Shawn Atleo, the national chief of the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) faces criticism this week, after supporting a government bill described as a threat to Canada’s Aboriginal communities.
Publicly backing $1.9 billion Bill C-33, dubbed the ‘First Nations Control of First Nations Education Act’, Atleo has stated that the bill is out of respect for treaty rights, language and culture; and a solution in the long-standing demands for better control of Aboriginal schooling.
However, some First Nations rivals see the bill as destructive, claiming their rights will be stripped away and too much control will be handed to the federal government.
Derek Nepinak, the Grand Chief of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, told a news conference on Monday “This is a new era in First Nations leadership where we don’t accept the crumbs that they are offering as enticements to allow for our jurisdictions to be swept away under their legislation”.
Along with other Aboriginal leaders from an additional four Canadian provinces, Nepinak visited Ottawa to publicly condemn the bill, claiming that they will do “whatever is necessary” to gain the attention of the Canadian public and governing Conservatives.
“We are planning, whether they be deemed demonstrations, rallies … to again get attention,” said Grand Chief Michael Delisle of the Mohawk Council of Kahnawake. He added “…we’re prepared to take whatever action (is) necessary to ensure the control is not taken away from us”.
An active response to a passing of the bill could include a blockade on the Ambassador Bridge in Windsor, Ontario and Detroit, MI – said Gordon Peters of the Association of Iroquois and Allied Indians.
Those opposed to the bill have continued to voice concerns for their children and the future of Aboriginal education. Like Nepinak, Vicki Montague, a campaigner from Beausoleil First Nation travelled to Ottawa confront Atleo over his decision to back Bill C-33.
She explains “We need to control our own education systems and we need to ensure our language and culture are going to continue for future generations”.
Despite criticism, the AFN maintains that the bill brings “a moment of opportunity” for First Nations education.
Atleo continues to urge the people of each First Nation to share their views on the bill with Ottawa.