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Our Children. Our Education.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Equinox Summit: Learning 2030 focuses on the future of high school education, a future that will be influenced by the wider landscape of education issues. This Learning 2030 Blog entry reflects on the draft of the First Nations Education Act that was published in October 2013 by the federal government of Canada.

By Chelsea Vowel, Learning 2030 Blog Contributor

“Mr. Speaker, what the government will not do is throw more money at a known system of education that proves to be failing too many First Nations students across the country.” 
      –Bernard Valcourt, Minister of Aboriginal and Northern Development October 22, 2013, Hansard #5 of the 41st Parliament, 2nd Session

On October 22, 2013 Canada’s current federal government tabled a draft First Nations Education Act. Written after only cursory consultation with indigenous stakeholders, the draft has been published to get feedback, but to many observers it seems unlikely that any substantive changes will be made before it passes through Parliament.

Image © Bibioarchives/LibraryArchives

Lessons not learned

The federal government of Canada* has been in control of Aboriginal education since the first Residential Schools were opened in the 1880s. In all that time, outcomes for native students have remained abysmally low in comparison to the general population. Yesterday’s mortality rate of up to 50% in the Residential Schools have been replaced today with a matching drop-out rate.

Despite some movement towards First Nations control over education in the last forty years, funding has lagged woefully behind provincially run schools. This gap has been repeatedly identified as a major factor in the poor outcomes we see among First Nations students. The draft Act does not address how to set funding levels on par with provincial schools.

Image © Boursier Sauvé Scholars


Autonomous and community-focused

There are a number of First Nation schools throughout the country that are very successful; the Kahnawake Survival School, the Mi’kmaw Kina’matnewey schools and so many more. What these schools all have in common, is that they are self-governing, and have a strong focus on indigenous language and culture; key elements that have been repeatedly recommended as vital foundations for a meaningful system of education.

Instead of building from these successes, the draft bill replicates some of the worst parts of the existing system, including threatening ‘failing’ schools with loss of local control in favour of third party management. When most First Nations schools are failing, as Minister Valcourt acknowledges, this approach seems like a recipe for disaster.

Collaborative success

The best system would be one designed and implemented in coordination with indigenous communities, provincial education authorities and the federal government. In this way, we could be assured of the relevance of design and delivery within our communities, while also ensuring easy transference of credentials into provincial schools if necessary, as well as into post-secondary institutions. I feel this upcoming Act is a very discouraging step backwards, and virtually guarantees that education reform in our communities can only happen through extensive volunteer effort in the years to come.

Chelsea Vowel is Métis from the Plains Cree speaking community of Lac Ste. Anne, Alberta. She currently lives in Montreal, Quebec. Her passions are: education, Aboriginal law, the Cree language, and roller derby. She holds a BEd, an LLB and teaches indigenous youth.

*Education in Canada is typically under provincial jurisdiction. Aboriginal education delivered on reserve is under the jurisdiction the Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada, a department of Canada’s federal government.