Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
Good morning to all members and of course a special recognition for MP Kelly Block from Saskatoon-Rosetown-Biggar. Good morning.
She got us here. She invited us. So thank you very much.
I'm joined by Chief Marie-Anne Day Walker-Pelletier. My name is Chief Guy Lonechild, from the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations. As chief of the FSIN I represent 74 first nations in Saskatchewan. Our organization is committed to honouring the spirit and intent of the treaties. This means promoting, protecting, and implementing our rights under treaty.
It has been almost a decade since the FSIN last presented to this committee during a pre-budget submission consultation. The last time was October 30, 2001. Unfortunately, not a whole lot has changed from ten years ago. Although some gains have been made, the disparity between first nations and other Canadians remains virtually unchanged in many areas. I'm going to highlight only the most important priority areas where all levels of government should focus their resources to effect positive change.
First nations education is a prerequisite to all other issues on the agenda. It is key to improving the overall economic and social wellbeing of first nations. However, a majority of first nations people in Saskatchewan are failing to utilize education as a foundation for building better lives for themselves, their families, and communities.
Only about one-half of the aboriginal adult population in Saskatchewan has a high school diploma, at 51% compared to 72% of the non-aboriginal population in the province. The situation is worse on reserve, where only 46% of residents have graduated from high school.
Saskatchewan first nations have outstanding capacity for delivering improved education services to first nations. There's no other region in Canada that can clearly demonstrate a more comprehensive educational infrastructure, which has been built over the last 30 years of experience and capacity. The FSIN is committed to addressing the issues preventing first nations living on and off reserve in Saskatchewan from achieving a level of education comparable to the rest of Canadians.
What is required for us to tackle these longstanding issues is a new partnership with the federal and provincial governments in the area of education. What happens in Saskatchewan can be a model for the rest of Canada.
The federal government is cognizant of the need to collaborate on education. In the 2010 Speech from the Throne, a commitment was made by the federal government to work hand in hand with aboriginal communities and provinces and territories to reform and strengthen education, and to support student success and provide greater hope and opportunity. I expect a similar commitment from the throne this year, accompanied by financial support.
Currently the FSIN is advancing two important initiatives targeted at significantly improving the substance and quantity of the first nations educational attainment. These include a trilateral task force and a youth action plan with the FSIN as an equal partner in the development, design, and delivery of first nations education in Saskatchewan. It will address major issues such as comparable funding and incorporating language and curriculum into the education system, both on and off reserve.
As mentioned in our written brief, we urge you to provide support for first nations education by providing capacity funding for the urgent work of the education task force and providing a level of funding for first nations schools comparable to that of the province.
Although we couldn't go into detail in this verbal briefing, we also need support for an aboriginal youth employment strategy in Saskatchewan and additional financial support for the restructuring of First Nations University of Canada. Increasing funding for the post-secondary student support program is also necessary.
On March 3, 2010, the Minister of Indian Affairs introduced Bill C-3, an act to promote gender equity in Indian registration by responding to the Court of Appeal for British Columbia decision in McIvor v. Canada. Bill C-3 proposes to make the grandchildren of women who lost status as a result of marrying non-Indian men eligible for registration for Indian status in accordance with the Indian Act. The proposed amendments do not extend to other situations. Approximately 40,000 people nationwide would become eligible. Additional funding will need to be provided to first nations for this increase to the population, as this will affect housing, health, education, and social assistance for first nations.
In July 2009 the FSIN created the chiefs' task force on citizenship to develop a first nations citizenship framework to support the first nations legislating their own citizenship act. The treaty governance office and the chiefs' task force on citizenship developed a proposal to which INAC has not yet responded. The work of the task force must continue, so we are asking for support on this.
Finally, INAC is not consulting on Bill C-3, promising only to provide an engagement process after Bill C-3 is passed.
Chief Marie-Anne Day Walker-Pelletier insists that first nations have a right to self-government. A fundamental part of this is determining the criteria of their own citizens. INAC has established a financial impacts working group to analyze and make recommendations on how to address the financial requirements and the impact of additional registrations on first nations and the department.
We have not had full disclosure from this committee. We will file an access to information request to get full disclosure. Canada and INAC should not be setting our Indian governments up for failure. On a matter of citizenship, the first nations' agenda is far ahead of INAC's, which is simply to plug one more small hole in a sinking ship called the Indian Act.