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Tories unveil 'transformational' native education plan

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OTTAWA -- The Harper government released a contentious plan Tuesday to reform education for First Nations children, a plan one cabinet minister called "transformational," but aboriginal leaders worry could set back their languages and culture.

On Tuesday evening, Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt's department quietly posted online a draft of the First Nation Education Act. The intention is to gauge aboriginals' input before tabling the bill in Parliament in coming months.

The 32-page document released is entitled Working Together For First Nation Students, and it provides a clause-by-clause proposal for the bill.

The bill will be the centrepiece of Prime Minister Stephen Harper's aboriginal affairs agenda, and the governing Tories want it passed in time for a new education system to be in place when First Nations children start their school year in September 2014.

"Following the prime minister's historic apology to former Indian residential school students, the Government of Canada is committed to moving forward in a spirit of reconciliation," says an introduction to the document. "A legislative base that respects aboriginal and treaty rights, provides a commitment to quality and enables First Nation control over First Nation education is a tangible demonstration of that commitment."

According to a blueprint released this summer, the bill will allow schools to be community-operated through First Nations or an agreement with a province. There will be standards for teacher qualifications and curriculum and graduation requirements for students. There will be regulations governing discipline, hours of instruction, class size and transportation.

"I personally believe that the First Nation Education Act will be transformational, like no other measures that have been taken in 50 years, 100 years," Valcourt told Postmedia News recently.

A recent C.D. Howe Institute report determined almost half of aboriginal students nationwide fail to get to Grade 12. The study found Manitoba had the worst record of six provinces with substantial aboriginal populations, with 63 per cent of natives failing to graduate high school.

 

-- Postmedia Network Inc. 2013

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 23, 2013 A3

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