By Jennifer O'Brien, The London Free Press
Native kids born today are going to have “a hell of a lot better chance,” to graduate university than their elders, thanks to a newly signed deal on education, an area First Nations chief says.
It won’t happen overnight, but in coming years, the First Nations Control of First Nations Education Act will keep good teachers on reserves and provide money for the right resources for aboriginal kids.
“This is huge,” said Chief Joe Miskokomon of the Chippewas of the Thames First Nation, southwest of London.
“We can raise the salary dollars for teachers, so we don’t have that revolving-door effect where they are coming and going all the time,” he said.
“We’ll have money to build a centre of excellence and create curriculum that will put culture and language in the classroom that is reflective of the children’s background and culture.”
Most important, says Miskokomon — who was instrumental in helping pave the way for the deal through resolutions created at a meeting last December — is that First Nations will decide how education will be delivered on reserves.
First Nations have long complained about federal involvement and oversight that they say has made all aspects of native education more difficult, from funding to curriculum.
Since 1996, the federal government — which provides funding for on-reserve education from kindergarten to Grade 8 — has held a 2% annual cap on funding. That has meant that on-reserve schools receive about half the per-student funding that off-reserve schools receive.
Those under-funded schools lack the resources for adequate supplies and up-to-date tools. Nor can they afford to pay teachers a rate similar to those who work for provincially funded boards.
The new deal, to be tabled Tuesday, includes $1.25 billion in funding to be distributed over three years starting in 2016 and a separate $700 million for infrastructure over seven years.
Though the announcement was delivered with great celebration, and many chiefs and government representatives were hailing it as a “new era,” it didn’t sit well with everyone.
The $1.95 billion for First Nations education “still falls short of the per student funding levels of provincial schools,” tweeted Geoff Stonefish of the Association for Iroquois and Allied Indians.
Asked to elaborate, he claimed the 2% cap has created a cumulative shortfall of $3 billion since 1996. “New $ won’t cover this deficit,” he tweeted.
But Miskokomon said it’s a good start.
“Maybe it’s not enough, but at the same time it’s a hell of a lot more than we had on Wednesday,” he said. “It’s incumbent upon us to make the best of us, not to be continual complainers.”
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Change is good
- About 8% of aboriginal people aged 25-64 in Canada have a university degree.
- 23% of non-aboriginals in the same age group have a degree.
- More than one-third of aboriginals have not completed high school.