National chief says support for better aboriginal education a good start

The head of the Assembly of First Nations says it’s important that federal politicians act now to provide a large amount of cash to improve conditions in aboriginal schools.

CALGARY — The head of the Assembly of First Nations says it’s important that federal politicians act now to provide a large amount of cash to improve conditions in aboriginal schools.

National Chief Shawn Atleo calls the unanimous support by all MPs for the Shannen’s Dream campaign an important first step to ensure there isn’t another “lost generation” of young aboriginal people.

The campaign, named after a teenager from the Attawapiskat community near James Bay, Ont., aims to to improve the funding and quality of First Nations education.

“Cash is required. There’s a need for an immediate injection of support to make sure those systems are prepared for growth. The idea of leaving this for another year, another several years — that doesn’t wash with our people,” Atleo said Tuesday in an interview with The Canadian Press in Calgary.

“The needs are deep, and they’ve been deeply frustrating and hurtful to the current generation of young people.”

Angry about her own quality of elementary education, Shannen Koostachin spearheaded a student-led drive to improve schooling on reserves across the country.

But she died in a car accident in 2010, before seeing major progress.

Atleo, attending the 2012 Winter Assembly of Treaty Chiefs in Calgary, said there has been a $2-billion shortfall in native education funding since 1996, and there is a need for $300 million in capital expenditures just to get things “up to speed.”

A national panel on aboriginal elementary and secondary education recently released a study, concluding there really is no national education system for aboriginals and called on Ottawa to create a body to oversee one.

The report was the latest in a long list of studies examining the abysmal rates of high school graduation and post-secondary achievement for aboriginal peoples.

“The depth of the anger, frustration and mistrust rightfully runs deep, and it’s around us still in the treatment that First Nations have been and are receiving now,” Atleo said.

“The all-party motion is hopefully a sign that now is the time, that this is a tipping point, a moment of reckoning now in the relationships that we’ve got to take full advantage of.”

The House of Commons voted unanimously in favour of the NDP motion to put First Nations schools on an equal footing with provincial schools.

Atleo said he hopes to sit down with Prime Minister Harper before the federal budget “to ensure that there is a solid commitment to follow through.”

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