Mr. Speaker, it is my privilege to rise to speak to Bill C-33, an act to establish a framework to enable first nations control of elementary and secondary education and to provide for related funding and to make related amendments to the Indian Act and consequential amendments to other acts.
In speaking to this bill, it is incumbent upon everyone to remember Shannen's Dream. I feel the emotion coming. Anybody in this place who has had the opportunity to meet with the family of Shannen Koostachin from Attawapiskat and experience the incredible energy and drive of the children from her community who have continued her campaign cannot help but feel a little emotional in discussing this legislation.
Those in the House are aware of Shannen's campaign. Shannen campaigned for every aboriginal child to have equal access to quality education in this country. It was a pretty reasonable campaign. Sadly, Shannen was killed in an accident driving from her community to high school, because she could not receive quality education in her own community.
Quotes from Shannen during her campaign that have led schoolchildren across this country for years toward the provision of funding and guarantees and the ability of first nations to deliver their own programs include these: She campaigned to “Help end the underfunding of First Nations Schools”, and, “School should be a time for dreams. Every kid deserves this”.
I have to share with members that when I had the privilege of being the aboriginal affairs critic for the NDP, I had the honour of receiving a cardboard schoolhouse made by elementary school children in this province. It was filled with letters they had written to the Prime Minister begging him to extend equal opportunities for quality education to aboriginal children so that they would have the same privileges as all other children in Canada. We actually managed to get approval and we delivered it to the Prime Minister's Office. It was an incredible moment in time. Since then, I have had the opportunity, with my colleagues, to attend many of the occasions when Canadian children have spoken out on behalf of extending equal rights to aboriginal children.
We have also often heard the statement by the National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations. It is a very sad commentary on the long-standing state of education for aboriginal children. It is that more aboriginal children are incarcerated than graduate from high school.
In speaking to Bill C-33, it is important at the outset to set the stage for assessing this bill and whether it respects critical overriding rights and responsibilities. I will be concentrating my comments on Bill C-33 on two factors. First is the extent to which the government has met its legal and constitutional duty to consult. Second are comments made by Alberta first nations that they shared with me and that they requested I share with this place.
I will concentrate my comments of first nations' overriding right to establish and deliver their own education programs, within their cultural and language traditions, for their children and their communities and to determine if those rights and opportunities have been accorded. My colleagues in the official opposition and I hold firm with the position that we must uphold the Constitution and international obligations and commitments as well as our personal commitment to first nations that we will respect their right to assert self-government and to plan and deliver their own education program for their own families.
It is our duty in this place, all of us who are duly elected, to ensure that aboriginal peoples have access to education, can determine their own education systems, and can practise their traditional and cultural beliefs. Those rights, and our obligations, are specified, as I mentioned, in a number of international conventions and UN treaties. For example, the Convention on the Rights of the Child states, in article 28:
States Parties recognize the right of the child to education, and with a view to achieving this right progressively and on the basis of equal opportunity, they shall, in particular:
(a) Make primary education compulsory and available free to all...
Article 29 states:
1. States Parties agree that the education of the child shall be directed to: ...(c) The development of respect for the child's parents, his or her own cultural identity, language and values, for the national values of the country in which the child is living, the country from which he or she may originate, and for civilizations different from his or her own;
We on this side of the House were delighted when the government finally came around and agreed to assent to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. However, in so doing, what has the government committed to undertake?
Article 14 states:
1. Indigenous peoples have the right to establish and control their educational systems and institutions providing education in their own languages, in a manner appropriate to their cultural methods of teaching and learning.
2. Indigenous individuals, particularly children, have the right to all levels and forms of education of the State without discrimination.
3. States shall, in conjunction with indigenous peoples, take effective measures, in order for indigenous individuals, particularly children, including those living outside their communities, to have access, when possible, to an education in their own culture and provided in their own language.
Article 15 states:
1. Indigenous peoples have the right to the dignity and diversity of their cultures, traditions, histories and aspirations which shall be appropriately reflected in education and public information.
Articles 18 and 19 speak to the duty of the government and the right of aboriginal peoples to government their own matters.
Article 18 states:
Indigenous peoples have the right to participate in decision-making in matters which would affect their rights, through representatives chosen by themselves in accordance with their own procedures...
