The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) has been fully adopted by Canada. The UNDRIP recognizes that “Indigenous families and communities retain shared responsibility for the upbringing, training, education and well-being of their children, consistent with the rights of the child”, and states that “[s]tates 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.”
The Calls to Action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) of Canada outline many activities to be undertaken by the federal and provincial governments in collaboration with First Nation peoples to address the intergenerational impacts of the violence of colonialism. This violation of First Nations rights included the residential school system and the removal of First Nations children from their homes to systematically strip away their Indigenous languages, cultures, laws and rights. The province has vowed through The Journey Together to continue to walk hand in hand with First Nations to develop initiatives that address the detrimental impacts of colonialism and build trusting, respectful and mutually beneficial relationships.
Both the UNDRIP and the TRC Calls to Action are reactions to the detrimental impacts of colonialism that have resulted in the breakdown of sovereign Indigenous Nations and an interruption in the transmission of Indigenous traditional knowledge(s). Treaty agreements are an expression of this sovereignty and are based on the status of First Nations as self-determining, free peoples. The treaties represent a relationship that was and is intended to survive forever – a solemn commitment to the Nation to Nation relationship. Treaty agreements in Ontario are considered within the larger context of nationhood and mutual prosperity and thus secure First Nation jurisdiction over the education of their learners, regardless of where they reside.
The 133 First Nation communities in what is now known as Ontario have evolved from thirteen Indigenous Nations; namely, the Algonquin, Mississauga, Ojibway, Onondaga, Mohawk, Seneca, Oneida, Cayuga, Tuscarora, Cree, Odawa, Pottowatomi and Delaware. Historical, colonial practices of the settler governments have created division and an atmosphere of competition that must be considered and mitigated in future endeavours.
All activities undertaken to improve circumstances for First Nation peoples and communities must consider and respect the collective nature of Nations and the rich diversity among the First Nation communities in Ontario. All First Nation learners, regardless of where they learn and where they reside require education grounded in their own cultural, linguistic and geographic uniqueness.