04/11/2014 06:14 EDT | Updated 06/11/2014 05:59 EDT

New First Nations Education Act an 'illusion of control'

The First Nations Control of First Nations Education Act, tabled in Parliament yesterday, is an attempt to create the illusion of First Nations control over education.  

At the same time it maintains — in the spirit of Canadian colonial lawmaking — an unfettered discretion accruing to the minister and granting him or her with sweeping power and control over a variety of educational matters.

The FNCFNEA is selling enticements of "control" while perpetuating the denial and the existence of inherent and treaty rights (ie. jurisdiction) of indigenous peoples.

The complicating factor in this case is that the illusion of First Nations control over education is being supported by Shawn Atleo, the National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, and a handful of AFN member community leaders. 

Support for the bill by the national chief however is immaterial given the AFN does not hold decision-making powers that bind community decision-makers.

Self-determination denied in bill's current form

Indigenous peoples living in the successor state of Canada (with or without treaties), have rights of self-determination, recognized under international law and are blatantly denied in the current form of this bill.

This is evidenced by the fact that the minister maintains an "Indian agent" role and can take control of a community education program based on performance outcomes that are not determined by our communities, but by standards developed within provincial education systems that we have historically had no input in developing.

This is problematic if you believe, like me, that as self-determining indigenous peoples, we hold the right to design and implement opportunities to develop the potential of our children and young people based on our own criteria and based on the priorities of our unique societies and cultures.

Some might say that this can be accomplished within the provisions of the bill. However, it is important to recognize that building an education system based on our languages and our cultural practices would not yield results that could be easily measured based on criteria and priorities identified by provincial education systems.

There is evidence through multiple research studies and reports that western provincial school systems have failed our children. Only through the development of our own education systems based in our indigenous pedagogy and ways of being will our students thrive in a school system.

A good life for our children is still the goal of our families as indigenous peoples. As such, benchmarks of success in western education systems are incidental to building a beautiful indigenous life experience.

What does it really mean to address parity in funding?

Much has been made of the $1.9-billion investment and the lifting of the "funding cap" that forms part of the enticement package of the bill.

The identification of a limited investment in the great divide that exists between on-reserve schooling and provincial education systems however should be a further indication of the lack of commitment towards real solutions.

The pursuit of parity in education opportunity for our young people requires significantly more than a partial funding of a historical inequity that has existed for decades.

Real commitment to addressing the funding gap would start with a quantification of the real and current deficit in investment to establish a starting point for discussions on investments needed. It would also include an immediate implementation of the decision, opposed to a delayed implementation.

The current state of the funding mechanism as enticement to the bill is nothing more than a campaign promise — a campaign promise of the same nature that this government and its bureaucracy call "corruption" when local leadership make spending promises in Indian Act election campaigns.

It is also quite possible, based on past practice, that the Conservatives are buying time to find other existing Indian Act programs or services to cut funding from in order to raise the capital to fund the promise. 

'Man-made funding crisis'

It should not be forgotten that successive generations of children from our communities have been subjected to a man-made funding crisis made all the more damaging by a failure to acknowledge the population boom that we are experiencing within our families and communities.

The man-made funding crisis forced many of our communities into provincial agreements in recent years because there were no other options to counter the financial-starving-out strategy of federal governments.

The choice to enter into provincial agreements was not really a choice at all if communities wanted to provide our children with basic instruction and hire teachers at competitive wages.

The new bill has been touted as an enhancement or strengthening of provincial agreements, when the reality is that many of our communities had no choice but to make a provincial agreement.

There is a long history of colonial lawmakers in Canada creating laws and policies in the pursuit of making indigenous peoples more like them.

This is evidenced by those who say we need to "close the gap" on education outcomes because it demonstrates an effort to push our children towards only one marker of educational accomplishment as set by others.

The use of laws and policies to push outcomes on indigenous families and communities is part of an assimilation agenda that gave rise to the residential school and today's child welfare system.

The assimilation​ agenda finds its strength in discrimination and claims to racial superiority that are systemic problems in our relationship with Canadian governments.

This new bill is not a departure from that age-old problem; it continues to affirm it.