Opinion: Justice for Indigenous children — the heart of reconciliation

Students outside Metlakatla Indian Residential School in Metlakatla, B.C. William James Topley / Library and Archives Canada / C-015037 / Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

We are saddened and angered by examples around the globe of unjust treatment of one group by another. How can people do such things? The reasons for injustice can be complex, but at least two stand out.

The first is an intentional act to treat someone harshly, abusively and unfairly. These are obvious and easy to identify; society is swift to agree that something must be done about it.

The second is more difficult to pin down. It is an act of disregard. It’s not that we intend to harm people. It’s simply that we don’t recognize the act as injustice.

We believe Canada to be a kind and gentle place — and for the most part it is. Canada’s good reputation, however, is coming under increasing scrutiny, as the world witnesses continued discrimination in the education of First Nations, Inuit and Métis children.

Take for example the current stalemate between the federal government and the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) over Bill C33, the First Nations Control of First Nations Education Act (FNCFNEA). The Minister of Aboriginal Affairs refuses to return to the negotiating table despite a request to do so by interim National Chief Ghislain Picard saying if the federal plan is not accepted, there will be no plan.

Cause and effect of discrimination in funding cannot be denied: there is a 20- to 50-per-cent difference in funding between on-reserve schools and provincially funded schools across the country; only 40 per cent of on-reserve First Nations students graduate from high school compared to 87 per cent of the non-Indigenous population. Addressing the success of First Nations students by eliminating the shortfall is a matter of justice, and reconciliation.

Despite the Constitution Act, 1982, which entrenches Indigenous rights; despite Supreme Court decisions affirming these rights, the colonial shadow endures in the education of Indigenous children. Canadian society perceives unequal treatment not as an injustice, but as our unwillingness to, once more, “go along to get along.”

Even as the Truth and Reconciliation Commission concludes, it is obvious the vast majority of Canadians are unaware of its work or of the second half of its mandate: reconciliation. To be truly reconciled, several issues need our consideration, but one that deserves our immediate attention is the education of First Nations, Inuit and Métis children.

Indigenous peoples must be able to establish and control their own educational systems in order to properly include their own cultural values, languages and perspectives. To do so, Indigenous people need necessary financial resources and the unequivocal support of Canadians for their right to educate their children as they deem appropriate.

Among many of our peoples, women carry the responsibility of thinking generations into the future, working now to secure that future. The focus is both immediate and long term. Yes, there are competing priorities, but what is more important than our children?

We must take action to elevate these discussions now as individuals, groups and organizations, to ensure a better future for our children. The education of the youngest and fastest growing segment of our population affects all of us. If the whole community would get behind justice for Indigenous children, reconciliation with Canada’s First Peoples can become a reality. Church, we need your help with this; business, we need your help with this; citizens of Canada, we need your help with this.

Ensure Canada’s response toward Indigenous children’s education is a just one.

Source: http://montrealgazette.com