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BC First Nations groups disappointed with federal education 'blueprint'

B.C. First Nations organizations are speaking out against the federal government's First Nations education blueprint because they say it fails to address on-reserve education issues in the province.

On July 12, Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada (AANDC) released "Developing a First Nation Education Act: A Blueprint for Legislation," an update on the ongoing creation of the proposed First Nations Education Act. The document breaks down issues raised by First Nations people during AANDC consultations held between December 2012 and May 2013.

Some of these issues include ensuring First Nations control over First Nations education, empowering First Nations people to participate in their children's education, addressing barriers to post-secondary education, and including culturally appropriate content and language in curriculum and learning outcomes.

But the Union of BC Indian Chiefs, BC Assembly of First Nations (BCAFN), and First Nations Summit say the blueprint fails to address issues critical to First Nations education, particularly a lack of sustainable education funding.

"The Harper Government's 'consultation' process remains inadequate, insufficient and ineffective," said Grand Chief Stewart Phillip of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs in a press release issued earlier today.

"In particular, the Blueprint lacks a clear commitment to sustained and adequate funding, including for language and culture, that meets the needs First Nations."

The funding section of the document is the only section that doesn't include proposals from government. Last week, the Parliamentary Budget Officer revealed B.C. First Nations-run schools needed at least 50 per cent more funding in this fiscal year in order to maintain current infrastructure.

B.C. was the first province to achieve a tripartite agreement for First Nations education between the provincial, federal, and First Nations governments in 2012. The federal government has praised the province's First Nations Education Steering Committee (FNESC), which acts like a school board for First Nations’ education, as a model for other First Nations to follow.

But there is concern in the B.C. First Nations community that the First Nations Education Act will undo all of the good work B.C. First Nations have already done.

"In B.C. we have developed our own solutions that are working. The First Nations Education Steering Committee and BC First Nations Schools Association have been working tirelessly and diligently to present the issues, concerns and views of B.C. First Nations over the past several months," said Jody Wilson-Raybould, BCFAN regional chief, in the release.

"Unfortunately, we do not see any of those concerns responded to in the Blueprint. FNESC and the FNSA have consistently presented proactive recommendations which, to date, have been ignored."

Formal consultations on the Act, which involved eight face-to-face meetings, over 30 video and teleconferences, and an online survey, have now closed. People are still invited to post their comments online.

The Tyee contacted the B.C. Assembly of First Nations, Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, Grand Chief Edward John of the First Nations Summit, and Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada for comment but has yet to hear back.

Katie Hyslop reports on education and youth issues for The Tyee Solutions Society. Follow her on Twitter.

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