Friday, 16 May 2014

Rethinking aboriginal education may need more than Bill 33. The federal government should transfer aboriginal education to the provinces. Then the funding would be equitable.

Well educated aboriginal youth are the key to Canada's 
prosperity and the security of aboriginal culture.

A modest proposal for First Nation education.

by Tom Thorne

The Federal Government has jurisdiction over First Nation’s education. Over the years funding for this activity has remained at about 50 percent of the provincial funding per student compared with the rest of Canadians. This is clearly inequitable and unacceptable in contemporary Canada.

The federal government, allegedly  because of the resignation of Assembly of First Nations grand chief Shawn Atleo, is sitting on Bill 33 until the native organization or chiefs can decide what their views of this education legislation will finally be. In short any hope for improvement to native education controlled by the Federal Government is now in limbo. However this legislation only continues federal control of education funding to status native people. That needs to change.

Native Canadians are caught in the wiles and tortured history of the federal Indian Act. They retain even with this new Bill 33 a paternal relationship with the Federal Government that at this time is becoming untenable. The federal government through the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development retains funding control over status first nations education.

My modest proposal is straight forward. Since education is a provincial responsibility and native people have the franchise in both federal and provincial elections like all Canadians, it is a simple matter to transfer the responsibility for education to the provinces. That act would ensure that native students receive equitable funding per student. The federal government can transfer their funding to provincial ministries of education. Reserves could have their own school boards.

The truth is many native status people already access provincially funded educational services especially at the secondary and post secondary level. This change of jurisdiction from federal to provincial would mean that equitable funding for K-12 would be in place for all native students. Each provincial curricula could include useful course material about native history and issues. In some cases, such as Ontario, this has already happened.

Ultimately the history of the Indian Act and all other land settlements with First Nations creates a kind of apartheid in Canada. At some point all Canadians must share equitable access to services such as education and health. The special status either from treaties or from land claims with native people in this country is a hinderance to a long range view of equity for all Canadian citizens including aboriginal people.

In the future Canadians from all origins should share a common set of services from their federal and provincial governments. This does not mean that aboriginal people surrender their heritage and culture. It doesn't mean that they have to experience a melting pot. What it does mean is native Canadians get equal opportunity for education that is properly funded by the provinces.

Ultimately aboriginal Canadians must be seen as full Canadian citizens not wards of the state. This means that there will have to be a special effort to reach remote reserves with educational services that are equal in quality and funding to any other Canadian citizen's rights. Much could be done to enable this by skillful use of the Internet and other educational media to bring contemporary curricula to remote reserves.

The poverty found on remote reserves in this country is appalling. The biggest contributor to this poverty is the lack of meaningful education and the aggravated drop out rate of aboriginal teenagers who lose hope. 

Infrastructure issues such as good housing and water are simply unacceptable if students on these remote reserves are to really benefit from educational services. However education is always a weapon to break poverty cycles and it should now be delivered to status native people by each provincial education ministry not the federal government. 

© Copyright 2014, Tom Thorne, All Rights Reserved.

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