The House resumed from April 30 consideration of the motion that Bill , be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, I am privileged to stand in the House to speak to a bill that is extremely important to the people who sent me to Parliament, first nations and indigenous people in northern Manitoba, and of course, first nations people across our country.
I want to begin by speaking about the reality that first nations youth face in communities in our part of the country. Some weeks ago, I had the opportunity to visit Little Grand Rapids. Little Grand Rapids is a small first nation on the southeast side of Lake Winnipeg. It is isolated. There are no roads that go there; it is in the middle of the forest, or the bush, as we call it. People work hard at what they do, hunting, trapping, fishing, and they hope for the best for the future of their kids, as anybody does.
What I hear from them when I visit from house to house is their concern for their kids, the concern that their kids are not going to have the same opportunities as other kids. It is not because of where Little Grand Rapids is, how far it is from the city or where it is positioned geographically. It is because it is a first nation, and they know their kids face some of the most unequal opportunities in terms of education in this country. Because they are first nations, going to school on reserve, they are guaranteed to be going to a school that is funded to a lesser extent than other schools.
What does that mean? It means that their kids go to a school that some people describe as a fire trap. It is a school where the doors do not lock properly. In order to lock them in -40° weather, so the cold does not come in, they have to a use a chain and a lock. It means the fire alarm system does not work. In fact, when Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development built the school, it hooked up those little fire alarm contraptions that we see everywhere else. It put them on the walls throughout the school and never hooked up the wiring to a fire alarm system. Guess what? There is no fire alarm system. Not only is there no fire alarm system, but as a result there is no sprinkler system, and due to the underfunding, there are no fire extinguishers.
My question in the House for the is whether he would be okay with his kids going to a school like that. Why should the youth of Little Grand Rapids and first nations across this country go to schools that are dangerous, underfunded, falling apart, and full of mould, that do not have enough books, do not have enough teachers, and do not have enough resources, and that are setting them up to fail?
When we talk about the history of colonialism and paternalism that first nations have faced in this country, we cannot just talk about history, because it is happening today. It is happening in the way first nations people face unequal standards across the board, whether it be education, health, employment, housing, or infrastructure. The list goes on.
To see what is most fundamentally clear in the response to the needs of first nations youth and the kind of paternalism we see, one has to go no further than the approach the government has taken on Bill , the first nations education act. The reason I say that is that a fundamental obligation of the federal government to consult with first nations people has not been adhered to in the development of this critical bill.
First nations across the country, certainly those in Manitoba, have been clear that, without consultation, the bill cannot be supported. It is not because they have not made clear the importance of consultation. They have made it clear and have been consistent over the last number of years.
In December 2012, Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada began consultations on an education act. In July 2013 the department released a document called “Developing a First Nation Education Act: A Blueprint for Legislation”. With few amendments, that blueprint became a draft legislative proposal for a first nations education act in October 2013. I am sure all too many members of the government will remember that the draft proposal was condemned by first nations educators, leaders, and activists overwhelmingly.
On the very issue we are discussing today, on the critical issue of education for first nations, first nations have told us the direction they want to take and their priorities.
In 2013 a special assembly the Assembly of First Nations highlighted five priorities: first, respect and recognition of inherent rights and title, treaty rights, and first nations control of first nations education jurisdiction; second, statutory guarantee of funding; third, funding to support first nations education systems that are grounded in indigenous languages and cultures; fourth, mechanisms to ensure reciprocal accountability and no unilateral federal oversight or authority; and fifth, ongoing dialogue and co-development of options. Those five priorities were laid out clearly in a very public manner by first nations themselves, and sadly, the federal government failed to adhere to those priorities.
What we hear from the federal government is rhetoric that is at first premised on having spoken with first nations and of having heard real concerns. Then when I and my colleagues raise the concern that first nations across the country have not been consulted on this legislation, when they need to be consulted, we hear threats, intimidation, and the same old colonial attitudes that first nations have put up with for centuries.
It is clear that first nations across this country are saying no to the first nations education act. I and my colleagues in the NDP are proud to stand with them. I am proud to stand with first nations educators who are speaking out against the first nations education act.
I would like to share the words of Janice Mokokis, an educator and lawyer from Alberta, who has been involved with the Idle No More movement. She has been clear in her opposition to the first nations education act. Janice tells us:
|| There have been rallies and teach-in's held across the country to inform the Canadian public and First Nations about the implications of this Bill. People who have attended the rallies include children, mothers, fathers, teachers, professionals, leaders and those that would be directly affected by this...[government's actions]. There has been consistent opposition about the Conservative's agenda what they deem to be good for First Nations on Education. The Conservative's idea of 'consultation' needs to be closely questioned and critically examined. For example: In the Saskatoon consultation, people were...pushed out of the 'education consultation'.
