OHSWEKEN – Six Nations Elected Council received a report on education from Michel Burrowes from the Brantford office of Aboriginal Affairs Canada, and education consultant Michelle Sault on Monday at Council Chambers.
The gallery of the Council Chamber was filled with Six Nations educators and concerned parents curious about the findings from the report on federally managed schools at Six Nations.
Although polite, there were several criticisms of the report as well as the general lack of support for Six Nations educators and schools voiced from the full gallery.
According to the PowerPoint presentation, the goal of the review was to obtain up-to-date information on the six federally operated schools in Ontario to assess the schools’ performance and operations, which could be used to inform decision making around the schools.
Some of the information gathered in the report was troubling, to say the least, but not much was surprising to Six Nations residents, teachers, and parents.
Under the title, “Continuing need”, the report concluded that operation of federally operated schools remains relevant and requires continued investments for management and delivery of on-reserve education programming for elementary education for the approximately 1,100 First Nation children at Six Nations.
Admittedly, Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada, at least in Ontario, is not well suited to operate federal schools on reserve.
The report commended the staff and teachers at all Six Nations primary schools as being of high quality and having a low turnover rate, despite the slow responsiveness to their needs and few opportunities for professional development.
It was also pointed out that the transportation of young students with older students is seen as an issue and further it was found that bullying is common on the school buses at Six Nations.
The role of language and culture plays a critical role in the education of students at Six Nations and there is a big need to implement Haudenosaunee values more.
Compared to the provincial average, fewer students at federally managed schools on-reserve are achieving the desired outcomes in math, reading and writing. However, there is a marked improvement in outcomes from Grades 3-8 in all three categories.
While highlights from the study were expressed in the report, chronic problems like underfunding and disproportionate funding were brought to the attention of presenters from the gallery.
Claudine VanEvery-Albert who is a retired educator from Six Nations had many questions and recommendations for the presenters and would not allow the important issues facing Six Nations educators and students be swept under the bureaucratic rug.
She was not sure if the meeting accomplished the goal of moving Six Nations education ahead or not.
“The issues were brought back to the forefront and at least they are on the front burner now,” she commented following the meeting. “The real movement that needs to be made is whether of not we are going to be given a sufficient amount of money to deal with education properly.”
She told the presenters and those in attendance about figures that clearly show the lack of urgency when it comes to First Nations education.
“Six Nations receives $11 million a year for education while two French school boards with about the same number of elementary and secondary students as the Six Nations community receives much more. One gets $41.5 million and the other get $50,115.376.” VanEvery-Albert stated.
Consultant Michelle Sault, admitted after the meeting that she too is left wondering why this is the case.
“That is one of the major issues,” she told the Two Row Times. “It’s always the least amount. I’m an independent consultant, and I can’t rationalise it. I can’t wrap my head around it. It’s not unknown. In First Nations communities across the country education is one of the top priorities. It’s a complex issue for many reasons. But I can’t rationalise the lack of funding at all.”
One of the problems Sault saw after her research and consultation is that no one working on the federal schools file actually has a background in education. She also says that from her vantage point, “a critical link that is missing is a Superintendent with a background in education.”
For his part, Burrowes felt the meeting went well and now that the report has been delivered, his job is over and someone further up the chain of bureaucracy will have that information to process and implement, should they chose to.
“The purpose of today was to present what in essence is the final report on education,” he said. ”I am quite pleased that it was well received. I’m happy that it generated the conversation in the chamber that it did, to the extent that that conversation has restarted, with what I would consider to be reasonably objective information around money and facilities and outcomes.”