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Opposition to federal Aboriginal education bill prompts Atleo's resignation

“We used to be unified in our call for First Nation control of education and the AFN broke that unity,” Pam Palmater, a Mi’kmaq lawyer and professor of Indigenous law said. 

A rebellion of First Nations people in Canada against proposed, federal legislation (Bill C-33) governing education for Indigenous youth has prompted the resignation of Assembly of First Nations (AFN) Grand Chief Shawn Atleo. He was supporting Bill C-33 but faced growing opposition within the AFN to the legislation and calls to resign. He announced his resignation on May 2.

Breaking news on May 5: The Conservative government in Ottawa announced today that it is withdrawing its proposed First Nation Education Act from the House of Commons order of business. 

Opponents of the bill say Chief Atleo has been too friendly with the Conservative government in Ottawa. His resignation comes as outrage is growing over the cases of missing and murdered Aboriginal women in Canada and the refusal of the federal government to convene a formal inquiry.

Six Nations Mohawks in Ontario demand education funding, Oct 2012

Who will control Aboriginal education?

The education bill is ‘The First Nations Control of First Nations Education Act’.

Pam Palmater, a Mi’kmaq lawyer and professor of Indigenous law, politics and governance at Ryerson University in Toronto, told the Toronto Star, “We used to be unified in our call for First Nation control of education and the AFN broke that unity”.

Four spokespeople for the Idle No More movement issued a statement on Chief Atleo ‘s resignation stating, “Today, after four years of servility and weak leadership in the face of a Harper government bent on an aggressive agenda of assimilation and termination of First Nations, National Chief Shawn Atleo was forced by popular pressure and a brewing chiefs’ revolt to resign, the first time a national chief has resigned since the creation of [the AFN].”

Palmater also heads Ryerson U’s Centre for Indigenous Governance. She finished second in the election for grand chief at the 2012, triennial AFN conference of chiefs. Chief Atleo won a second term there. Palmater wrote a lengthy critique of Bill C-33 in her blog on on April 30. Her article was titled, ‘Shawn Atleo should tear up the First Nation Education Act’. She wrote:

It is important to understand that Atleo has absolutely no independent political power as National Chief. The AFN's Charter is very specific about this. So, all of his deal-making with Canada is outside the legal scope of this authority. The Prime Minister, who is not a signatory to the treaties between First Nations and Her Majesty, is also acting outside the legal scope of his power. Harper has no power to unilaterally amend treaties or violate constitutionally protected treaty rights. Yet, this political duo is taking matters into their own hands and changing the rules in education and treaty rights -- just like they both promised at the Crown-First Nation Gathering [January 24, 2012]. (See note 1.)

Summarizing the proposed education act, Palmater said,

In simple terms, Canada is retaining all of its control over First Nation education -- this is clear throughout the Act. At best, this Act outlines a complex process for how Canada will devolve limited administrative control over some, not all, education to First Nation organizations (not First Nations themselves).

She concluded,

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