News Release – Panel Hears More on Emerging Theme: Systemic Supports Key to Improving Quality of K – 12 Education and Increasing High School Graduation Rates
Innovative outreach and mentorship of on-reserve youth by universities and college another bright spot in visit to Manitoba
WINNIPEG, October 21, 2011 – First Nations leaders and education experts in Manitoba urged the National Panel on First Nation Elementary and Secondary Education to recommend First Nations-controlled second- and third-level organizations and services, similar to those provided for the benefit of public schools by local boards of education and provincial ministries of education. These First Nations education structures are essential for the delivery of quality educational programming, economies of scale, efficient management of resources, consistent evaluation and assessment and, ultimately, improved outcomes for First Nations learners, they said.
The need for enhanced and stable systemic supports was a key message to the Panel from Chief Ron Evans of the Norway Cree Nation and former Grand Chief of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs. “The current educational system, as it exists in most First Nations communities, is radically inequitable to mainstream education systems. The inequity is fundamentally systemic and not simply dependent upon a simple financial difference in available resources for programs, staff and facilities,” he said. “For example, Norway House Cree Nation is responsible for building and maintaining a solid education program with our own resources, with limited access to a sustaining organization that offers and delivers systemic leadership.”
In their presentation to the Panel, the Manitoba First Nations Education Resource Centre (MFNERC) highlighted that any second- and third-level governance models must reflect First Nations control of on-reserve schools. Authority for the broader First Nations education system organizations would be provided from First Nations who choose to opt in to the system approach to education. “Currently, funding for second- and third-level services largely comes from the federal department of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada’s (AANDC) grants and contributions process, which provides no long-term and predictable funding to ensure the sustainability for these vital organizations and their work,” said Mr. Lorne Keeper, Executive Director of MFNERC. “As well, the year-after-year proposal and reporting requirements for these funds are onerous and place a high burden on limited staff resources, something the Auditor General found in both her 2002 and 2011 reports to Parliament,” he said.
At the Panel’s roundtable in the on-reserve school of Fisher River Cree Nation, Ovide Mercredi, currently a councilor of Misipawistik Cree Nation (Grand Rapids) and former National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, highlighted key tenants for the Panel’s consideration regarding the possibility of recommending new legislation. Any legislation must respect inherent treaty rights, protect jurisdiction, enable the structures to support First Nations schools and enhance First Nations responsibility for education, he said. Councilor Mercredi also stressed the importance of finding a way forward that most First Nations people would support to pave the way for education controlled by First Nations.
At the roundtable, the Panel also heard that in addition to academic subjects like English, math and sciences, it is critical that First Nations students have traditional language immersion opportunities, similar to those enjoyed by children who benefit from French immersion programs.
The importance of First Nations children understanding their culture and history was highlighted by 13-year-old Kenzie Wilson, a Cree Nation student who spoke of her love of learning traditional ways of the land such as trapping and her goal of excelling academically to fulfill her ambition of becoming a fighter jet pilot. The need for contact with urban settings to help students graduating high school successfully transition to post-secondary education and training was also underscored.
While in Manitoba, the Panel also visited two First Nations on-reserve schools, in the communities of Opaskwayak Cree Nation and Pukatawagan. Here they heard from students who relayed incidents of racism and inequitable treatment in schools and parents who spoke of wanting their children to receive the same quality of education as other children in Canada.
Meetings were also held with leaders and faculty members at the University of Manitoba, Red River College and the University of Winnipeg. Innovative programs in the areas of outreach and mentoring, recruitment and retention, the teaching of science -- starting as early as kindergarten --, and faculty-specific indigenous activities in literacy, math and physical activity were some of the highlights shared by these post-secondary institutions.
“In Manitoba, the Panel heard heartbreaking testimony from students desperate for better schools and more positive learning experiences,” said Panel Chair Scott Haldane. “At the other extreme, we were most encouraged by innovative outreach and mentoring programs that are nurturing on-reserve children to have the motivation to complete high school and aspire to continue their education at the post-secondary level,” he continued.
“Investments in second- and third-level support systems, and mentorship programming like we saw at the Manitoba universities and college, are investments in Canadian society as a whole, as well as in First Nations communities. Do we want First Nations children who started kindergarten in 2011 to have high-quality, productive lives and be full participants in the labour force, or do we want them to continue the cycle of dependency on social and healthcare services and filling our prisons, as a disproportionate number of First Nations individuals do today?” commented Haldane.
“As we arrive at the half-way point of our engagement process, the Panel hears the desperation for change and is encouraged by the willingness of First Nations leaders, educators, parents and Elders to work in partnership with other governments and mainstream education authorities to achieve better outcomes for First Nations students,“ he concluded.
More than half of First Nations peoples are under age 25, and 350,000 are under 14. Fewer than half of First Nations students attending schools on- and off-reserve graduate from high school, compared to more than 80 per cent of other Canadian youth. Non-Aboriginal students are over 10 times more likely to obtain a university degree than on-reserve students. Employment levels for First Nations students who graduate university are virtually identical to other Canadians.
The Panel, a joint initiative of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada (AANDC) and the Assembly of First Nations, will deliver its recommendations to the federal minister and National Chief by year end.
For more information and to have your say in the development of recommendations to improve First Nation elementary and secondary education, please visit: www.firstnationeducation.ca. Follow the Panel’s activities on Twitter at Panel_Education.
For media inquiries please contact: Susan King: C: 613-725-5901; O: 613-744-8282; firstname.lastname@example.org