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Aboriginal leaders skeptical about plan

Nelson notes funding won't start until 2016

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Manitoba's aboriginal leadership is predictably mixed on the federal reforms to education.

Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak leader David Harper was at the prime minister's side for the announcement in Standoff, Alta., in a show of support with other chiefs, including Shawn Atleo, leader of the Assembly of First Nations.

The Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs offered no comment on the reforms that were rolled out in southern Alberta.

The province's top aboriginal leader, Derek Nepinak, was not in Standoff, the Blood First Nation where Harper made his announcement.

'It's a nice promise and it gives Shawn Atleo a boost, but it's really nothing'

--Terry Nelson, Southern Chiefs Organization

Nepinak is an acknowledged leader of a political movement at odds with Atleo's strategies to work with Ottawa. Nepinak has never agreed with the First Nations Education Act, calling the legislation "paternalist" and "colonialist."

Southern Chiefs Organization leader Terry Nelson said the reforms look good until you look closer.

"It'd be great, a step forward if it was real, but this is another Kelowna Accord," he said, referring to the $5-billion Kelowna Accord crafted by former Liberal prime minister Paul Martin. The Conservatives cancelled the accord after forming government in 2006.

None of the funding to leverage the new Tory reforms will start until 2016, Nelson said.

"Will Harper even be prime minister in 2016?" Nelson asked. The next federal election is slated for 2015. "It's a nice promise and it gives Shawn Atleo a boost, but it's really nothing," Nelson said.

The first reports stated Ottawa will fund core education, which includes language and cultural instruction, with $1.25 billion over three years starting in 2016. There's a provision for a 4.5 per cent annual increase. For the last 20 years, funding increases have been capped at two per cent a year.

Along with the $1.25 billion, Ottawa offered another $500 million over seven years to go toward infrastructure and $160 million over four years for implementation.

In an indication of how divisive these reforms are among Canada's chiefs, the office of the national chief in Ottawa blitzed chiefs across the country with an appeal for support after the reforms rolled out.

"Obviously, there is much detail that must be discussed and the government has committed to doing this together with First Nations. This is not the end of the journey, just the beginning," Atleo said in an appeal that quickly leaked across social media Friday.

Education on Manitoba First Nations isn't all under band control.

In the past decade, more and more reserves have figuratively thrown in the towel, handing over responsibility for schools to the province. For instance, there are 58 schools on First Nations in northern Manitoba, including 19 high schools, and their administration includes local band-controlled schools as well as schools run by the province's northern school division, the Frontier School Division.

The situation is the same in southern Manitoba.

The advantage of signing on to the Frontier School Division is financial. Ottawa tops up funding shortfalls in transfer payments to the province but not on reserve-run schools.

alexandra.paul@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 8, 2014 A8

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