Truth and Reconciliation progress on education calls to action

·9 min read

Many Indigenous people in Canada raised on a reserve have not received the proper education required to obtain and maintain employment in mainstream society and have been condemned by many for this.

This condemnation, created by the misleading and often untrue lessons taught at mainstream schools, and spoken around kitchen tables, is part of the legacy of the residential school system and the ‘Indian Act.’

One of many misconceptions about Indigenous people is that they get a “free secondary education.” This is not true.

Many Indigenous people lost their rights, their identity as First Nations people if they left the reserve and attended university, among other reasons, like an Indigenous woman marrying a white man.

In 1887, Canada’s first prime minister, John A. Macdonald, said, “The great aim of our legislation has been to do away with the tribal system and assimilate the Indian people in all respects with the other inhabitants of the Dominion as speedily as they are fit to change.”

The Indian Act states the following: “Enfranchisement of any First Nation admitted to university (1880 amendment) 99.(1) Any Indian who may be admitted to the degree of Doctor of Medicine, or to any other degree by any University of Learning, or who may be admitted in any Province of the Dominion to practise law either as an Advocate or as a Barrister or Counsellor, or Solicitor or Attorney or to be a Notary Public, or who may enter Holy Orders, or who may be licensed by any denomination of Christians as a Minister of the Gospel, may upon petition to the Superintendent-General, ipso facto become and be enfranchised under the provisions of this Act; and the Superintendent-General may give him a suitable allotment of land from the lands belonging to the band of which he is a member.”

Agreements between the Crown and Aboriginal Peoples existed before Confederation and the British North America (BNA) Act. Aspects of the agreements are written down in the Royal Proclamation of 1763 and treaties.

The BNA Act stated that the federal government had jurisdiction over “Indians and Lands reserved for Indians.” However, there was no explicit mention of Inuit or Métis in the BNA Act, as Canada’s territory at the time was much smaller and did not include the west or the north.

As Canada grew after Confederation, relationships between the Crown and First Nations, Inuit, and Métis were negotiated and governed through treaties, the 1876 Indian Act, land claims, and other laws and policies. But there was no national constitutional acknowledgement of Aboriginal and Treaty Rights until the Constitution Act, 1982.

The 94 calls to action include seven calls specifically towards Indigenous Education. Call number six was so extensive it was covered alone in a previous article published in the Aug. 19 issue of the Wingham Advance Times.We pick up where we left off:

7. We call upon the federal government to develop with Aboriginal groups a joint strategy to eliminate educational and employment gaps between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Canadians.

The Indigenous Watchdog reported that on Apr. 1, 2019, Indigenous Services Canada (ICS) began implementing their new approach to funding Indigenous elementary and post-secondary education using formula-based regional models comparable to provincial funding models. The distinctions-based approach is designed to address the unique needs of each Indigenous group to decrease the gaps in education and ultimately in employment.

The government response also details the newly revised (and renamed) Aboriginal Skills and Employment Training Program.

The Government of Canada provided the following information in response to call to action number seven:

“Budget 2016 provided new investments in primary and secondary education on reserve, totaling $2.6 billion over five years. This includes funding to address immediate pressures and keep pace with rising costs in the medium term and provide for additional investments in literacy and numeracy programs and special needs education.

“Building on this investment, on April 1, 2019, Indigenous Services Canada began implementing a new approach to First Nations elementary and secondary education, co-developed with First Nations education leaders and experts from across the country. This approach includes new formula-based regional models for First Nations education that will ensure that students attending First Nations schools are supported by predictable and sustained base funding that is more directly comparable to what students enrolled in provincial systems receive. On top of this base funding, this new approach will provide additional funding to on-reserve schools for language and culture programming and full-time kindergarten for children aged 4 and 5.

“Budget 2016 invested $969.4 million over five years to construct, repair, and maintain First Nations education facilities. Concerning post-secondary education, Budget 2016 provided $1.53 billion over five years to increase amounts of the Canada Student Grants and $329 million per year after that. Budget 2016 also announced that funding provided by the Post-Secondary Student Support Program would no longer impact eligibility for the Canada Student Loans Program’s non-repayable grants and loans support. As a result, Indigenous students can access both student funding programs as long as they meet eligibility criteria. This measure will increase non-repayable Canada Student Grants and Canada Student Loans that Indigenous students may receive.

