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First Nation education funding 'still does not provide equity'

Eleanor Bernard of Mi'kmaw Kina'matnewey says reserve teachers would still be paid less

CBC News

New federal funding for First Nation education isn't enough to pay on-reserve teachers at the same rate as provincial teachers, a Cape Breton Mi'kmaq leader says.

Eleanor Bernard is the executive director of the Mi'kmaw Kina'matnewey, a Membertou-based organization that provides education funding and advice to Mi'kmaqs. Mi'kmaw Kina'matnewey means "the whole process of learning."

She said the $1.25-billion deal would leave First Nations schools behind other Canadian schools.

The Harper government says it has designated $1.25 billion over three years for aboriginal schools across Canada beginning in 2016 — an amount that the prime minister pledged would increase by 4.5 per cent each year after. It will go to core education and infrastructure.

"It's over a three-year period and when you are talking nationally, it's not a lot of money. We're still not going to be able to pay our teachers provincial pay scales, still not going to be able to do a lot of programming," Bernard said.

"It still does not provide equity."

The plan requires education standards on reserves to be consistent with schools off reserves. Bernard said Nova Scotia First Nations schools already meet those standards for teachers and for students.

"We have an 87 per cent graduation rate, which is really good," she said. "Now we need to work on the improvements in literacy and numeracy."

She added that teaching Mi'kmaq was also a priority.

"Our language is suffering because we don't have funding tied specifically to improvements in language," she said.

Nova Scotia First Nations schools are not required to adopt the new plan; Bernard predicts many will not.

Bernard said it was at least a step in the right direction. Nova Scotia already has a self-governing agreement regarding First Nations education.

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