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THE FUNDAMENTAL RELATIONSHIP OF THE CROWN AND FIRST NATIONS
The fundamental relationship of the First Nations with the Crown is defined in international law. It is reaffirmed for all time in the Royal Proclamation of 1763, and recognized once again in Section 91(24) of the British North American Act.
The fundamental relationship was given greater definition to specific First Nations in the Treaties signed by the Crown which recognized our sovereignty and nationhood.
In this decade, the relationship was given additional definition when Canada recognized the supremacy of our aboriginal and Treaty rights in the Canadian Constitution.
There can be no doubt that it is the right of each First Nation to, design, implement, control, manage, and administer funds and programs which lead to enhancing the potential of each of its members. This includes training and education at the post-secondary level.
Departmental officials say they will not enter into discussions on these matters which are the determining factors in our relationship. They say the Treaties are not on the table for discussion. The First Nations have never placed the Treaties on the table for negotiation or interpretation by Department officials.
There are many other matters which the Department officials do not even want to discuss. They also have made the unilateral decision that the question of levels of funding is not up for discussion. Yet we cannot discuss objectives and a policy unless we can discuss whether the amount of funding is adequate to meet the needs.
Another matter which is not up for discussion is why the Department ignores the full range of educational development and permits its funds only to go to certain kinds of education. Our youth need to have access to a full range of adult education and training - including university education where that is the preferred and appropriate choice, but also including technical training and job training.
There are other issues which are being dodged in this so-called consultation. Only a small part of the real problem of education is here on the surface for us to see.
It is fully within the rights of the First Nations within the terms of our relationship with the Crown to determine our own agenda for discussion. The Department of Indian Affairs has no authority to say what we will or will not discuss.
THE UNILATERAL AND ARBITRARY ACTIONS OF DEPARTMENTAL OFFICIALS
Department officials are also failing in their responsibility to uphold the Crown's obligations by setting out a unilateral policy for post-secondary education which prevents First Nations from exercising our basic right of self-government and enhancing the ability of our people to fulfil their full potential.
In the policy now being advanced by the officials, it is they, the Department officials - not First Nations - who claim for themselves the right to determine the policy and the criteria for post-secondary education of First Nations. It is Department officials who have set out the kinds of assistance, the levels of assistance, the duration of assistance.
Nothing has been left for the First Nations to decide for themselves.
Not satisfied with the power they have appropriated to themselves through the policy, the officials have reserved for themselves the right to issue "guidelines" - and who knows what the guidelines will say! They will exercise still greater power by unilaterally setting the terms of the contribution agreement by which funds will be disbursed.
By these unilateral controls, First Nations are relegated the role of being mere clerks administering still another Indian Affairs program which is doomed to failure from the start.
Worse, the Department officials are billing the policy as a mean of advancing self-government. Yet what we have in this so-called move to self-government is Departmental policies, Department guidelines, and Departmental contribution agreements.
Sure - the Department provided some space for First Nations to set their own guidelines. But then there is the fine print - "as long as the First Nation guidelines are consistent with the Department's policy."
The Department's policy has nothing to do with self-government. To the contrary, the Department's actions indicate it is opposing self-government just as it opposed every other advance we have sought over the last century.
The Department's proposed policy must be rejected. For the bureaucracy, it is a giant leap ahead in retaining control over Indians. For the First Nations and for all Canadians who find the exercise of colonial control inappropriate in the last decade of the 20th Century, the Department's policy is a giant leap backwards.
WHAT'S WRONG WITH THE POLICY: MORE HOOPS AND FENCES
The proposed policy has been rejected not only because it negates our rights and ignores our relationship with the Crown, but also because the policy is inadequate, unacceptable, and discriminatory.
The Department's proposed policy can best be viewed as a series of hoops to jump through and fences which are not to be jumped. Notice that the policy does not permit funding for our members, but only persons whom the Department decides are "Indians". The little bit of benefit which we gained from the infamous Bill C-31 was that our right to determine our own membership was recognized - and now we find that the Department doesn't want to recognize our members. We are told that we as administrators must tell our people, "Those of you on this side of the fence can go to college, but those of you on the other side have to stay home."
