First Nations in Ontario are standing up to government pressure over the imposition of the First Nations Education Act. On April 12, over fifty members of Ontario First Nations rallied on the shores of Lake Huron and Thunder Bay against participation in the consultation process for the new act. They were protesting the lack of transparency and the backwards approach of this new act, which was first drafted and then First Nations were asked to consult.
The government has decided to go ahead with the act despite a First Nations resolution, which rejected the creation of a First Nations Education Act. The First Nations of Ontario also released a comprehensive report to the National Panel process on the needs of First Nations education but there has been no official government acknowledgment of their report. Serpent River Chief Isadore Day said of the government’s actions, “This has to be the most blatant form of dictatorship we are seeing from the government.”
The Union of Ontario Indians spoke out against the government move stating that their priority should be to focus on eradicating the discriminatory funding gap that is currently in place. In the Ontario provincial system, Aboriginal students receive on average $2,000 to $3,000 less than their non-native peers. Anishinabek Nation Grand Chief Patrick Madahbee said at the rally against the act, “There’s been many times they’ve tried to ram this crap down our throats and there’s no damn way we’re going to accept it.”
Education funding for First Nations across the country is well below the average of that received by non-natives and many First Nations feel that by imposing the First Nations Education Act, the government is trying to legislate this inequality so it becomes law. Chief Day finished off by saying, “The federal and provincial governments must be reminded that we entered treaties with the intent to share in the wealth and bounty of our lands – not to be poor and have substandard programs, but to flourish like everyone else in the country.”