The Innu Nation and its joint education body have filed a complaint with the Canadian Human Rights Commission, alleging that funding for education of Innu children in Labrador is inadequate.
In a statement, the Sheshatshiu Innu First Nation, the Mushuau Innu First Nation and Mamu Tshishkutamashutau Innu Education (MTIE) assert that the funding for schools in Sheshatshiu and Natuashish "does not reflect the reality of delivering education in remote and semi-remote Innu communities in Labrador."
The groups say Canada's funding model is based on an adapted application of provincial funding formulas, relying on provincial averages which are driven largely by urban funding costs, which does not take their communities into consideration.
Kanani Davis, chief executive officer of MTIE, claims the organizations have been in funding talks with the federal government for quite some time, long before a complaint was filed.
"We need to really get this moving, and [this is] how we get the government to listen to us," said Davis. "It has been years that we have been talking about this, and it just feels like a very, very slow process."
According to Davis, there are a couple of key issues at the core of the complaint.
First, MTIE claims that the government's provincial funding formula does not take into account the higher cost of living in remote areas, including the coastal community of Natuashish. Davis said that with a fly-in community, the cost of travel, accommodations and shipping are more expensive than in southern Canada.
Further, she said the government has provided less funding than provincial school boards.
"We are our own school board. We're basically taking money from the administration fund," said Davis, adding that there is no separate funding for a school board outside of the core funding they receive from the federal government.
"Right now, the federal government is only looking at two official languages, French and English. But what about Indigenous languages? So, where do we fall in that?" said Davis.
The issues revolving around the funding of Innu schools are hardly new.
Recommendations in a 2021 Innu Nation human rights report included funding to a level that would produce comparable outcomes with provincially funded schools.
At the time the report was released, Mary Ann Nui, deputy grand chief of Innu Nation, said the gaps and challenges outlined were the same that she, her parents and even her grandparents had lived with.
The report was the third of its kind, following an original statement in 1993, and another in 2002.
MTIE said an additional $7.5-million in funding is required, which Davis says would go toward the hiring of specialists to improve the overall curriculum. This would include adding land-based training and learning, along with resources to assist those with special needs in the community.
While the organizations have yet to receive a response, Davis hopes officials will do more than before.
"I hope they listen to the Innu people when it comes to the needs that we have in both schools, in both communities," said Davis.
"I really hope they listen and work with us. They always say they're going to work with us. It's just a very, very slow process. I don't know what it is."