Article 19 states:
States shall consult and cooperate in good faith...in order to obtain their free, prior and informed consent before adopting and implementing legislative or administrative measures that may affect them.
It is pretty clear what the obligations of the government are, what commitments it has undertaken, and what the associated rights and opportunities are for first nations. Included among those is the duty of the federal government to consult and accommodate aboriginal people's views, perspectives, and interests.
In implementing the support of first nations education, the federal government has an overriding duty to advance consultation and to accommodate aboriginal rights and titles. This is required under the Canadian Constitution and under provisions of the historic and modern treaties. That duty applies to any federal policy, law, or regulation-making process that may potentially or directly impact the rights and titles of first nation peoples.
The matter to consider is this: do the substantive measures set forth in Bill C-33 actually deliver on the rights, principles, and duties ascribed to in the preamble of the act?
Well, what does the preamble hold out? I think it is very important for us to consider it and not just the substantive provisions. A preamble sets forth, to those who are affected by the law, exactly what the legislation intends to do. It states the intent.
It is noteworthy that the government, right at the outset, notes the failings in the establishment and running of the residential schools and the need to seek partnerships with first nations in the spirit of reconciliation.
I might share here that I had the privilege several times of participating in the truth and reconciliation proceedings. At the national conclusion assembly in Edmonton a few months back, I was struck very personally by the fact that in a residential school on the edge of my city, children from as far away as the Queen Charlotte Islands were transported by train and held in that school with no contact with their friends or families for up to a year and longer. That was while I was attending elementary school.
To hear first-hand of the abuses that went on has made me all the more dedicated to making sure that their rights are respected.
I will mention some of the provisions in the preamble. In doing so, I highly recommend to all the members of this place that it is absolutely critical that they carefully read this preamble. This is what the government is holding out that it is about to deliver on behalf of the first nations people of Canada.
Whereas First Nations education systems should be designed and implemented in accordance with the principle that First Nations have control of their children’s education;
Whereas First Nations must receive support that enables them to exercise their rights and fulfill their responsibilities relating to the elementary and secondary education provided to their children;
Whereas First Nations children attending schools on reserves must have access to education that is founded on First Nations history, culture and traditional values and enables them to participate fully in the social, economic, political and educational advancement of First Nations;
On it goes, making a variety of undertakings.
An equally important one is:
Whereas First Nations education systems must receive adequate, stable, predictable and sustainable funding that provides for the teaching of First Nations languages and cultures as well as for education support services;
Whereas elementary and secondary education is an essential part of lifelong learning;
Continuing my presentation, I will make reference to those specific undertakings by the government.
As I mentioned, I feel that in speaking to the bill, it not be my personal opinion; I am obligated to reach out to first nations to find out their views, both about the process of developing this legislation and about what actually would be delivered under this legislation. I have continued to dialogue with first nations in Alberta particularly as well as with those across the country, in co-operation with my colleagues.
I spoke only yesterday with Alberta regional chief Cameron Alexis and also with chiefs from Treaty 8, and I have reviewed materials they have prepared and letters they have submitted to the Government of Canada.
What views have they expressed about respect for first nations' determination of the education system, whether adequate funding is provided, and whether we are finally enabling their education system to incorporate first nation language, culture, and traditions?
I was advised by regional chief Alexis that he was directly in the process of continuing to consult Treaty 6, 7, and 8 first nations, who are still going through the process of trying to understand and review the bill for many of the chiefs in isolated communities and their community members. It is an extremely complex process. They are struggling to comprehend the implications of the provisions and whether they actual address their priorities.
What are the issues they have raised? The top issue, which has been raised by my colleagues in the House, is the lack of adequate consultation in the very drafting of the bill. This is coming from first nations themselves. It is not a determination I have made.
Chief Alexis shared that their remains considerable contention over whether the government has fully addressed the long-standing issue of first nations' access to quality education. First and foremost, he expressed strong concern that the first nations themselves were not accorded adequate opportunity for consultation and necessary accommodation, as is the duty of the crown.
Chief Alexis stated that the consultations were held only in major centres. I heard this a year back when I met with a number of the chiefs and councils. They are concerned that no consultations were held in any of the first nation communities themselves, with their membership, particularly in isolated communities.
