“Education is the instrument through which cultures perpetuate themselves,” said Ghislain Picard, Chief of the Assembly of First Nations of Quebec and Labrador (AFNQL), in an address to the 12th session of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII) on May 21. The focus of this year’s forum is on how Indigenous culture, history and contemporary life are integrated into school curriculums around the world.

Picard attended the UNPFII to pressure Canada to “honour the spirit and intent” of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, particularly in regard to the education rights of First Nations. Picard also represented the First Nations Education Council, the Chiefs of Ontario, the Indigenous World Association and the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations.

The First Nations Education Act will soon implement a complete overhaul of reserve education systems across the country. Federal and provincial governments will take on a larger role in school curriculum and management. “There is nothing in the Discussion Guide, or in subsequent communication from federal representatives, ensuring that First Nations youth receive an education in their language and culture,” said Picard about the new legislation.

In closing, Picard urged the UNPFII to declare that all states should consult in a free and transparent manner with affected Indigenous groups before adopting new legislation and that all states should protect Indigenous jurisdiction over their own education.