It was made clear that they were not welcome to have their voices heard.
I also stand in solidarity with people in the blue dot campaign, who made clear their opposition to the government's desire for them not to be welcome at the announcement on the Kainai first nation in Alberta. Members of that nation and first nations people from across the country were there to hear an announcement of legislation that has everything to do with their future, and yet they were not even welcome to stay in the room.
It is clear that there is opposition from coast to coast to coast. First nations people are saying that their inherent rights are not being respected, that their treaty right to education is not being respected, and that the right to consultation that they have under the Canadian Constitution and that is recognized in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples is not being respected. The necessity of consultation is not being respected.
The reality is that first nations youth sit by and suffer as a result of the way the Conservative government is approaching a fundamental part of their development and future. We know the statistics are grim. Secondary school data over the last number of years identify the rate of first nations graduation at approximately 36%, compared to the Canadian graduation rate of 72%. Some 61% of first nations young adults have not completed high school, compared with 13% of non-aboriginal people in Canada.
In 2010, there were more than 515 first nations elementary and secondary schools available to approximately 109,000 first nations students resident on reserve. Over 64% of these students attended 515 on-reserve schools operated by first nations. The majority, 75%, were enrolled in either kindergarten or elementary school.
First nations youth is the largest young population in our country. I am so privileged to have had a chance to visit first nations across our region and look into the bright faces of these little kids, who want to be doctors, lawyers, teachers, and carpenters and who want to do great things. All I can think of is the way I come to work every day to look at a government, a , and a that do everything in their power to ignore the voices of their communities, educators, and leaders. They say they are doing the right thing and they say they are going to do the right thing, but after the next election, maybe in a few years, or maybe if they get re-elected. Maybe. All the while, these young people are left in limbo.
I am also fortunate to have learned from elders. They are elders who fought as part of the Manitoba Indian Brotherhood, fought against the white paper, and fought against the control that the federal government had on their education. They fought back, and they fought for first nations control of first nations education. Many of these elders are not with us today, owing to the challenging life situations in our communities and the shorter life spans that first nations people have. However, in my conversations with them and in my journey to Parliament, they taught me a very clear lesson, that first nations control over first nations education is fundamental to the success of the education system. It is fundamental to the success of first nations youth as they go forward. This is because first nations know what their nations need.
We know about education in first nations language; youth who learn their first nations language succeed at great rates. We know that when they have the resources in their schools to learn their mother tongue, the historic language of their people, they will have opportunities that other youth do not have. We know that when first nations have control over the kind of curriculum, priorities, and lessons that are shared with their youth, their students succeed.
I think of first nations like Roseau River, Peguis, Fisher River, and others that have had very successful models when it comes to education. It is not because the told them how to do it. In fact, it is the absolute opposite. It is these first nations that have stood up and sometimes, with the few resources they have, pulled together extraordinary people. They have supported the education of their youth, who have gone on to become experts and specialists in education and have come back to their communities and invested in the resource that is most important to them: their youth.
One would think that, in seeing the successes and knowing the way graduation rates in first nations increase when there is proper funding and proper support, when there is a focus on first nations language, the Department of Aboriginal and Northern Affairs would celebrate, that it would say that first nations control over first nations education is critical.
Consulting with first nations on further steps, on a first nations education program, is not only critical but first nations need to be leading that direction. Instead, what we have is a slap in the face from the federal government, which has a fiduciary obligation to first nations that makes it very clear that it does not matter what success these students have, it does not matter what success these leaders have had in fighting for education in their communities, with its response to promise action and change and to do that with a father-knows-best mentality, that what it knows best is what is going to go.
Some years ago I had the honour of sitting with leaders and grassroots people in Thompson at the office of the Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak, where we saw live the apology the made to first nations people about the tragedy of the residential school system. I remember it moved all of us. I am proud that our leader Jack Layton was integral in that important historic day. There were tears. There was sobbing. There were people who were very emotional about that apology, people who had been very clear about the abuse, the oppression, and the racism they had faced. However, there was also an overwhelming sense of hope, hope that things can change, that a new spirit of reconciliation was guiding our country.
