From Residential Schools to the First Nations Education Act, colonialism continues

Education is widely seen as a key component to future success not only for the individual children who receive that education, but also for the society to which they belong, as a whole. We use graduation rates and post-secondary degree attainment numbers to help determine the efficacy and accessibility of a system of education. More than simply informing us of how many individuals are meeting educational standards, these numbers give us fundamental information about the overall health of a society.

There is no Aboriginal system of education in Canada. This fact is sometimes obscured by misunderstandings of reserve or band schools, or even charter schools that may provide ‘indigenous content’. Nonetheless, the system of education that exists in Canada is wholly Canadian, both legislatively and in terms of provision.

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Inequality in funding and outcomes for Aboriginal students is a long-standing issue.

Another important fact is that the Canadian system of education is failing indigenous peoples. This is not a matter of debate. Regardless of personal opinions, bigotry and stereotypes, the grim statistics paint a very clear picture. When examining access, graduation rates and post-secondary degree attainment in other countries, we do not blame individuals for egregiously poor outcomes. We do not do this, because education is a social undertaking that transcends individuals and even minority groups. It requires mobilisation of all levels of government, and it impacts every single person living within the boundaries of that system of education.

The stats: outcomes

  • A sizable gap in student performance between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal students is already present by grade 4, with a widening of the gap by grade 7. (page 4)
  • 40% of Aboriginal students aged 20-24 do not have a high school diploma compared to 13% of non-Aboriginal people.
  • High school non-completion rates are even more pronounced on reserve (61%) and among Inuit in remote communities (68%). (page 3)
  • 9% of the Aboriginal population have a university degree compared to 26% among non-Aboriginal students. 63% of Aboriginal university graduates are women.

The stats: funding

  • Non-Aboriginal funding is funded by the provinces. Aboriginal education is funded federally. Non-Status Indians and MĂ©tis students receive provincial funding only.
  • The federal funding formula for on-reserve schools has been capped at 2% growth per year since 1996 despite the need having increased by 6.3% per year, creating at $1.5 billion shortfall between 1996-2008 for instructional services alone.
  • Only 57% of federal funding for First Nation students is allocated to First Nation schools. The rest goes to support students attending off-reserve schools. (page 13)
  • Unlike their provincial counterparts, First Nations schools receive no funding for library books, librarian’s salaries, construction or maintenance costs of school libraries, nor funding for vocational training, information and communication technologies, or sports and recreation. (page 20)
  • In 2007, there was a need for 69 new First Nation schools across Canada and an additional 27 needed major renovations. Funding was only provided for 21 new schools and 16 renovation projects. (page 24)
  • Despite claims by AANDC to the contrary, a recent federal report confirms that there are severe funding gaps in First Nations education that must be addressed immediately in the short-term, and that long-term improvements must be made with the active participation of First Nations stakeholders.
  • Post-secondary funding, available only to Status Indians and Inuit, has been historically inadequate to meet funding needs, and has created a backlog of 10,589 students between 2001-2006 who were denied funding. (page 34)

The First Nations Education Act: The top down approach again

Despite repeated reports (from the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples in 1996, to this latest report tabled in 2012) which recommend that the federal government cease acting unilaterally and without consultation with First Nations, that is precisely what has happened yet again with the First Nations Education Act.

No one has actually seen this Act, which is supposed to be put into place in September of 2014. Instead, a draft plan has been created which will be ‘shared with First Nations communities for their input‘. The federal government claims it has been adequately consulting First Nations all along, but First Nations leaders have been vociferous in their dissatisfaction with this process. ‘Consultation’ leading up to the draft was 8 consultation sessions, about 30 teleconferences and some online activities.

The Canadian government has an absolutely dismal record with respect to indigenous education. Why anyone would believe that this time they can get it right, without even truly consulting or working with the people who will be most affected by any policy decision, is a complete mystery.

The first phase, which included eight consultation sessions across Canada, more than 30 video and teleconference sessions, and online consultation activities, – See more at: http://actionplan.gc.ca/en/initiative/first-nation-education-act#sthash.kNEUEguE.dpuf
The first phase, which included eight consultation sessions across Canada, more than 30 video and teleconference sessions, and online consultation activities, – See more at: http://actionplan.gc.ca/en/initiative/first-nation-education-act#sthash.kNEUEguE.dpuf

No thanks, we’ll do it ourselves

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Indigenous education means indigenous planning, development, and control.

