Who should oversee education on First Nations reserves?

Thomas Bink
Who should oversee education on First Nations reserves?

Beyond all the clamour surrounding Mike Duffy's speech and the ongoing Senate scandal, the Conservative government tabled its controversial First Nations Education Act, aimed at overhauling education on First Nations reserves with the aim of bringing them up to provincial standards.

"Our government firmly believes that all First Nation students across Canada deserve access to a school system that meets provincial and territorial standards, while respecting First Nation culture, language, rights and treaties," Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt said yesterday.

Educating First Nations youth has been a controversial subject for decades. Just five years ago, Prime Minister Stephen Harper stood in the House of Commons and issued an apology for the federal government's involvement in church-run residential schools. Until 1996 when the last federally-operated residential school was closed, Over 150,000 aboriginal children went through the system, and many faced physical and sexual abuse.

[ Related: Ottawa aims to improve First Nations education ]

“I’ve had residential school survivors who are now leaders in education say to me that the approach (now led by Valcourt) feels like the experience of residential schools," Assembly of First Nations National Chief Shawn Atleo told Postmedia News earlier this month. "What would give action to his words of apology in 2008 is to not repeat the pattern of the past and just exacerbate a problem for decades into the future.”

According to a recent report, almost half of Canada's aboriginal students fail to get to Grade 12. The proposed law would require inspectors to perform annual reviews of  school standards and performances, and to appoint temporary officials to manage schools when necessary.

[ Related: First Nations Education Act paternalistic, say teachers, aboriginals ]

But critics and aboriginal groups say the government has not consulted enough with First Nations communities and is taking a top-down approach that doesn't respect First Nations culture and language.

"The Conservatives should push pause on this flawed, top-down strategy, sit down with First Nations communities and build a workable, fully funded plan that respects, supports and empowers First Nations to control their own education systems," said Carolyn Bennett, the Liberals' aboriginal affairs critic.

So we ask you: Who should oversee education on First Nations reserves?

Have your say in the comments area below.