Wednesday, July 30, 2014
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Education system failing Canada’s First Nations

Opinion Editorial

“A mind is a terrible thing to waste.”

Right slogan, wrong country.

The advertising phrase that defined the 1970s push to fund the United Negro College Fund in the U.S. could just as well apply now to native education in Canada.

A mind is a terrible thing to waste. But so, too, is effort and taxpayer money that goes into education that’s often poorly provided or sandbagged by the nation’s highest dropout rates.

That’s the troubling equation the federal government and Canada’s First Nations must now face up to, after walking away – at least for now – from a major deal to improve native education.

Just three months ago, First Nations declared victory as Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced the new agreement both sides said signalled a “new era” in relations between the two. It included more First Nations control over the on-reserve system and a promised $1.25 billion over three years starting in 2016. Ottawa also pledged an additional $700 million over seven years, starting in 2015, for infrastructure.

Ottawa has now shelved the First Nations Control of First Nations Act, after Shawn Atleo resigned as national chief of the Assembly of First Nations. While Atleo was there in February to announce the deal, many First Nations leaders balked at linking the new funding to standards set by Ottawa.

The immediate losers are young aboriginals, the nation’s fastest-growing demographic, for whom education remains the best bet to escape the grinding poverty of the reserve system.

Reasonable Canadians get that people are entitled to some control over their local schools. That’s what school boards and elected trustees are all about.

But Canadians also understand schooling isn’t a democracy, that standards – of curriculum expectations, student achievement and spending accountability – must also be met. If not, the education systems of the provinces and territories would be a disorganized mess of public and separate schools, home-schoolers and charter schools.

With more than 600 First Nations in Canada, widespread agreement on any deal to improve aboriginal education is unlikely. That doesn’t mean it shouldn’t proceed.

Time – which is not batting for either side in this case – is also wasting away.

– Sun Media

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