by Robin Booker
Opposition parties and the Assembly of First Nations are calling on the federal government to include more funding for aboriginal education in the upcoming budget.
While just about every federal department is bracing for cutbacks, the government has suggested there will be more money allocated for education on reserves.
However, it appears any new money will have strings attached to it.
The federal government has suggested it won’t put more money into First Nations education without changes in how the schools are governed.
Any changes in the laws that govern First Nations education could require negotiations with the 533 First Nation communities in Canada.
“If you’re going to impact the treaty right to education, then you need to deal with the treaty signers,” said Gerry Hurtin, executive director of education at the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations (FSIN).
In February, a federal panel that studied primary and secondary education on reserves released a report. It called for an increase of funding for on reserve education, but also for the creation of a national aboriginal school system.
FSIN is opposed to the formation of such a system.
The File Hills Qu’Appelle Tribal Council (FHQTC) already operates a school system, but it doesn’t receive the levels of funding on a per capita basis the provincial school systems receive.
“We do have the governance framework; we already have the FHQ education act. We do have the FHQ association. It provides oversight, assessment, monitoring and stewardship,” said Edmund Bellegarde, tribal chair at the FHQC.
“If you don’t address the funding disparity, the rest is just a paint job,” said Hurtin. “You can have a system all you want, but if you’re not funding it, what’s the difference?”
Hurtin claims that close to 85 per cent of aboriginal schools in Canada already receive second level services. “They’re just not funded to offer the full range of services that are needed.”
University of Regina student Joshua Asham went to school on the Pasqua reserve, which is located northeast of Regina. He said he believes there is a need for a national aboriginal school system.
“Some reserve schools are in need of funding and resources. They don’t have enough funding for the teachers, or to maintain the school,” he said “There isn’t the wide range of programs that are found in the provincial school systems.”
Rod Dolmage, associate dean in the U of R’s Faculty of Education, said many reserve schools need the type of supports the school boards provide in the provincial school systems.
While this doesn’t mean a national school board is required, some form of higher level school system is needed for many reserve schools. With such a system in place, Dolmage said, “the micro management politics of the band can’t interfere with the running of the school because the schools are under the jurisdiction of the board.”