By Luke Stewart
BRANTFORD – “Unacceptable.” “Outrageous.” “Where’s the justice?” These were just some of the words uttered as demonstrators gathered at 8:00am outside of the Federal Building in downtown Brantford for a second demonstration in less than one week against the latest embarassment in the long and sordid history of Federal Government injustice and neglect in native schooling.
It is six weeks into the new school year and elementary schools at Six Nations of the Grand River have not received their school supplies or curriculum materials. This is despite the fact that the supplies were ordered in May 2012.
On Friday October 5, 2012, a group of about 25 Six Nations parents and grandparents gathered with their non-native allies outside the Federal Building in downtown Brantford where the Department of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada (AANDC) is housed. Chanting “supplies not lies” the crowd received honks of support and second looks from passersby. Some onlookers stopped to ask what was going on.
Courtney Martin, a parent and secretary of the Home and School board for Oliver Smith School, who took the day off work without pay to come into Brantford, stated that “all our supplies were not delivered” and that “when we first learned that our supplies weren’t in, our Home and School issued a cheque for $1500 supplying our children with their pens, pencils and other items to start the school year in hopes that our supplies were on their way.” This money was not meant for school supplies, but was fundraising money that was meant for extra-curricular activities such as swimming trips and other adventures.
“I’m frustrated. It’s disheartening. We want answers,” Martin explained.
On Monday October 1, Courtney Martin organized the first demonstration outside of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development to bring to light the failure of the Federal government to live up to its funding responsibilities under Article 91, Section 24 of the British North America Act of 1867.
On Monday, the parents and grandparents were locked out of the office of AANDC when, on his way into the office, Bob McGuire, director of funding services of INAC, ran into the demonstrators by accident. Caught off guard, he told them that the issue was being looked into and that if supplies were not delivered by Thursday he would personally see to it that Peter Jones, director of education for AANDC, would be there to respond to any questions concerned parents would have.
Thursday came and the only supplies delivered were those purchased by the Home and School board of Oliver Smith School out of their fundraising efforts.
On Friday the office door remained locked and Peter Jones was nowhere in sight. “Unlike the Government of Canada," Courtney Martin explained, “we are a people of our word. We said we’d be here on Friday and here we are. I don’t see Bob McGuire or Peter Jones.”
The issue of school funding has brought together many elements of the Six Nations community. “We’re here today to continue the protest about the lack of school supplies being provided to the Six Nations students,” explained Ava Hill, elected councilor for District 2 of the Band Council. “This is Six Nations lack of school supplies part two,” referring to Monday’s protest. “We weren’t aware of this issue until we got a letter from the Home and School about two or three weeks ago. Our schools are still run by the Federal Department of Indian Affairs,” Hill continued.
Currently, Six Nations of the Grand River and Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory are the only remaining indigenous communities who receive Federal Government funding for their school systems. The other indigenous communities have decided to let the Band Council system administer the funding for their schools.
Councilor Hill also told the crowd that “we’re finding out more and more that it’s not just the school supplies, it’s also the busing – we have a busing issue. We have the little kids that are starting to go to early learning and they refuse to continue small buses for the kids. These little kids are trying to get on the big buses. We also hear now that the supply teachers aren’t being paid and some of the teachers are not getting their full salaries. Some phone bills aren’t being paid, some photocopier charges aren’t being paid.” According to Hill, the photocopier will be re-possessed if charges aren’t paid to the photocopying company.
“We’re trying to get a meeting with the principals,” Hill continued, “but we’re not sure if they’ll meet with us because they’ve been given a gag order by the Federal Department of Indian Affairs who are their bosses.”
Councilor Hill had just come from a special education assembly in Ottawa sponsored by the Assembly of First Nations. Hill and others from the elected council told the audience of the financial troubles faced by the school system at Six Nations where administrators of AANDC were in the crowd. The elected council has also launched complaints with the Federal Government and have been in contact with Conservative MP Phil McColeman of Brant and both the Aboriginal Affairs critics of the Liberal and New Democratic Party.
"We've got support across the country. We may be a small group here, we may be one community but we can get mobilized across the country. We've got support. People out there already know about it because we told them about it at the Assembly. All we have to do is put the call out and we can keep going," Councilor Hill concluded.
In a measure to stave off the impact of the special education assembly in Ottawa and the other critics of the Government’s lack of funding for native schools, Minister of Aboriginal Affairs John Duncan called a press conference on Tuesday October 2 claiming that the Federal Government pays just as much, or even more, for each indigenous student as it does for every other Canadian. “We are committed to improving educational outcomes for First Nations students across the country,” Duncan said.
Paradoxically for Minister Duncan, the two demonstrations in Brantford six weeks into school year revealed otherwise.
After attempting to enter the office of Indian and Northern Affairs and chanting “supplies not lies”, “paging director Peter Jones” and “shame, shame, shame!”, James Cutfeet, senior advisor for education at AANDC, came outside to address the concerns of the parents and grandparents demonstrating outside. “Where are the textbooks?” one parent asked. “Where are the books we need for our children?” asked another. “This is October, not September,” said another. “Why is your office just working on this now? We ordered the supplies in May.”
“We have been working on it,” Cutfeet responded, “and we’re working through our processes to ensure that there will be supplies as ordered.”
“Why do they normally get their supplies in June?” another parent asked, “Yet this year here we are in October?” “We’re working through our system,” Cutfeet, starting to get uncomfortable, stated. “We’re doing the best we can to put the orders through.”
“Your best is not good enough,” many in the crowd now gathered around Cutfeet stated in disbelief.
After about a ten minute question and answer session, Cutfeet went back inside and the parents and grandparents decided to organize another demonstration after many of their questions faced a wall of bureaucratic incompetence.
It was decided that a demonstration would be called at the regional offices of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development in Toronto, Ontario on Thursday October 11, 2012 at 12:00p.m. at 25 St. Clair Avenue East.
Bus leave Six Nations at 10am at Old Council House.
Peter Jones office can be reached via phone : 416-973-1274
Photos by Dylan Powell