Over the last six or seven years, I cannot say how many people I have met across northern Manitoba, how many first nations people, who have said obviously that apology meant nothing to the . People took the time to believe and to enter into that spirit of reconciliation. Unfortunately, through the actions of , not just in looking at Bill but also Bills , and , as well as omnibus bills like Bills and , we can look at the long list of legislative actions that the government has taken that fly in the face of that apology, of that spirit of reconciliation, of that commitment that the relationship with first nations would be different.
At the end of the day, is there anything more important than investing in the future of our young people? In the one area of education, the federal government had the chance to change course and maybe remember the statement that the had made in terms of that apology and act in the spirit of that apology. Instead, he and his government have chosen to take a very different approach, an approach that is clearly not only supported by first nations but is extremely deeply problematic in terms of the future of first nations education in our country.
In closing, I am proud to stand with first nations in Manitoba who oppose the first nations education act and who are very clear in demanding far better from the government, from Canada, and from the crown when it comes to the future of education for first nations.
Mr. Speaker, it is a privilege to stand in support of the first nations control of first nations education act. I am proud to stand in support of my colleague, the . I am sharing my time with the member for .
The overriding goal of the first nations control of first nations education act is better outcomes for first nations students. First nations and our government agree that this goal is best achieved through first nations control over the education that is provided within first nations.
The introduction of this bill marks a historic event. The proposed legislation recognizes first nations control over first nations education as an essential to better outcomes for first nations children and for youth.
While the act sets out standards that would have to be met, first nations would have the authority to determine how best to meet these standards. For the first time, elementary and secondary first nations students on reserve would be guaranteed access to quality education, supported by a statutory guarantee for the funding that is required for that education.
I would like now to focus on the funding associated with this act.
To date, first nations youth have not achieved the same educational outcomes as other Canadians. According to the 2011 national household survey, only 38% of registered Indians aged 18 to 24 who were living on reserve had completed high school, compared to 87% of non-aboriginal Canadians.
Too many first nations students do not have the benefit of an education system that ensures they can graduate and become active participants in all the economic opportunities that exist in our country. Helping first nation youth to succeed in school and graduate is critical to increasing their participation in Canada's economy. Their talents and their ambitions should be part of the solution to Canada's looming labour shortage.
I was honoured to join the in February when he announced the funding of $1.9 billion to support major reforms of the elementary and secondary education schools through the first nations control of first nations education act. In addition to the current funding levels, this new funding would provide a better system and it would be provided through a streamlined approach.
We propose to consolidate existing and new sources of education funding into three funding streams: a core operating transfer that would have a reasonable rate of growth and would be able to provide statutory payments for this educational funding, transition funding to support implementation of a new legislative framework, and funding for long-term investments in on-reserve school infrastructure, specifically for new schools and for renovations of existing schools.
Our government has committed $1.25 billion in core operating transfers over three years, beginning in 2016, which includes funding for language and cultural programming, increasing annually on a 4.5% escalator and on a statutory basis. This funding is in addition to the current expenditure levels and would support first nations in providing their children access to an on-reserve education system comparable to that provided for children in the provincial system.
Statutory funding would be allocated to first nations based on their chosen governance model under the first nations control of first nations education act. Those governance models include community-operated schools, a first nation education authority, or a provincial school board.
Allocations to recipients will be largely formula-driven, supporting both the on-reserve school system and tuition arrangements with school boards or provinces where first nations students are attending provincial schools.
Core funding amounts may only be spent on educational services, such as paying principals, teachers, and other staff; classroom and school supplies; operating and maintaining schools; guidance and counselling; busing and other services to students; and paying tuition fees for students going to provincial schools.
First nations have long called for control over first nations education and for the inclusion of language and culture as essential to education for first nation students. Statutory funding for first nations that includes funding for language and cultural programming into the educational curriculum responds to this call. The bill would allow first nations to develop or build on the programming for their language and cultural priorities. This includes curriculum development, teaching tools, and program design and activities to integrate language and culture into the teaching environment.
At the same time, first nations will have the responsibility for meeting minimum standards set out in legislation and regulation.
The second stream, known as the enhanced education fund, would provide of $160 million over four years, starting in 2015-16. This targeted funding will support transition to the new legislative framework and encourage innovation.
The education enhancement fund would provide funding to first nations to establish the new educational authorities, develop service agreements, support early adopters of this act, and strengthen the partnerships that they may develop.
Our government will work with first nations to ensure that there is a smooth transition for communities and educational organizations as we move forward on this education system.
The third stream, the new education infrastructure fund, would provide funding of $500 million over seven years, starting in 2015-16, to build and renovate schools. This multi-year education fund would provide dedicated funding that is focused on improving on-reserve education facilities through construction and renovation of schools and on gaining efficiencies in the way they are designed, procured, financed, and constructed.
