Bill C-61: Self-determination in education for the Anishinabek Nation
This new law enables 23 participating First Nations to assume full control over Anishinabek education on reserve and to deliver a culturally-relevant curriculum to student.
The Anishinabek Nation—comprised of 39 First Nations in Ontario—has been negotiating with Canada for more than 20 years to reach an agreement on governing and administering their own education system. The parties reached a non-binding agreement-in-principle in 2002. Extensive outreach and consultations were done before First Nations communities voted on ratifying the agreement. In the fall of 2016, 14 First Nations communities voted to approve the agreement, with an average of 97 per cent in favour. In the summer of 2017, nine more First Nations communities voted to approve the agreement, with an average of 86 per cent in favour.
The Senate’s Role
Bill C-61, which gives effect to the Anishinabek Nation Education Agreement, arrived in the Senate on December 7. The legislation enables the 23 participating First Nations to assume full control over Anishinabek education on reserve and to deliver a culturally-relevant curriculum to student. The Senate recognized the extensive consultations and high approval rates of the agreements, and worked swiftly to review the legislation. With leave from the Senate, the legislation advanced to the Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples for consideration after one day in the Senate.
Senator Dan Christmas, the sponsor of the legislation in the Senate, called the bill a “decisive step forward” for the Anishinabek Nation. “It is a clear exodus from the colonial yoke of the Indian Act. It is a purposeful embodiment of self-determination and the pursuit of self-government for education on a nation-to-nation basis, once again, developed by and for First Nations,” he told the Senate during a second reading speech.
Bill C-61 was adopted in the Senate on December 13, 2017, recognizing the jurisdiction of 23 participating communities in education on reserve from Junior Kindergarten to Grade 12. It also sets out a process for other Anishinabek Nation First Nations to join the education system should they choose to do so. It’s been called a step forward for reconciliation. For the 23 participating First Nations, specifically, the agreement implements the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action 7 to 10, which call on the federal government to eliminate education and employment gaps between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Canadians, and to eliminate the discrepancy in federal education funding for First Nation students educated on reserves.