by Robin Booker
The Federal government has committed to creating a First Nations education system by 2014 — partially responding to the pressure on it to fix on-reserve education applied by the Assembly of First Nations, provincial governments, the Auditor General, academics, and a complaint at the Canadian Human Rights Commission.
The budget released last week included $275 million of new money for on-reserve education, far short of the $500 million needed to match the funds provincial schools get — according to a joint panel commissioned by the federal government and the Assembly of First Nations (AFN), which studied primary and secondary education on reserves.
AFN supports the creation of a First Nations school system. Wednesday a representative said “the current system is imposed, outdated, ad hoc and arbitrary — and it is simply not working.”
The right to education is guaranteed to the First Nations in the original treaties; however the current system is ineffective — less than 50 per cent of children on reserves graduate from high school.
This week Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development (AAND) provided a policy statement: “the report of the national panel, along with other recent reports, points to several key areas that should be addressed. These include funding for First Nations education, standards, governance and accountability, and the inclusion of language and culture in education.”
How the government is going to pursue agreements with First Nations governing structures in order to reach these objectives is a point of contention. Some First Nations communities and groups such as the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations (FSIN), who didn’t participate in the joint panel, are worried legislation will be imposed.
Although this is still unclear, the federal government “is committed to work with all willing partners to introduce a First Nations Education Act,” according to press communication from the AAND.
John Lagimodiere, editor of Eagle Feather News, says there is a feeling in Saskatchewan’s First Nations communities that “there wasn’t enough consideration given to the treaties in this area from the panel.”
The FSIN is opposed to the creation of a national school board, and claims the problems of on-reserve education are due to lack of funding. “There are First Nation structures already in place. Why would you start again?” asked Gerry Hurtin, FSIN executive director of education, in a February interview.
AFN claim existing First Nations school systems will be considered in the development and implementation of the new national school system.
“Some regions and organizations have already entered into an education agreement with the federal government. These systems are working because they are First-Nation-driven. Any new First Nation education system will need to be flexible and not infringe on any system already in place.” an AFN representative said.