Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Vice Chief Simon Bird on The Treaty Right to Education at Chiefs' Forum on Treaty Implementation

When I was a little girl I was really close with my Brown cousins. Uncle Gary Brown and my mom's sister, Alice, had four daughters. We ran around the farm in bare feet. We had a club house, collecting bottles for wild chip-and-pop-parties. We slept under the stars in the pasture. We rode our Shetland pony, Skye, and my prancing Arab-Quarter horse, Ginger, always bareback, sometimes three kids deep. We shared holidays and dreams and lots of laughs.

I remember Uncle Gary, Mom, Uncle Tom, Grandpa Bailey, talking about a man named Rodney Soonias. I don't know why that name stuck in my mind and my imagination. Maybe because they spoke his name with such respect. Maybe because he was Uncle Gary's best man in his wedding. Maybe because Rodney Soonias' young wife babysat me (so Mom reminds me.)

All that to say, while listening and reading from the Chiefs' Forum on Treaty Implementation, I keep hearing Rodney Soonias quoted or referenced. His name has accessed these background memories.

I am thankful to my family for planting seeds of respect and relationship, preparing me for my own treaty education.

In this excerpt below, Vice Chief Simon Bird unpacks the latest and the history in the "Treaty Right to Education". Vice Chief Bird references Soonias. As a teacher and as a proud family member, this excerpt is relevant to me personally.

-- Sheena

The Treaty Right to Education

Vice Chief Simon Bird

It was an honour to be sitting here with our Elders as they raised the pipes this morning, to bring good thoughts and clean hearts to the table this morning.  One thing that I want to say is that we have to have trust and faith in our leadership.  We must support them as we conduct ourselves in a respectful way.  I say to our youth that we must support our leadership and we need reassurance that we are all in this together.

Rights and responsibilities respecting education

Our Indigenous Governments have the right and responsibility to govern their Peoples and respective territories under their laws, customs and systems.  They exercise the legislative, executive and judicial powers of government that include the administration of education. 

Foundational principles respecting education

The Numbered Treaty education provisions include the following:

“And further Her Majesty agrees to maintain a school in each reserve hereby made, whenever the Indians of the reserve shall desire it.”

“Further, Her Majesty agrees to maintain a school in the reserve, allotted to each Band as soon as they settle on the said reserve, and are prepared for a teacher.”

A lot of our First Nations have schools on reserve. I spoke to Sharon Venne and she reassured me that there is a misinterpretation of the education in that the Treaty parties must learn about each other and the relationship between us, a covenant sanctioned by the Creator. Education is not a one-way street.

“And further, Her Majesty agrees to maintain schools for instruction in such reserves hereby made, as to Her Government of the Dominion of Canada may seem advisable, whenever the Indians of the reserve shall desire it.”

Once again, the federal budget that came down yesterday is not enough to bring us to a level of comparable funding.  We need at least $60 million in Saskatchewan alone to pay our teachers.

“Further, Her Majesty agrees to pay the salaries of such teachers to instruct the children of the said Indians as to Her Majesty’s Government of the Dominion of Canada may seem advisable.”

“Further, Her Majesty agrees to make such provisions as may from time to time be deemed advisable for the Education of Indian children.”

When I was in high school, we didn’t learn about Treaties or the true history of our relationships.  As soon as we were set on reserves, the Indian Act applied and the Treaty relationship was never fulfilled.  When the veterans came back from the wars, they began to stand up for Treaty rights.

We have had some success at the international level.  The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples affirms the Inherent right to education as stated in article 13 and 14.

Article 13

  1. Indigenous peoples have the right to revitalize, use develop and transmit to future generations their histories, languages, oral traditions, philosophies, writing systems and literatures and retain their own names for communities, places and persons.
I was at a forum at the National Day for the Elimination of Racism and one key message was that Canada was afraid to implement UNDRIP because it did not trust us to govern ourselves.  They want to control us through the budgetary process and legislation.

  1. States shall take effective measures to ensure that this right is protected and also to ensure that indigenous peoples can understand and be understood in political, legal and administrative proceedings, where necessary, through the provision of interpretation or by other appropriate means.
We must continue to push for the international community to advocate on our behalf, to put pressure on Canada to adhere to our Treaties.  The FSIN can play a role in this.  On one hand individual First Nations are going out to the international forums.  They have that right and authority and they have a better understanding of their needs and rights.  I also see the FSIN playing a role in that as a representative of a unified group of First Nations in Saskatchewan, without fear of being sanctioned by the federal government.

Article 14

1.       Indigenous peoples have the right to establish and control their educational systems and institutions providing education in their own languages, in a manner appropriate to their cultural methods of teaching and learning.

When we get resolutions from the Chiefs in Assembly, those are our marching orders.  The SIIT and FNUC are two such institutions that have been born out of our Leadership pushing for our Treaty right to education.  I have heard the criticism that students are not learning about Treaty and inherent rights.  If that is so, than we can deal with that issue by ensuring that the curriculum of the institutions include those teachings.

2.       Indigenous individuals, particularly children, have the right to all levels and forms of education of the state without discrimination.

