Mr. Speaker, it is a real honour for me to rise and speak to this bill, because I was born in Anishinabek territory, I grew up there, and I am now raising my children there. It is part of my life.
Too often, we forget that indigenous territories do not match up with the borders that we drew. The territories were not established based on the borders. They were established based on waterways and means of communication. Many nations share an ancestral territory that often spans two Canadian provinces. We cannot lose sight of this.
This is why we need to recognize the history of Anishinabek communities and of all indigenous communities.
The bill we have in front of us was a long time in coming. In 1995 the Anishinabek Nation chiefs, in assembly, mandated the restoration of educational jurisdiction with the Union of Ontario Indians to lead the self-government negotiations with Canada to restore jurisdiction over education.
The Anishinabek people have been working on this issue for more than 20 years, day after day, to gain control of their education system. It has involved about 90 members of the community since the negotiations began. It was supported by many elders, many of whom will not see the agreement put in place. This agreement reflected the vision of a number of Anishinabek members that pushed forward to regain control over the education of young children and teenagers.
It is important to remember what the bill is designed for. Chief Shining Turtle of Whitefish River First Nation explained:
The AES is designed by Anishinabek for Anishinabek and strives to ensure a quality of life based on the highest standards of Anishinaabe intellectual and holistic knowledge that supports the preservation and on-going development of the Anishinaabe. The AES will make positive advances in the development of culturally relevant curriculum and educational programs that support the Anishinabek student success and well-being.
The Anishinabek Nation Education Agreement (AES) is a concrete step on the path to self-determination and self-governance. Our hope is that your government will continue making foundational changes to laws, policies, and operational practices based on the recognition of rights to advance self-determination and self-government.
The AES sets the stage for the Participating First Nations to develop culturally relevant and community-tailored education programs for the benefit of the Anishinabek students today, tomorrow, and for generations to come. We need to set the stage and realize our vision of the AES.
This is important because at times we do not realize how broad education is. We often think of language as the first thing to be implemented. However, I am sure that the language of the Anishinabek is not taught in school. We must realize that this language is threatened and disappearing daily. There are a number of people in Anishinabek communities who are fighting to keep it alive, and striving to educate children and youth in their own language. It is an important part of education.
Language is so important. It makes a community come alive. This bill will certainly help the language be passed on. However, education is a much broader issue. It affects many other subjects, including the arts. Young people will have the opportunity to learn traditional arts, indigenous art, and Anishinabek art in their schools, which they could not do if we still had school boards that were not run by the communities. They would become responsible for education.
The young kids would learn art, but maybe they would also be able to learn music, the drums, and the traditional music of Anishinabek Nation. Instead of just teaching music as usual in the schools, they would able to really show their kids what music means for this nation. I think that is really great.
We would also be able to teach geography in a different way. The kids would be able to learn which nation was on which land, instead of just learning the geography that we learn after colonization.
There are a number of things that, by just giving back the power to the Anishinabek of their own education, would be improved in our schools. The way of thinking in school would be much different. I had the chance to go to an opening of a school in my riding of an Anishinabek first nation, the Long Point First Nation. Just the way the school was built is totally different from what we have seen before, because we gave the power back to those communities to think about what they want, and what they want to see in terms of education.
There are a number of other things that could be different. There are a number of other notions that I think Anishinabek kids want to learn. They want to learn about traditional plants, when we are talking about ecology, and what they can eat, and what nature can give to them. There is knowledge that is traditional, that the elders have, and they would be able to pass that on to those little kids.
With this agreement, I think it would achieve good experiences. Those experiences would be able to translate to other schools, for example, to Anishinabek schools in the province of Quebec. A lot of them are in my riding. Those experiences would be able to expand to other Anishinabek nations that are not in the agreement.
That is why we have to consider that with that agreement, every Anishinabek community would win something although they are not all part of the agreement, because they are not situated in Ontario, I think they would win something from this agreement. This agreement is supposed to take place, if everything is going well in the House, on April 1. Next school year, this would be ready. The kids would have control of their education, with the elders and the other members of their communities.
It would be those communities that would empower themselves, and that would be there for the children. We have to remember how difficult it is for kids on the reservation. A number of kids drop out of school. It is really difficult. There is a high rate of teen pregnancy. It is not easy.
Having an agreement like this, there is a good chance that more and more kids would finish school and graduate from high school, because the school would have something for them. There is also a good chance that young girls would find a way to manage their pregnancies and becoming mothers, while continuing their studies.
First nations control of first nations education is basic. It is a way of reconciliation. It is a way of self-determination for people who were here a long time before us.
Through this path of reconciliation, I hope that every kid will be able to learn about his past, how the Anishinabek Nation has evolved over time. They will be able to learn what was sad in their history, but also what makes them a great nation, a strong nation that has resisted a number of threats for many years. They will learn that they can be proud.