“Budget 2017 provided:

$90 million over two years, beginning in 2017 to 2018, for the Post-Secondary Student Support Program.

$100 million for the First Nations and Inuit Youth Employment Strategy Skills Link and Summer Work Experience program.

$5 million per year for five years, starting in the fiscal year 2017 to 2018, for Indspire, a national Indigenous-led registered charity that invests in the education of Indigenous peoples, conditional on Indspire raising $3 million per year in matching funds from the private sector.

“The Government of Canada undertook a comprehensive and collaborative review with Indigenous partners of all current federal programs that support Indigenous students who wish to pursue post-secondary education. The purpose of the review is to ensure that these programs provide Indigenous students with the resources and support they need to attend and complete post-secondary studies.

“Building on this engagement, Budget 2019 announced $815 million over ten years, starting in the fiscal year 2019 to 2020, and $61.8 million ongoing in support of Indigenous post-secondary education. This includes:

- $327.5 million over five years to support First Nations post-secondary students and develop regional education strategies.

- $125.5 million over ten years and $21.8 million ongoing to support an Inuit-led post-secondary strategy.

- $362.0 million over ten years and $40 million ongoing to support a Métis-Nation strategy.

“Budgets 2016 and 2017 committed to renewing and expanding the Aboriginal Skills and Employment Training Strategy beyond March 31, 2018. Budget 2018 announced $2 billion over five years and $408.2 million per year ongoing to support creating a new Indigenous Skills and Employment Training Program, which will replace the Aboriginal Skills and Employment Training Strategy. The extensive engagement took place with Indigenous partners in 2016 and 2017 to develop a proposal for future labour market programming. In addition, the Government of Canada has consulted with, and heard from, Indigenous partners on the importance of a distinctions-based approach that recognizes the unique needs of the First Nations, Inuit, and the Métis Nation. To that end, the new program will provide:

- $1.1 billion over five years and $235.7 million per year ongoing for a First Nations stream.

- $325 million over five years and $67 million per year ongoing for a Métis Nation stream.

- $161.2 million over five years and $32.6 million per year ongoing for an Inuit stream.

- $213.4 million over five years and $45.2 million per year ongoing for an urban or non-affiliated stream.

“Work with First Nations, Inuit and Métis organizations and service providers to ensure all Indigenous people have access to the skills development and employment training they need to fully participate in the Canadian economy will continue.”

8. We call upon the federal government to eliminate the discrepancy in federal education funding for First Nations children being educated on reserves and those First Nations children being educated off reserves.

Indigenous Watchdog: In three updates dating back to March 2018, there is still no mention of funding for off-reserve education. On Jan. 21Jan. 21, 2019, the government of Canada and the Association of First Nations announced a new policy and funding approach for First Nations kindergaten to Grade 12 education on reserve to take effect as of April 1, 2019.

Canadian Government: To help address the education attainment gap, the Government of Canada has made significant investments, totaling $2.6 billion over five years for primary and secondary education on reserve. This includes funding to address immediate needs and keep pace with cost growth over the medium term and investments in language and cultural programming, literacy, and numeracy.

The Government of Canada has worked closely with various First Nations partners to implement an inclusive and comprehensive engagement process on First Nations kindergarten to Grade 12 education on reserve, including investing $3.6 million to support community-level discussions. First Nations organizations led the engagements. They provided community members with the opportunity to share their views on how to improve First Nations student success.

On Jan. 21, 2019, a new co-developed policy and improved funding approach to better support the needs of First Nations students on-reserve was announced. As of Apr. 1, 2019, the new funding approach:

- replaces outdated proposal-based programs with improved access to predictable core funding.

- ensures base funding is comparable to provincial systems across the country while working towards additional funding agreements based on the need to better account for factors such as remoteness, school size, language, and socio-economic conditions.

- provides First Nations schools with $1,500 per student per year to support language and culture programming.

- provides new resources which will support full-time kindergarten in every First Nations school for children aged 4 and 5, and

- ensures special education funding is more predictable, with fewer application-based requirements.

The Truth and Reconciliation series will continue with the remainder of the calls to action around education in a following article.

Cory Bilyea, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Wingham Advance Times

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