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Tory minister's native education proposal blasted

'Paternalistic,' AMC grand chief says

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Derek Nepinak is unimpressed with the "colonial, paternalistic" aboriginal education legislation the Harper government is proposing.

There are really no meat and bones yet on what Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt has put on the table, said Nepinak, grand chief of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs.

While Valcourt wants to retain ultimate control over First Nations education, there's no talk of money, Nepinak said.

"We're looking at a blueprint for legislation. It's just being rolled out at the whim of bureaucrats," the grand chief said.

"The minister has said the process first, the funding later. The meat and bones are there, probably sitting in his briefcase."

For years, aboriginal leaders and educators have said the funding difference between public schools in Manitoba and federally funded reserve schools is about $3,500 a child.

Nepinak emphasized in an interview the AMC has no interest in something so simplistic as Ottawa "downloading" First Nations schools onto the provincial Department of Education, nor does the AMC want to follow the provincial curriculum.

"This government is not ready to engage in the process with us," Nepinak said. "It's a colonial, paternalistic pattern. It's reminiscent of the residential-school mentality. It's setting our communities up to fail."

He said First Nations need to set their own curricula, particularly in subjects such as language and history, and they need the funding to decide region by region what system of school works best for children in each area.

"AMC has taken a national leadership role," the grand chief said.

Ottawa wants to off-load the issue to the provinces, but that's not the answer, he said. "What would be acceptable is to remove the mentality that the provincial system is what we need in our communities. Measure the outcomes, not based on the provincial curricula."

Nepinak said there is no new legislation needed for appropriate funding and local control of education. "All the guarantees needed are in place, including the treaty commitments. The trick is to help the government identify it."

Nepinak said the Manitoba First Nations Education Resource Centre is preparing a draft response to be distributed among Manitoba's First Nations. One priority will be to educate children in their own communities rather than have students, especially high schoolers, go to Winnipeg or Thompson for their senior years schooling.

"Learning opportunities need to be presented in the schools, rather than students leaving the community," he said. "It would have to vary from school to school -- the focus is on the quality of education."

One way to build schools in remote communities may be through public-private partnerships, Nepinak said.

nick.martin@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 20, 2013 A17

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