A historic, $1.1-billion agreement with the federal government to provide better funding to Onkwehón:we schools in Quebec is already resonating in Kanesatake.
Although it was signed on July 14, smack in the middle of summer holiday, the Kanesatake Education Center (KEC) had already hired new employees in anticipation of the funding, and more improvements to local education are on the horizon.
“There’s nothing but positive that’s going to come out of this increased funding, this new agreement for the community,” said Scott Traylen, director of KEC.
According to Traylen, the funding has come at a key time for Kanesatake schools as students find their footing after a year-and-a-half of pandemic-related disruptions.
“There are a number of students who struggled mightily during the pandemic,” said Traylen. He is particularly concerned about those making the transition to high school.
“A number of students from the middle of grade 5 till the end of grade 6 were sporadically in school, out of school, online, and the effect was profound for some, especially the students who have learning difficulties and special needs,” he said.
KEC has already put in place a resource teacher at Ratihén:te High School and a literary specialist and early intervention worker at the elementary school thanks to the new funding.
Despite limitations in the curriculum, the centre also plans to boost culturally relevant educational programming.
“We try to do our best to draw parallels throughout different curricula to the history, to the Native ways, in various courses - English, sciences, social studies. This will give us the latitude to do more - much more,” he said.
The increased funding will provide money to bring in more elders, for example, and to augment lunch-hour and after-school programming.
“I really think there’s a lot more good coming out of this. It will be after further discussions with the portfolio chiefs, our teachers, and our admin teams at both schools, and parents as well,” said Traylen.
“We want to make sure the services we increase are those areas where there’s a strong consensus that’s where the need is.”
Kathie Bonspille, whose youngest just graduated from high school, believes there is room for improvement at Kanesatake schools.
“Bullying is not dealt with, even though there’s zero tolerance, and I also find when there’s a mental health problem, it’s not taken seriously,” she said.
On the academic front, she said her daughter told her the school needs better resources for robotics and STEM education, meaning science, technology, engineering, and math. Bonspille also believes programs such as music could help nurture hidden talents in the community.
“If they (will) have all these options for the kids now it’s great, but I wish they were available when my kids were there,” she said.
While neither Traylen nor Mohawk Council of Kanesatake (MCK) chief Valerie Bonspille were able to provide a dollar figure at this time, they agree on the significance of the accord.
“It’s going to allow us to take control back of our education, which we haven’t had in a long time,” said Valerie, whose portfolios include education.
“We were held back, we were dictated to, and now signing this agreement, it opens the doors for a lot of First Nations students to pursue the full education that they’re wanting,” she said.
Kanesatake is one of 22 First Nations communities in Quebec that signed the agreement. It was negotiated between the First Nations Education Council (FNEC) and Indigenous Services Canada (ISC) and represents an increase of about $311 million over five years.
Marcus Bankuti, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Eastern Door