It is also important to understand the timelines over which funding will flow. When Bill receives royal assent, there will be a great deal of work required over the next three years to put into place the regulations to fully implement the new system. We will have to work together to make this happen.
On top of the annual funding for services and infrastructure, budgets 2008, 2010, and 2012 included additional investments in education, yet the significant gaps in education outcomes remain between first nations students and the population of Canada as a whole.
Reports by the Senate, the Auditor General, and the national panel on first nation education all came up with the same conclusion. All recommended structural reform and sustainable funding.
As the government has committed to in economic action plan 2014, stable, predictable, and sustainable funding is essential to achieving the reforms that are needed so that many more first nations children can succeed and thrive in school.
Unfortunately, it seems the NDP is putting its partisan interests before those of the kids I hear from and the parents who call my office, concerned with regard to the challenges their children are facing. The members who are opposing this legislation seem to be willing to delay the important actions that need to be undertaken. Time and time again, the NDP has failed, I believe, first nations children because of the delays it has been willing to be part of.
While money is critical, it is also clear that the problems in first nations education cannot be solved with money alone. By putting education systems in place, first nations schools will be able to improve access to services and develop efficiencies in the delivery that education.
A significant challenge facing first nation education is that many schools on reserve are unable to benefit from the economies of scale that provincial schools can achieve through provincial education systems. One of the ways that this new funding is intended to address these challenges is by providing the option to first nations to aggregate into first nation educational authorities similar to those found in the provincial systems.
First nation students want and deserve a chance to have a quality education that will provide them with the building blocks to succeed in their lives. They must not wait any longer.
Mr. Speaker, thank you for this chance to highlight one of the most important aspects of this legislation and what for me, as a first nation parliamentarian, is perhaps the most important. As a Cree, my home reserve is Muskeg Lake Cree Nation in Saskatchewan. I would like to highlight the linguistic and cultural provisions included in this long-awaited, historic piece of legislation.
One of the strongest messages we heard during the extensive consultations held on Bill is that first nation language and culture instruction must be at the heart of any reforms to first nations education. Going back to first nations discussions on education in the 1970s, language and culture were identified as necessary for a first nations controlled education system. The 1972 policy paper of the National Indian Brotherhood, the forerunner of the Assembly of First Nations, called for the inclusion of first nations language and culture in provincial and territorial schools.
The Assembly of First Nations' 2010 policy paper, “First Nations Control of First Nations Education: It's Our Vision, It's Our Time” reaffirmed the importance of language immersion.
The 2010 report of the Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples, “The Journey Ahead: Report on Progress Since the Government of Canada's Apology to Former Students of Indian Residential Schools” stated that: “Measures to support Aboriginal languages and culturally appropriate educational systems will allow Aboriginal youth to develop the skills and perspective necessary to succeed through greater knowledge and appreciation of their history and their identity”.
Most recently, language and culture was identified as one of the five key conditions by the Assembly of First Nations during discussions on education at the Special Chiefs Assembly in December 2013 and in the open letter sent by National Chief Shawn Atleo to the minister.
There is solid evidence on the importance of promoting the inclusion of language and culture in first nation schools. Research demonstrates a relationship between language and cultural knowledge and positive outcomes in academic achievement. One study on the effect of providing supplementary funding for the language development of students found that reading skills improved substantially in school districts that took up these funds. Examples of first nations schools where language and culture have been integrated into the school curriculum across Canada demonstrate considerable improvement in student achievement. Educational outcomes from bilingual or immersion programs in first nations schools, such as the one at Kahnawake, are strong.
Our government recognizes the advantages that such an education offers first nation students. That is why several federal departments with responsibility for aboriginal issues already provide opportunities to develop language and cultural programming for children, youth, and communities. These are based on the communities' determination of what plans and initiatives may best help improve local education outcomes.
The new structures and standards being established under the first nations control of first nations education act would build on these successes. The bill goes further, strengthening support for language and culture in first nations schools and providing a statutory commitment for funding of language and culture programs. Meeting the conditions set out by the Assembly of First Nations, the bill stipulates that all schools must offer English or French as the language of instruction in order to ensure recognition of certifications and diplomas and transferability of students without academic penalty. This ensures the full participation of first nations youth in post-secondary institutions and trade schools and full participation in the Canadian economy.
