Chiefs gather in Ottawa to decide fate of $1.9-billion education bill

The first sign that common ground on controversial changes to First Nations education would be hard to find came early Tuesday when chiefs at a special meeting couldn’t even agree on an agenda for the day.

OTTAWA — The first sign that common ground on controversial changes to First Nations education would be hard to find came early Tuesday when chiefs at a special meeting couldn’t even agree on an agenda for the day.

The aboriginal community is so split over the Harper government’s education bill that something seemingly as innocuous as the schedule became a sticking point.

The chiefs eventually opted to discuss First Nations education before deciding how to choose a new leader to replace Shawn Atleo, who quit this month as national chief of the Assembly of First Nations.

But the brief impasse spoke to the significant obstacle facing both the assembly and the governing Conservatives: getting hundreds of aboriginal communities in Canada to agree on an issue as deeply personal as how their children are educated.

Quebec and Labrador Regional Chief Ghislain Picard, who has been the assembly’s spokesman since Atleo resigned, urged the aboriginal leaders gathered in at a downtown Ottawa hotel to take a unified stance, one way or another.

“The facts are that we have a bill before the House, which has been shelved by the minister … so that’s where I feel we need to find a way to come together,” Picard said.

Bill Erasmus, the Dene National Chief and AFN’s regional chief for the Northwest Territories, said it’s not fair to ask the country’s hundreds of First Nations to all agree on such a major issue.

“It’s the dilemma that Canada has to understand,” he said.

“First of all, if you asked all of the mayors in Canada to come to consensus, would you expect them to? That’s what we need to ask: why wouldn’t you expect them, but you expect us to?”

By mid-day, a move was underway to overhaul a resolution the AFN executive drafted before the meeting that calls for First Nations to “co-develop” education reforms with the Conservative government.

Shortly before noon, the chiefs voted to break away into regional groups and meet behind closed doors to talk about the draft resolution.

Most of the people who took turns speaking at microphones around the room said they wanted to scrap the education bill.

“I don’t want to engage with this government about the five conditions any longer,” said Grand Chief Gordon Peters.

“We talked about co-development from way back. There has never been any co-development that I’m aware of … but as far as we’re concerned there has been no relationship, no development, no co-development that has ever taken place with respect to any of this work.”

But Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt has defended the bill, saying it meets the five conditions outlined by the AFN and chiefs during a meeting in December and received the support of the assembly.

The chief’s assembly was scheduled to continue Tuesday afternoon.

Just Posted

WATCH: Property taxes in Red Deer will go up 2.02 per cent in 2018

City council passes a “tough” budget that maintains most service levels

Red Deer councillor balks at city getting stuck with more provincial funding responsibilities

Volunteer Central seeks municipal funding after being cut off by FCSS

Olds chicken barn burns to the ground, no livestock harmed

More than 100,000 chickens were saved as fire crews prevent the blaze from spreading

Bear video meant to promote conservation: zoo owner

Discovery Wildlife Park says it will look at other ways to promote its conservation message

Red Deer’s Soundhouse closing its doors on Record Store Day

The owners of The Soundhouse want to shut down their store on… Continue reading

NorAm Western Canadian Cross Country Ski Championships begin in Red Deer

The biggest cross-country skiing competition in Red Deer’s history is underway. Nearly… Continue reading

In photos: Get ready for Western Canadian Championships

Haywood NorAm Western Canadian Championships and Peavey Mart Alberta Cup 5/6 start… Continue reading

WATCH: Red Deer city council debates cost-savings versus quality of life

Majority of councillors decide certain services are worth preserving

Got milk? Highway reopened near Millet

A southbound truck hauling milk and cartons collided with a bridge

Stettler’s newest residents overcame fear, bloodshed to come here

Daniel Kwizera, Diane Mukasine and kids now permanent residents

Giddy up: Red Deer to host Canadian Finals Rodeo in 2018

The CFR is expected to bring $20-30 million annually to Red Deer and region

Ice dancers Virtue and Moir to carry flag at Pyeongchang Olympics

Not since Kurt Browning at the 1994 Lillehammer Games has a figure… Continue reading

Beer Canada calls on feds to axe increasing beer tax as consumption trends down

OTTAWA — A trade association for Canada’s beer industry wants the federal… Continue reading

Most Read


Five-day delivery plus unlimited digital access for $185 for 260 issues (must live in delivery area to qualify) Unlimited Digital Access 99 cents for the first four weeks and then only $15 per month Five-day delivery plus unlimited digital access for $15 a month