(AFN British Columbia regional Chief Jody Wilson Raybould stands behind the microphone as she’s backed by the delegation of her region’s chiefs and proxies. APTN/Jason Leroux)
APTN National News
OTTAWA–The Assembly of First Nation called on the Harper government Tuesday to withdraw its First Nation education bill while also demanding the federal government immediately inject the $1.9 billion promised for 2015 in the last federal budget.
Chiefs from across the country gathered in an Ottawa hotel conference room to hash out their position on the First Nation Control of First Nation Education Act, Bill C-33 and to decide when to hold the next election for AFN national chief as a result of Shawn Atleo’s resignation.
After much procedural wrangling, driven by regional tensions over the direction of the AFN, the chiefs unanimously adopted a statement calling on Ottawa to scrap the bill and begin a new process of talks to craft another option.
“Canada must withdraw Bill C-33 and engage in an honourable process with First Nations that recognizes and supports regional and local diversity leading to true First Nation jurisdiction of education based on our responsibilities and inherent Aboriginal and Treaty rights,” said the statement, which was tabled by Kahnawake Grand Chief Mike Delisle, whose Mohawk community sits by Montreal.
Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt’s office issued a statement saying that there would be no money without the bill.
“Our government is extremely disappointed that the Assembly of First Nations did not honour its agreement with the government,” said the statement. “We will not invest new money in an education system that does not serve the best interest of First Nation children; funding will only follow real education reforms.”
Chiefs, however, said this issue was about more than money.
“We don’t need legislation, we have an agreement with the Crown, that’s treaty,” said Sakimay First Nation Chief Lynn Acoose, from Treaty 4 in Saskatchewan.
AFN regional Chief Jody Wilson-Raybould said individual regions would now go back to develop their own education plans to bring to the table when the AFN chiefs meet again and develop a counter-proposal.
“I recognize the regional diversity that exists across the country and I see that as the next step forward to continue to have these discussions, to continue to have respect for all the voices to actually move forward with our individual plans and call on the government to ensure those plans are respected,” said Wilson-Raybould.
Chiefs also voted in favour of a resolution put forward by Six Nations Chief Ava Hill and seconded by Thunderchild First Nation Chief Delbert Wapass that called on Ottawa to develop a “new fiscal framework and relationship for our education system” where the federal government would send transfers to First Nations.
The resolution, which passed with 121 votes, also called on Canada to immediately inject the $1.9 billion promised by the Harper government in the last federal budget. The majority of the promised money would only flow in 2015 and was contingent on the passing of Bill C-33.
There were 60 abstentions on the resolution vote.
Anne Atleo, a proxy from Ka:’yu:’k’t’h’/ Che:k’tles7et’h First Nation on Vancouver Island, said the chiefs were passing up an important opportunity by rejecting the education bill.
“By walking away and rejecting the bill entirely what is it we are walking away from?” said Atleo, who is Shawn Atleo’s aunt. “Is that not what we directed the national chief to go after? To create these opportunities? How could we not remember those things? Think about the children back home.”
The special chiefs assembly, however, failed to deal with the issue of the election of the next national chief. There were two motions on the floor, one calling for an election in Halifax this coming July and the other calling for an election in Winnipeg later this fall.
Southern Chiefs Organization Grand Chief Terry Nelson invited the AFN to hold the vote in Winnipeg this September.
The ongoing battle over the Confederacy of Nations and the direction of the AFN executive manifested itself on the conference room floor in the guise of procedural trench-warfare.
Wilson-Raybould initially tabled a motion calling on Ottawa to withdraw Bill C-33 or introduce major amendments. She said the motion had been worked on by the AFN executive.
The motion however, surprised chiefs from Ontario, Manitoba and Saskatchewan. Serpent River First Nation Chief Isadore Day, whose community is in Ontario, then moved to have chiefs break off into caucuses to discuss Wilson-Raybould’s motion.
When the chiefs returned, Ontario, represented by its regional Chief Stan Beardy, moved to have Wilson-Raybould’s motion pulled and the dust started to fly, drawing in meeting chair Harold Tarbell who was challenged by a Manitoba proxy at one point.
When the dust settled, Wilson-Raybould’s motion had been pulled from the floor.
Proponents of the Confederacy of Nations were pushing to hold a meeting on Wednesday, but the special chiefs assembly ended abruptly early Tuesday evening after it was discovered there was no quorum to conduct official business.
The chiefs plan to meet next in Halifax this coming July.