A historic education agreement announced Friday marked a major step forward in advancing educational self-determination for First Nations in Québec.
The agreement gives the First Nations Education Council (FNEC), representing 22 First Nations in the province, control over the allocation of school funding for First Nations.
It comes with a $310.6-million boost in addition to the approximately $790 million going to First Nations education through existing education funding streams, according to the press release.
From 1996 to 2016, there was a two per cent annual cap on First Nation budgets across Canada.
The negotiations that led to the FNEC assuming control over school financing predates a 2016 announcement by the Liberals promising to lift the two per cent cap and allocate more money to First Nations budgets, including for education. The cap was still in effect for First Nations in Québec as late as March 2022, says Éric Cardinal, a communications representative for FNEC.
Going forward, First Nations in Québec will operate a needs-based funding approach for each community named in the FNEC agreement.
This new model was designed by and for First Nations members of the FNEC, according to the press release.
The member First Nations, including Kitigan Zibi, across Québec will use the additional money to develop culturally appropriate curriculum, improve school transportation, and recruit and retain more than 600 teachers and specialized resources like technology.
“The [FNEC deal] is a significant step toward ascertaining First Nations control of First Nations education for the  First Nations members of the First Nations Education Council,” John Martin, chief of Gesgapegiag and the chief responsible for education, said in the press release.
The agreement was signed on Kahnawà:ke Mohawk Territory with the grand chiefs, chiefs of the First Nations Education Council, and Indigenous Services Minister Patty Hajdu on hand.
“This agreement will provide Kahnawà:ke with the funding and assistance required for the next five years to ensure our children and young adults get an education that embodies our roots, language, and culture,” Kahsennénhawe Sky-Deer, Kahnawà:ke grand chief, said in the press release.
The funding will stretch over five years for communities to support the academics of First Nations students, from kindergarten to Grade 12 based on community-centred models, priorities and realities of each nation.
Communities will have their own vision of the curriculum, reflecting the diversity of First Nations in the province that include Algonquin, Innu, Cree, Wendat, Mohawk, and more.
“There is no one to tell our chiefs and councils what to do in their own community. They have taken charge by signing the agreement,” Denis Gros-Louis, director-general of the First Nation Education Council, told Canada’s National Observer.
Cultural practices will be at the core of each community's curriculum development, Gros-Louis says. The goal is for First Nations youth to learn their languages by learning in the bush with their community on top of being taught abstract concepts in the classrooms.
“We’re saying we want to decolonize the way we are teaching,” Gros-Louis says. “We don’t want our youth to be in the classrooms all the time.”
The FNEC will continue to advocate for barriers in the catchment area, so that off-reserve and urban First Nation youth can return to their home communities to learn their own culture and language, Gros-Louis says.
“We would like to have Canada to look at education from a holistic point of view instead of an 1867 point of view,” he says.
Matteo Cimellaro, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Canada's National Observer