3.       States shall, in conjunction with indigenous peoples, take effective measures, in order for indigenous individuals, particularly children, including those living outside their communities, to have access, when possible, to an education in their own culture and provided in their own language.

Scope of jurisdiction – Laws developed

In October of 1990 the FSIN amended and gave final reading approval to the Saskatchewan Indian Education Act.  A primary focus of the Act is, “to confirm, maintain and strengthen the federal government’s Treaty, trust and fiduciary responsibilities to fund education” and to establish the Saskatchewan Indian Education and Training Commission.

Institutions developed to implement our Treaty

·         Saskatchewan Indian Institute of Technologies (1985); formerly the Saskatchewan Indian Community College (1976)

·         First Nations University of Canada (2003) – formerly the Saskatchewan Indian Federated College (1976)

·         Saskatchewan Indian Cultural Center (1972)

·         FSIN Education Blueprint (2006)

·         FSIN Education System Model for Saskatchewan (2003) and recommended organization for the FSIN First Nations Education Institute (2006)

We must celebrate and support these institutions by ensuring that they remain strong and under First Nations control.

Government legislation impacting our rights

The Federal Government is moving towards developing a federal First Nations Education Act.  We must be very careful to ensure that federal legislation does not negatively impact Treaty rights.  The Chiefs of Saskatchewan formally opposed the National Education Panel which was viewed as a vehicle to develop legislation that would supersede our Treaty. 

An independent report developed by FSIN, the First Nations Education Council of Quebec and the Nishinabe Aski Nation of northern Ontario brings to the forefront the need for “Duty to Consult” on any legislation that will impact the Inherent and Treaty right to education.  This is far less than the requirement for full, prior and informed consent as set out in UNDRIP. 

Current developments

The FSIN and Saskatchewan recently signed an agreement to establish a Joint Task Force to review First Nations education in the province with the goal of making recommendations to improve the outcome of First Nations students in the education system, including trades training.  They will be primarily concerned with equity in student support, appropriate curriculum and generally closing the gap in educational results at the K-12 level. It will not deal with post-secondary education and Treaty rights.

This is not about off-loading the obligations of Treaty from the Crown in right of Canada to the Crown in right of Saskatchewan.  It is about ensuring that the federal government is pressed to fulfill their Treaty obligation by providing a level of resources that is equitable with the provincial standard, at a minimum.  We will have support of the province with this.


Rodney Soonias wrote a paper on the main themes and findings of an Elders Gathering on Education held in May 2009 and provided some general guides for proceeding with an Action Plan on Education in the Context of Treaty (APECT) which was approved by the Chiefs Education and Training Commission. 

The proposal is in the third year and is looking at what a First Nations Education System(s) would look like.  Regional dialogues are being held with Chiefs, Portfolio Holders, Directors of Education and other interested First Nations members for feedback on the work done in previous dialogues with Elders and educators.

Options and Recommendations

  1. FSIN continue to support First Nations in implementing the Inherent and Treaty right to education.
  2. FSIN continue to support First Nations and advocate for the concept of lifelong learning not just the provincial K-12 system.
I have listed the education provisions that are in the Numbered Treaties for reference.  We know that the Chiefs asked for education, for schools and teachers during the Treaty negotiations.  We must now work toward an agreement on the scope of the Treaty right to education.  We must identify the costs to implement our Treaty right to education and ensure that the Crown fulfills that obligation. 

Our Treaties are international Treaties and we can, and we have, and we will continue to lobby the international community to put pressure on Canada to adhere to our Treaties. That is a role that the FSIN can play.

If we had our own education system we would have the ability to certify our own teachers; every teacher out there now is certified by the province. 

The White Paper of 1969 was clear that Canada wanted to put an end to Treaties by mutual agreement of the Crown and First Nations when it stated that the government and First Nations would agree which Treaty terms would be ended.  The idea was to transfer full control and fee simple ownership of our reserved lands.  This would make the Treaties irrelevant as individual rights would be paramount and collective rights no longer valid.  The White Paper intended to disenfranchise Treaty people.  Blanket legislation is like putting our Treaty rights into a coffin.  We must protect the Treaty rights from derogation by federal legislation.  We will be very vigilant in analyzing any federal and provincial legislation and their impact on Treaty and Inherent rights.

In closing, we must continue to strive for excellence in the education field and continue to advocate for a Federation that is strong and self-sufficient.  At this time I’ll ask Sharon Venne to explain the potential danger of federal legislation impacting on the Treaty right to education.

page 58-61 , excerpt from
Chiefs' Forum on Treaty Implementation

Dakota Dunes Casino and Conference Center
March 29 & 30, 2012

shared as public document with permission from
Dan Bellegarde, Executive Director, Treaty Governance Office

CD of Chiefs' Forum on treaty Implementation available for $5.00
or free transcript is available
by contacting Dan Bellegarde at Dan.Bellegarde@fsin.com


  1. And because I was the shortest bridesmaid at Aunt Alice's wedding, I got to stand up with Rodney, who was the tallest groomsman.

  2. All part of the executive branch how is each one different and who is in each level? Like where is the vice president, chief of staff, national security advisor, secretary of state, secretary of defense and director of CIA located within each part of the executive branch I'm a little confused on where each one goes.

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