by Steve da Silva
After decades of under-funding to First Nations schools – with high dropout rates and an epidemic of youth suicide that can’t be disassociated with the situation in schools – last Tuesday, October 22, the Federal government tabled their First Nations Education Act that will give it more direct control over about 515 reserve schools under its control.
Under the draft legislation, band councils would be allowed to operate schools directly – as many already do – or purchase services from regional or provincial school boards or the private sector. First Nations could also form education authorities that would oversee one or more schools in a region.
However, under the new legislation it would be the federal government that would set and enforce standards for schools on reserves (with the exception of Onkwehon:we nations that have established self-government agreements that cover education). The Minister for Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development will retain the power to take over a school or if an inspector finds problems.
What the draft legislation is not clear about are the funding levels that fall far below funding provided to provincial schools. Funding short-falls have been a principal factor in keeping the standards in First Nations schools far below provincially-funded schools.
A piece of Canada’s Economic Action Plan, the Federal Conservative government claims their aim to be “improving graduation rates for First Nations students,” but First Nations (Indian Act) leaders are already decrying it as a renewal of the colonial legacy, by giving the Feds more control with no guarantee of the desperately needed funding increases.
In an October 25 press release, Chief Patrick Madahbee of the Union of Ontario Indians said that “The proposed First Nations Education Act (FNEA) is about control and false accountability,” says Madahbee. “It is a colonial document and makes no attempt to close the gap on inequality in education.”
“Firstly, it gives our citizens, parents and students no say in their own education… This is the same mentality as the government-run residential school disaster that had a history littered with genocide and acts of inhumanity.
“Secondly, it ignores curriculum needs that experts agree are essential to the academic success of First Nations learners – curriculum that talks about our culture and beliefs, and an accurate account of our historical contributions.
“And thirdly, this government starts their so-called educational reform with a threat to First Nations that if they don’t meet Canadian standards they will be put under third-party management, despite the fact that First Nation schools are largely underfunded and are unlikely to meet standards set by other, better funded schools, for example, the school in Biinjitiwaabik Zaaging Anishinaabek (Rocky Bay First Nation) receives $4781 less per student than nearby provincially-funded Upsala School in the Keewatin Patricia District School Board.”
Final legislation is anticipated before the year’s end after “consultation” with First Nations (Indian Act) authorities.