The new policy doesn't permit funding for our people who, for one reason or another, are living across the border. Yet we do not recognize that border. The economic conditions of First Nations which Departmental policies have created over the years often force our members to go to the U.S. for employment - but children who may be living there are told: "Here's a hoop you must jump through - come back to Canada on your own for a year and then you can submit an application. Jump!"
Canadian students can go anywhere to study in an institution of higher education-but the policy says Indian students will only be funded for the institution nearest to the student's place of residence. Do not jump the fence!
There are other fences. If one of your students wants to go or to a graduate or professional degree, forget it - 48 months is the limit. We wouldn't want the Indians to get too far ahead now, would we?
Imagine what would happen at the University of Saskatchewan or the Kelsey Institute if a notice were placed on the bulletin board saying, "Only 5 percent of all undergraduate students may go on to graduate studies!" Yet that is the limit which has been placed on Indian students - sort of a reverse quota system. And the $750 incentive which was rewarded annually is now one time only. Where is the incentive? Where is the improvement?
Even if a First Nation finds some way to assist our students to go on to graduate studies we're even limited to the amount of money that we can help with!
Maybe we older people who grew up in the days of the Indian Agent and legalized discrimination have been trained to jump through hoops and observe the fences. But we're not willing to pass that on to our young people who have grown up amidst talk of equality and self-determination.
Another thing wrong with the policy and attitude of government is that its priorities are misplaced. The government says these are tough times, and everyone has to tighten their belts. We agree - because if Canada wanted to spend wisely and prudently, the First Nations would be a lot better off then they are now. Look at the way priorities are set now:
When it comes to paying the costs of holding our youth in jails, there seems to be no shortage of money.
When it comes to paying for a lifetime of welfare and poverty, the money is there.
The first priority should be money for our youth that want to move ahead, to get an education.
Surely a government should understand investment, even if it doesn't seem to understand human suffering and wasted lives. It should know that a bit of money invested today on education will save a lot of social assistance funds in the future.
What does it cost for education so that a young man or a young woman can be self-supporting? $30,000? And what does it cost for that same young man or woman to be supported the rest of his years on welfare - $500,000 - a half-a-million dollars? And that doesn't count the cost of foster care and social disorganization - not to mention the cost of losing the contribution to society of a productive capable human being. It is incredible that Canada would be willing to support a young person on welfare, but prohibit the same money being used to support that young person's education.
If there ever was a shortsighted policy that will be paid for over and over for generations ahead, it is this one the Department has invented for post-secondary education.
We would think too that Canadian Government and the people of Canada would want to see that its money was well spent. It hasn't been well spent under the past policy, and it won't be well spent under the new policy.
The policies force us to waste money. The most effective solutions cannot be applied because they are "against policy". Students are forced to take inappropriate decisions in order to conform to an inflexible policy.
What seems to be the most important priority for the Department is maintaining control, maintaining poverty, maintaining Indians in their place. There is no better evidence to this harsh statement than the policy which the Department is trying to force on the First Nations.
Let's sit down together and decide where the priorities lie, and how we can most efficiently and effectively conserve valuable resources.
THE GAP BETWEEN OBJECTIVES AND POLICY
The proposed policy the Department wants us to accept starts out with beautiful objectives - but it is all a big smoke screen for the retrograde and restrictive policy which follows. (See Appendix A)
The policy says the objectives are to assist Indians and Inuit to gain access to post-secondary education. Maybe we could rewrite that:
"The objective in to give partial assistance to some Indians to gain access to certain kinds of post-secondary education up to specified levels in institutions approved by the Department and if they follow DIAND guidelines so those few who are able to jump through the hoops can hold jobs administering DIAND programs."
It is pure obscenity to describe the proposed policy as having anything at all to do with "self-government" or "economic sufficiency".
Paternalism and administrative control cannot be termed "self-government".
The continued theft of our resources and the throwing back a few crumbs cannot be termed "economic self-sufficiency".
If the Department is going move ahead on this policy no matter what we say, we insist it be honest and abstain from using these terms when they describe the new policy.
