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Schools on reserves, such as this kindergarten to grade seven school on the Tootinaowaziibeeng reserve in Manitoba, are in need of the type of supports the provincial ministries of education provide public schools.  Photo by Robin Booker.

by Robin Booker


Almost 40 years after the federal government promised Indian Control of Indian Education, aboriginal students on reserves continue to suffer.


In 1974 the federal government started to fund band operated schools as it moved away from the residential school system. But this policy change was not accompanied by legislative changes. 


The legal framework that currently guides on-reserve education comes from the Indian Act.  However, the education sections in the act are obsolete — they were constructed for the internment and assimilation of Aboriginal children.   


The federal government and chiefs from across the country met in Ottawa on Jan 24 to re-examine the relationship between the two governing bodies.   Proponents for an aboriginal school board were hopeful the gathering would begin the constitutional dialogue that would address the policy vacuum reserve schools operate in.  

No concrete commitments or timetables were achieved.


Today the responsibility for on-reserve education falls within Aboriginal and Northern Development Canada, but the department has yet to clearly define its roles and responsibilities in aboriginal education.  It instead maintains a hands-off management approach — it merely negotiates and then provides the funding for schools on reserves.


Presently each individual reserve is responsible for the creation of its own curriculum, and they also have access to far fewer resources than public schools.


 “The educational outcomes for residents on reserves are actually getting worse in relative terms” compared to off reserve students,” according to Improving Education on Reserves: a First Nations Education Authority Act.


The 2008 report also claims close to 60 per cent of First Nations on-reserve residents aged 20 to 24 have not completed high school. 


Critics say aboriginal schools are in desperate need of the type of supports the provincial ministries of education provide the public school system — such as school board, regulations, standards, and setting of the curriculum.


This week’s summit with the Crown and First Nations chiefs yielded little more than broad based promises, and did little to address the needs of aboriginal children attending school on Canada’s reserves. 


“It’s becoming the issue, probably for the next couple decades in Saskatchewan,”according to Rod Dolmage, associate dean in the faculty of education at the University of Regina. “If we don’t do something about First Nations education we are in deep trouble, and I don’t know how we would ever get out of it.  The status quo is not supportable.”

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