Many first nations are still struggling with comprehending the bill. In many cases, there has been a change in leadership and council, and they feel responsible for ensuring that this legislation actually represents the rights and title of their members.
Regional chief Alexis is requesting that Bill C-33 not be tabled until after the summer break to provide a more reasonable time period for the individual first nation leaders to consult their communities on the provisions of the bill. He has already requested that Parliament take the bill out to the communities for consultation. I anticipate that the minister and the government will be hearing this message from the individual chiefs.
What have some of the individual chiefs said about this legislation? Grand Chief Kappo of Treaty 8 has stated:
We are looking for something that is developed in the true spirit of co-operation and co-development, we are willing to work with the Minister on anything that will be developed, from the ground up, into a system that will help our children meet our educational goals. The old way of including First Nations input as a footnote to the process hasn't been successful in the past and won't work moving into the future.
That statement was issued April 16 of this year, so clearly they are still very dissatisfied with the consultation process.
What are some of the substantive concerns that have been identified to date by the regional chief and the individual chiefs and councils from Treaties 6, 7, and 8? One of the critical concerns is around the transfer of governance. A key demand of these first nations, and all first nations, has been to gain back control of their educational programs from the federal government. There are substantial concerns expressed by the regional chief, the grand chief, and the individual chiefs, including Chief Rose Laboucan, who is the Treaty 8 chief responsible for education. They are concerned that the minister still retains substantial control.
I would like to share some of their comments. Chief Rose Laboucan has stated:
We already have a process in the works in Alberta and it has been in place for some time. Now that we have heard this announcement, we are wondering what this is going to mean for our children. It sounds promising but we hope that it is not another historic broken promise. Treaty 8 nations in Alberta have been working on a grassroots education process for years already.
Treaty 8 First Nations of Alberta say that, “One of the concerns was to have First Nations control over First Nations Education”. On the matter of controlling their own system, Grand Chief Kappo said:
They have definitely changed the name [of the act] but the core of it remains the same as before. Ultimate authority to dissolve, change or transfer any entity that handles First Nation education still resides with the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs.
He goes on to say, “While an oversight board has been created, they simply advise the Minister, he is still able to unilaterally do anything he wants in any given on-reserve school”.
Those are concerns of the first nations themselves.
I heard similar concerns from the regional chief regarding the joint council for education. The concern is that there is absolutely no assurance of who would be appointed to this advisory body, the power to appoint rests singularly with the minister and cabinet and there is absolutely no requirement that there be any first nations representatives sitting on the council.
The second concern goes to the issue of transfer of liability. The regional chief has expressed very strongly to me a deep concern that, similar to the Safe Drinking Water Act that was recently enacted, Bill C-33 transfers liability to first nations to deliver quality education programs and provide safe schools, absent any guarantees of future funding support from the federal government that has that mandate and responsibility to be financing those quality schools. He added that, while the bill mentions comparable programs, there is no specified criteria on how to determine that.
Third, there is great concern expressed by Treaties 6, 7, and 8 on the delay in the funding increases. The substantially less funding support for first nations education compared to provinces and territories has been long-standing and reprehensible. The government has promised increased funding, but on what basis is this figure calculated? Does the increase adequately consider and factor in the rapid increase in aboriginal population and the commitment in the preamble to lifelong learning, where first nations adults wish to go back to school and continue their education, or address the potential for the return of first nations members to their community to finish their education? What is the timeline for ensuring all first nations children would have access to quality education in safe schools and are accorded equal opportunity?
The Alberta first nations are raising a reasonable concern. They are asking why the increase in funding is being delayed until 2016, in other words, until after the next election. They stated additional annual funding is needed now. Treaty 8 First Nations of Alberta say that, “Another outstanding concern is around statutory funding and funding to support Indigenous languages and cultures. However, the act, only states the portion of funding First Nations would already be receiving must go towards language and culture”.
I will close with a quote from Grand Chief Kappo. He stated:
It's not new support. We are getting the same amount of funding, still lower than our provincial counterparts, and all they have done is added a section to the act that says we have to spend part of that same funding to teach language and culture. They have just painted an old car a new colour.