First Nations Control of First Nations Education Act Good News or a Set-up for Failure?

January 27, 2014, West Hill United got an answer from the Ministry of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development to its Petition (see Two Row Times, Sept. 4, 2013, P. 5). While analysing it, we took time to delve into the First Nations Control of First Nations Education Act announced February 7th, 2014, in Calgary. 

West Hill is one of many non-Onkwehon:we and Onkwehon:we groups to protest the education funding gap for students on reserves. The Walpole Island Elementary school principal wrote in the Toronto Star, January 14, 2013, that $11,000 per student is spent on education in Ontario compared to $6,000 per student spent by the feds for reserve students.

The West Hill Petition demanded the 2% limit on yearly increases to Aboriginal Affairs core programs be lifted. The 2% cap has slowly strangled native communities since 1996. We called for increases for primary and secondary education, housing, potable water, child and family services, health and social programs and other basic needs to a level that attains equality between Onkwehon:we and non-Onkwehon:we people in Canada.

Naturally, we were glad to see the First Nations Control of First Nations Education Act purports to:

– give greater control over First Nations Education to First Nations; and
– lock in a new 4.5% yearly increase, ending the 2% cap.

When we saw that the increase is not to start until 2016-17, we were reminded of the Kelowna Accord. That was when a Liberal government promised to deal with the urgent needs on reserves. Once the Liberals were defeated, Harper cancelled it. The right of native children to an education equal to their peers in Canada should not depend on any government party being re-elected. Since Canada is a story of treaties broken and promises not kept, the time for words has run out. It’s time for action.

Here are key points from a Feb. 14 blog Behind the Numbers: Harper’s New Funding of First Nations Education Act sent by Judith Rae, a lawyer at Olthius, Kleer, and Townsend:

What’s promised: $500 million over 7 years for new school buildings, improvements, operations maintenance, etc. — about $71.4 million a year.

What’s needed: Parliamentary Budget Office reported five years ago (2009), First Nations’ schools needed $287-308 million per year in capital construction spending, plus $110 million for operations and maintenance – about $410 million a year

What’s promised: a 4.5% education funding “escalator”

What’s needed: at least 6.3% a year to keep pace

Why? The 2% cap never kept pace with inflation and the 29% growth in Onkwehon:we populations. Judith Rae concluded from reports by Statistics Canada and the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) that First Nations education core funding in real terms declined by 3-4% per year since 1996. 4.5% means falling further behind, not catching up.

What’s promised: $1.25 billion over 3 years in core funding or about $416.7 million per year for 3 years. Even if the $416.7 million per year is new funding added to existing core funding, it would not start for two years (2016-2017)

What’s needed:The National Panel on First Nations Education recommended not just an increase funding, but a new formula attuned to the actual needs.

Why? The panel saw such things as significantly lower pay for teachers and principals on reserves, a lack of equipment and supplies in libraries, shops, gymnasiums and technology, inadequate supports for special needs students, and school facilities and portable units in disrepair.

What is promised: Implementation Funding of $160M over four years, beginning in 2015-16. That’s $40 million a year or about $63,000 for each First Nation.

With $63,000 (!) per Nation (!), First Nations have to make new plans, write reports, and meet new standards the way a school board or a provincial education ministry does.

What is needed: Adequate resources to do this work!

A set-up for failure?

Without adequate resources to do the job, Rae wrote the “First Nations Control of First Nations Education Act” looks like a set-up for failure.

The First Nations Control of First Nations Education needs a lot more work!

Steve Watson (West Hill United First Nations Study Group)


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