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Indigenous leaders react to Ministry of Education cuts, throne speech

Ontario’s newly sworn in government is making changes and announcing plans. Nishnawbe Aski Nation (NAN) and Kiiwetinoong MPP Sol Mamakwa shared concerns with the direction the new Progressive Conservative Ontario Ministry of Education is taking, following the cancellation of three writing sessions, Truth and Reconciliation Commission curriculum revisions, American Sign Language and Indigenous languages in kindergarten.

Premier Doug Ford. Picture: Bruce Reeve (Creative Commons Licence – Wikipedia)

The TRC summer writing team learned of the cancellation the Friday prior to July 9-12 sessions beginning, with another July 17-20 session also cancelled, and were advised to cancel travel and hotel arrangements. According to a ministry spokesperson, the ministry moved ahead with these cancellations unilaterally with no direction from the Minister of Education.

“In keeping with the commitment Premier Doug Ford made to run government more efficiently, all ministries will seek to carry out initiatives in the most cost-effective way possible,” the ministry statement said. NAN Deputy Grand Chief Derek Fox, who holds the education portfolio for NAN, said truth sharing and education on the residential school experience is one of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s 94 calls to action.

“We have heard from many educators, Elders and knowledge keepers and share their frustration as this important work was dropped just before it was set to begin,” he said. “This is a step backwards on our journey towards reconciliation. The education of the youth in Ontario shouldn’t be dictated by the party in power, but left to professionals who acknowledge that identity-building is the only positive move forward.”

Fox noted some elders and knowledge keepers, many of whom are residential school survivors, will lose income having booked time away from paid work to participate. “This TRC project enhanced Ontario’s education curriculum with school boards working with Indigenous community partners to provide opportunities for teachers and students to learn about our shared history,” said Fox.

We are asking this government to reaffirm its commitment to The Journey Together: Ontario’s Commitment to Reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples where the province committed to working with Indigenous partners to address the legacy of residential schools, close gaps and remove barriers, support Indigenous cultures, and reconcile relationships.”

In a Facebook post, Kiiwetinoong MPP Sol Mamakwa touched on the new provincial priorities, saying, “I was very disappointed that Doug Ford’s throne speech left out any mention of First Nations. It is a marker of where First Nations stand in his government. After weeks of announcements that Ford was getting rid of the Ministry of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation, and its responsibilities, yesterday’s throne speech was yet another step backwards for First Nations people.

“It’s important for Doug Ford to understand that First Nations people will continue to move forward, working towards recognition as First Peoples on the path towards reconciliation.”

In a statement, the Chiefs of Ontario said, “The speech from the throne, while omitting any specific reference to First Nations in Ontario, does provide for the potential in creating a new approach, and building and strengthening First Nations relationships with the new Ontario government.

“The speech had much to say on creating a better future for the people of Ontario. First Nations in Ontario wish to also enjoy and participate in the prosperity and wealth creation that the throne speech indicated.”

Regional Chief RoseAnne Archibald spoke with Ford after the speech. “I look forward to strengthening the crown-First Nation relationship, as I’m sure we will have much more to engage on as we move forward,” she said. “With new beginnings through the new administration both here in the Chiefs of Ontario and the newly elected premier and Ontario cabinet, we have a real opportunity to embrace change at this moment and build a strong and respectful relationship.

“I look forward to formally meeting with the new Premier, cabinet and Chiefs to collaboratively ensure that the opportunities to create a prosperous quality of life for First Nations are a priority.

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