the website of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada at www.aandc.gc.ca/firstnationeducation.
I would like to thank you in advance for taking the time to read this bill. I look forward to continuing to work in partnership with First Nations toward the support of strong education systems on reserve that will lead to further success of First Nation students across Canada. I hope that you will lend your support to this important initiative, and I trust that you will share this information with the members of your community.
Bernard Valcourt, PC, QC, MP
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