3 Important Things You Should Know from the Assembly of First Nations
A quick but important recap of this week’s annual meeting in Regina.
The annual Assembly of First Nations took place in Regina this week and included hot topics such as the inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and police relations, education, and lack of funding.
In case you missed it, here’s what you need to know.
On Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women
On Thursday, Delores Stevenson gave an emotional speech about her niece Nadine Machiskinic’s death. The Indigenous woman died after falling 10 storeys down a laundry chute at the Delta Hotel in Regina on Jan. 10, 2015.
Authorities didn’t begin investigating until 60 hours after Machiskinic's death, by which time the hotel had been cleaned. Machiskinic had been seen getting into an elevator with two men before she died, but police didn’t start searching for the men until a year later — and they have yet to be located.
“Nobody thought to consider anything except the stereotypes," said Stevenson. She called for a boycott of the Delta Hotel.
The Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs released a statement on Thursday supporting the boycott as a way to show solidarity for missing and murdered Indigenous women.
Sadly, Machiskinic’s death and lack of investigating is not a unique case. There have been many calls for better investigations into missing and murdered Indigenous women.
Although First Nations leaders voted against a proposal calling for commissioner resignations at the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, chiefs at the AFN meeting passed a different resolution that calls on the organization's leadership to demand big changes at the inquiry, according to CBC.
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Kevin Hart, the AFN's Manitoba regional chief, said that what they needed was to be united.
"The media's watching us, social media's watching us. The government of Canada and the provinces are watching us right now,” Hart said. “Please, everybody, let's look in our hearts here. Why are we politicizing such an important subject right now, when we should be embracing one another and working together?”
The first day of the assembly, the government announced a change in First Nations funding.
First Nations will now be able to carry funding from year to year. Prior to this announcement, First Nations had to return government funds if a project wasn’t finalized within the fiscal year.
They often didn’t get approval for projects until late in the year, according to First Nations Chief Perry Bellegard. Money for housing, for example, would arrive too late to allow for housing programs to be completed in time.
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“There used to always be the requirement, but you know the monies never got out fast enough and everybody would panic that you have resources that have to be expended by the end of March or you lose them or you have to send them back,” Bellegarde said at the AFN’s annual meeting.
This process meant that communities were stuck in a cycle of starting and stopping projects, Indigenous and Northern Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett said.
“They can start the project and then know that if it’s not done by the following spring, that they still have the money to carry on and finish the project,” said Bennett at the meeting on Tuesday.
Education was the first topic of discussion on Wednesday. The Joint Working Committee on First Nations Education was created in February to look into issues in First Nations education.
Their top priorities as they currently stand are establishing more control over education and long-term, sustainable funding.
Several groups task teams were formed to look into various areas within education, and each team gave their update the assembly.
Lack of funding was the common theme discussed throughout the updates.
“It’s all about funding,” said Angus Mirasty, a former teacher for Lac La Ronge Indian Band. “You can make comparisons (of) First Nations schools to public school systems and to French immersion schools — you look at the huge discrepancy in the money that they’re given.”
First Nations students receive approximately half of what off-reserve students do, according to Mirasty.
The representative for the Early Childhood Education task teams, Tyrone McNeil, said that working with the Liberal government hasn’t been much different than working with the former Conservative one.
“The political machine of this federal government is saying all the right things,” said McNeil. “At the bureaucratic level, they’re still trying to impose more conditions on us, more strings on funding. So the bureaucracy clearly isn’t in line with the political will of this government.”
There was just under $3 billion included in the 2016 for First Nations education, but First Nations people say they’ve seen little of it, and that it’s hard to get.
On Wednesday, Minister Bennett announced a total of $5 million to support important initiatives that will help First Nations students pursue and complete their studies.