SAULT STE. MARIE, Ont. – For the first time in more than a decade, Garden River First Nation will take over a highway Monday, slowing traffic to highlight what it calls the federal government’s neglect of its financial obligations to First Nations education.
Chief Lyle Sayers said the demonstration on Hwy. 17 in northern Ontario is a last resort to turn the attention of Canadians and the government to what he calls a woefully overlooked issue.
“Nobody knows. The only way to get attention is to go out on the highways. It’s very unfortunate. The last thing we want to do is stand on the highway,” Sayers told QMI Agency.
The “peaceful rally” will coincide with the Anishinabek Grand Council fall assembly. Shawn Atleo, national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, is scheduled to be the keynote speaker at the gathering.
Native groups have long said a funding shortfall to send their young people to post-secondary schools has kept their people back. As well, for the last 10 years, the government has set a maximum 2% annual increase in the education budget.
Of the variety of issues First Nations have, including resource revenue-sharing, Sayers said education is a building block that determines whether or not people can “make a good living in Canada” and determine their collective future.
“The future of First Nations people is at stake.”
Garden River and Batchewana threatened to disrupt travel and trade through the area last summer over various long-running disputes, including resource revenue-sharing, funding deficiencies and no point-of-sale exemption for the Harmonized Sales Tax. In the end, Batchewana members blockaded the Huron-Central railway for one day in June, but Ottawa expedited the HST point-of-sale exemption and the prospect of Garden River toll booths on the highway faded.
The last major traffic disruption in Garden River was in 1999, in support of a highway bypass that was eventually built and opened in 2008.
‘”We don’t want to upset Canadians who travel the highways, but we also want to make sure they’re aware of what’s going on — and get the attention of the federal government,” he said.
The Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg First Nation in Quebec is also planning a slowdown Tuesday on the same issues.