Despite this, the bill gives first nations the authority to incorporate first nations language and culture into their education programs. In fact, Bill specifies that the funding methodology to be outlined in regulations must include support for the provision of first nation language and culture programming. This represents how far we have come from the days of residential schools, which my grandparents attended. I am proud to be a member of the government that finally apologized to the survivors.
I am also proud that this bill incorporates the provisions of my private member's bill, Bill C-428, by stripping the Indian Act of the provisions concerning residential schools.
Bill C-33 specifically provides that first nation students, parents, families, communities, schools, teachers, and administrators have a strong voice in the development of the language and culture curriculum. They and first nation governments, the joint council of education professionals, and first nation education organizations would all have roles and responsibilities in implementing the act. That is a key point.
Our government is committed to working with first nations through joint council education professionals to develop regulations in a manner that would allow regional and local flexibility. In fact, we have extended an invitation to the AFN to work on political protocols to establish how the joint council would work with first nations to develop the act's regulations.
First nations will decide how to best integrate language and culture programming in their curricula. Bill aims to make first nation students' right to education meaningful and to afford them the opportunities that all students in Canada have.
It is important to understand that first nations will have three governance models to choose from, offering them maximum flexibility in deciding how to best address language and culture issues.
It is also essential to recognize that the bill is not a substitute for treaty implementation or self-government but rather is a bridge to support first nations in establishing their own education systems based on histories and backgrounds. In fact, there are numerous examples of highly successful education models already in place across the country operating under these types of agreements, including the Mi'kmaw Kina'matnewey in Nova Scotia.
I also want to clarify that once self-government arrangements are concluded, those first nations would be exempt from the first nations control of first nations education act.
I am convinced that Bill would help to motivate first nations youth to stay in school and graduate with the skills they need to succeed in today's economy. This will improve their lifelong prospects so that they will enjoy the same opportunities as other Canadians, and as I have received.
I am convinced that all first nations, all Canadians, and all parliamentarians share this goal. Therefore, I urge all parties to support us in advancing Bill to see this promise realized.
Mr. Speaker, I have tried to remain consistent since I started my term nearly three years ago to the day, so in today's debate I will focus on the bastions of identity associated with providing education services adapted to the realities of first nations youth.
The bastions of identity are a notion I have discussed in the past, and I think that this notion is crucial when it comes to the bill we are discussing today. When we talk about the emancipation and governance of first nations, the first bastion is education, since increased intelligence, economic development and the emancipation of peoples are closely related to it. It is very much a matter of identity. These are the concepts I will be talking about today.
I must stress how important it is to take a practical approach that is free of electioneering tactics. This outdated political approach is responsible for making the public disinterested in and distanced from the process of enacting public policy.
As for the bastions of identity, it is essential to get front-line players and members of first nations involved. That is one of the issues I mentioned yesterday when the bill was introduced.
When I made recommendations to my colleagues, I made sure that I encouraged my colleagues to keep a low profile during the big demonstrations that will be held in the coming months—that is a scoop—since in 2014, the Canadian public and all members of first nations are cynical when people use contentious issues and aboriginal identity issues to win votes and serve their own ends.
That is why we need to focus on the work on the ground. I invited my colleagues to start by visiting the communities in their own ridings and to do grassroots work, instead of trying to monopolize the microphone and cameras, as we have seen in the past. These kinds of methods were used by other parties and a political elite whose day has come and gone.
In 2014, the power needs to be given to members of first nations, since these issues are important to them now, and that is the problem with the bill.
I will talk more about that over the next few minutes, but first nations involvement in the drafting and implementation of this bill has been rather minimal. This needs to change in the future.
Based on those observations, the NDP would like to see an education system that is culturally relevant, that includes the people affected and that is effective for students, teachers and communities. This ideal will only be attained by taking an approach that places members of the community at the forefront. The Canadian government's role should be limited to co-operating fully with those who want a modern system to be created.
In that regard, the NDP would like to see education standards developed in partnership with first nations educators, and at their initiative, in order to achieve that goal. We recognize that standards are needed, but they cannot be imposed by Ottawa. Provincial standards may not suit the needs of first nations communities.
The first way to demonstrate the progressive nature of any proposed approach is to recognize the chronic underfunding of first nations education. That is precisely the problem. The government admitted this indirectly in recent months with the announcement of a massive infusion of money, which will begin in 2016 or 2017—basically, who knows when. The government announced considerable investments. This does constitute tacit recognition of the underfunding, which was always denied by previous successive governments.
The consent of first nations members must also be obtained before any new public policies are adopted that aim to control, manage or hem in first nations members.
I will continue my speech later.