WE CANNOT ALLOW THE CLOCK TO BE SET BACK
Still another defect of the proposed policy is that it is totally out-of-step with the times.
Over the years, certain benchmarks have been reached by both First Nations and the Federal Government in attempting to unravel the heritage of a past built on theft, domination and racism.
In 1973, the First Nations were able to get the government of the day to agree to the principles set out in the paper, "Indian Control of IndianEducation". From that benchmark, we have moved ahead.
In 1983, there was the Report of the Parliamentary Task Force on Indian Self-Government, the Penner Report, which was accepted by all parties.
From 1983-1988 there were is First Ministers Conferences to amend the Canadian Constitution.
Even though the Constitution has yet to be amended, even though the Penner Report has yet to be implemented, we will not permit the Department to roll back the clock to another time, another era. Its policies on Post-Secondary Education must, in spirit and fact, be in line with the progress which we have achieved.
WE CANNOT PARTICIPATE IN INSINCERE CONSULTATION
What is going on here today is unacceptable. We cannot be satisfied with being called together for a few hours for something called "consultation". It is not acceptable for the Department to invite a few dozen Indians in to be "consulted" about an already-written policy presented on a take-it-or-leave-it basis. The reality is that this is really nothing more than an effort to co-opt us into going along with the scheme.
We want it to be known that the policy which the Department is trying to advance does not reflect consultation, and that in fact, there has been no real consultation.
The Department cannot be allowed to take this unilateral action. Instead it must sit down at the drawing board with the First Nations and work out a policy that is mutually acceptable.
In the meantime, the Department must declare a moratorium on any changes to the existing policy. We have a workplan ready to go for Phase II.
Then we must have sincere dialogue and principled negotiation so that we can come to mutual agreement on a policy which meets our needs and rights and which fulfils Canada's obligations.
OTHER CASUALTIES OF THE PROPOSED POLICY
Students are not the only casualties of the proposed policy. In Saskatchewan, we have demonstrated our commitment to education. We have given it top priority. We have created unique educational institutions which incorporate our values and philosophies into quality education in various disciplines. We have the Saskatchewan Indian Federated College, a degree-granting institution. We have the Saskatchewan Indian Institute of Technologies with its high-quality programs. Despite limited resources, we have provided the best possible educational programs for our children. The funding cutbacks and restrictive policies will impact hard on all of these achievements.
To be acceptable, a post-secondary education policy must be supportive of these efforts.
THE FUNDAMENTAL ERROR IN THE DEPARTMENT'S POLICY
One of the principal errors which throws the Department's policy proposal off-track is the attempt to provide funds for post-secondary education to individuals instead of providing sufficient resources to First Nations to assist with the advancement of their students. First Nations retain full jurisdiction over their students. It's not the business of the Department to be involving itself with our internal business. We are in a government-to-government relationship with Canada.
If the Treaties had been respected, if there had been fairness and equity in the treatment of the First Nations by the Canadian government, there would be no need for us to be discussing post-secondary education. If these things had been done, our nations would be prosperous. We would be able to see that our children had the necessary resources to achieve their full potential. We would not have to have meetings like this if there were justice in this land for the First Nations.
A SIMPLE PROPOSAL FOR CHANGE
The Department can not be permitted to be prosecutor and judge and on this. If officials feel the policy is so right, then let them submit policy to independent scrutiny.
Let's see the Department try to a legislative base to its policy so it will be subjected to Parliamentary scrutiny, and committee hearings where the policy can be held up to the light of public view.
Let's see what the International opinion is about this. Let the world see side-by-side the situation of our communities and the luxury that the bureaucrats live in. Let the world see. Let the world see the future that is open to our children, and the future that is open to theirs.
What we need to do is start over on this. We have done a lot of work on this subject which can be utilized.
We have been mandated by the Chiefs to complete our work.
If the Department want consult, we're ready to consult - but we both have to draw up the ground-rules. We need to halt this charade and get things off to a good start.
So that we have the breathing space we need, the Department must declare the moratorium which has been demanded.
These simple moves would be an indication to us that the Minister has some respect for position. It could be the beginning of a productive dialogue leading to establishing a solid relationship.