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Steering committee will 'do everything we can' to prevent First Nations education bill

The first draft of the federal government's proposed First Nations Education Act is almost exactly the same as the blueprint for the bill released this past summer, says the president of the First Nations Education Steering Committee.

"Our counterparts all across the country provided feedback on that blueprint, and absolutely none of that is reflected in the proposed bill," Tyrone McNeil said in an interview, adding the government's eight meetings with First Nations across the country did not include enough First Nations representatives to count as true consultation.

"When the feds initially informed us that they're entertaining legislation, their only purpose was to entrench or secure a solid funding base. And now in this proposed bill it's silent on funding. The funding comes later."

The proposed draft, released Oct. 22, has a short section on funding that includes the statement "the amount to be paid will be determined by a funding formula, which will be written out in regulations." McNeil says the purpose of the bill should be to determine what those regulations will be, and he is pessimistic about any change in the funding formula or amounts.

"And lately the [Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt has] been signaling that there's going to be no new funding," he said.

British Columbia's 203 First Nations already have an education agreement with the provincial and federal governments, the Tripartite Education Framework Agreement (TEFA) signed in 2012. The proposed bill indicates B.C. would only be exempted until TEFA expires in 2017.

FNESC is still engaged in negotiations with the federal government over a funding formula for education as part of the First Nations Jurisdiction over Education in British Columbia Act, which was signed in 2006, giving First Nations in the province control over teacher and school certification, and the authority to establish curriculum and testing standards. McNeil says Minister Valcourt told FNESC and the Assembly of First Nations B.C. regional Chief Jody Wilson-Raybould that the agreement will be overruled by the proposed legislation if it passes.

"The position we've been trying to bring to the feds is we're doing good things here in B.C. We've got solid partnerships between the First Nations that have schools in their communities, the provincial government and stakeholders like the (BC Teachers' Federation) and (BC School Trustees Association)," he said, adding both organizations, the provincial ministry of education, and the Canadian School Boards' Association have spoken out against the bill.

"So do what you need to in other parts of the country, but leave us alone because we're on the right path. We've got a system here in B.C."

The Tyee has contacted Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development and is waiting for its response to McNeil's assertions. However, the ministry website indicates the ministry feels it has adequately consulted First Nations on the proposed legislation.

"The draft legislative proposal has been shared with more than 600 Chiefs and Band Councils and every First Nation community across the country, as well as provincial governments, for further input prior to legislation being introduced in Parliament," reads the website, adding approximately 440 individuals have participated in face to face consultations, over 200 participated in video or teleconference consultations and over 460 online surveys regarding the proposed bill have been completed since December 2012.

The government has promised further opportunities to add input. McNeil says FNESC will continue to provide feedback on the legislation, but they will take government to court to stop the bill if they have to.

"We don't want to go down there, but if this bill goes through, it sets us back so much. It just can't be tolerated. We have to do everything we can to prevent it," he said.

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

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