Canada needs to finally listen to what indigenous peoples have been demanding for years: that our cultures and languages be given more importance in our systems of education. This focus has been supported by so many publications including (but not limited to):

In 1978 and 1979, the Mohawk communities of Kahnawake and Akwesasne opened their own schools respectively named the Kahnawake Survival School (high school) and the Akwesasne Freedom School (elementary, junior high). Focusing on cultural and linguistic immersion and academic excellence, the schools are community funded, the infrastructure was built by the community, and each school has created its own curriculum.  In essence, these are private schools which have had to form relationships with provincial authorities to ensure that their students graduate with recognised credentials that will be accepted in post-secondary institutions.

These two school embody the implementation of recommendations in numerous federal reports as well as the stated needs and aspirations of indigenous communities. They are not the only examples of solutions created and implemented by indigenous peoples, but the fact remains that the Canadian system of education does not provide adequate space for the widespread development of an indigenous system of education.

When public funding of Aboriginal education has been so woefully inadequate, and federal control has even been criminally incompetent, it is unacceptable for the Canadian government to yet again attempt to ram through a piece of legislation that cannot possibly fix the problem. You cannot fix the ills caused by a top-down approach by implementing more top-down policies.

Indigenous communities as a whole simply do not have the internal resources to create an entire system of private schooling in order to rectify the horrendous gap that has always existed between native and non-native student outcomes. If you can judge a society by its system of education, then Canada stands clearly guilty of discriminating against indigenous peoples by allowing this situation to continue; and worse, by perpetuating it through another unilateral attempt to ‘do what’s best for the Indians’.

If you were wondering why so few native people are in support of the proposed First Nations Education Act, I hope you have a better sense of the issue now. My thanks.

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12 Responses to From Residential Schools to the First Nations Education Act, colonialism continues


  1. kimmy1013 says:

    I’m curious…do you know if any Chief and Council on reserve in Canada has ever tried to implement a taxation system on its residents to raise money for things like education? I know a lot of reserve populations are probably too small to make something like that lucrative. But if Ottawa won’t give more money for education, how is it ever going to be found??

    • Many First Nation schools already use own- source revenues (which may be tax based) to completely fund or supplement federal funding…while Canada deliberately ignores its fiduciary duty, FNs have not been idle…visit the websites of regional FN education organizations for tons of research and publications on this issue…
      .

  2. Deen says:

    This is not a complex problem.
    The real issue is that First Nations people are not learning the lessons of history.So those who refuse to learn the lessons of history are doomed to repeat that history.The settlers in Canada from Europe(state/church)have never treated first nations right(genocide)So how will will they educate us right.We as a people must educate ourselves.Build our own educational system.
    Why would we give our children to people who have stated and i quote “to kill the Indian in the child.”
    “It is readily acknowledged that Indian children lose their natural resistance to illness by habituating so closely in the residential schools and that they die at a much higher rate than in their villages. But this does not justify a change in the policy of this Department which is geared towards a final solution of our Indian Problem.”Duncan Scott Campbell
    Does the words final solution ring a bell.These are the words the nazis used to frame the annihilation of the jews at the Wannsee Conference . Hitler admired how the indians of North America were annilated.He copied this model.Reserves and Residential Schools became the model for concentration camps in Europe.
    Let us unite .Build our community’s.We must become the ones who educate our children or we will face extinction.History teaches us this fact!

  3. Deen says:

    Here is one Duncan Scott Cambell diabolical and haunting peoms.

    She stands full-throated and with careless pose,
    This woman of a weird and waning race,
    The tragic savage lurking in her face,
    Where all her pagan passion burns and glows;
    Her blood is mingled with her ancient foes,
    And thrills with war and wildness in her veins;
    Her rebel lips are dabbled with the stains
    Of feuds and forays and her father’s woes.

    And closer in the shawl about her breast,
    The latest promise of her nation’s doom,
    Paler than she her baby clings and lies,
    The primal warrior gleaming from his eyes;
    He sulks, and burdened with his infant gloom,
    He draws his heavy brows and will not rest.

    By Duncan Scott Cambell,Deputy Minister of Canada’s Indian Affairs.

    Are any us under the illusion that the intent and stated policy of the government of Canada has changed in 2013?

    • alsheppard says:

      Thanks for posting this poem that was unknown to me. I knew Scott had deeply complicated, conflicted feelings about his work at Indian Affairs and his feelings about the peoples never really knew or understood but, good colonialist that he was, believed that whatever they had or did, he (and we, the settler colonials) knew and would do better. Sadly, his spirit still rules in Ottawa. Stay strong.

  4. Daniel Wilson says:

    Terrific blog, once again. I would just like to add that the Mi’kmaq, under the legislation they negotiated 15 years ago, are now achieving graduation rates better than those in some provinces, although the CD Howe Institute study cited in your blog chose not to examine those results, deeming the sample size too small. The fact that the federal government will be pushing the BC model that CD Howe has declared the best is, I’m sure, coincidence.

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  9. Seb says:

    Amazing inputs on FNEA. Thanks.

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