I do not view what is wrong with Aboriginal education as primarily due to a lack of federal government funding as recommended in the most recent report: “Nurturing the living spirit of First Nations students.” As this Windsor Star editorial states:
“The chair of the three-member panel, Scott Haldane, president of YMCA Canada, said currently First Nations education operates in a ‘patchwork,’ which suffers due to a lack of stable, predictable funding from government.”
Well, to me “patchwork” does not suggest not enough money. Rather, it suggests that money is not allocated correctly, consistently or at all. For example, how is it possible that the Six Nations Grand River Reserve (at Ohsweken near Brantford, Ontario), can provide the Polytechnic, a multi-faceted organization that offers a wide range of educational opportunities for its people –if it were not a priority to that Reserve’s leadership?
Yes, the Six Nations Reserve is in Southern Ontario, but consortiums could be set up in some Northern areas as well –as long as the geography can provide a future, whether it is a future using traditional skills or otherwise. Meaning, while it is not politically correct to say so, whether an area is inhabited by Natives or non-Natives, if there is no future, if the area is a ghetto, people should move as they have done throughout history.
On the issue of setting priorities and following the money, John Ivison writes (H/T # 4 at JNW):
“The federal government became simply a funding agent and, as the Auditor-General discovered, there were never any guarantees that the money earmarked for education ever reached the schools, once it was passed to the band chief and council (in fact, witnesses before the panel said, oftimes it does not).”
Ivison also writes that:
“This is the situation the Harper government asked Mr. Haldane and his two co-panellists to examine. They found, with some exceptions, that there is no regular reporting on how students are faring; there is no dispensation for kids who fall behind; no early literacy programs; no way to certify, discipline or regulate teachers; and no system to monitor attendance. At least 100 of the schools were judged to be unsafe learning environments.”[My highlighting.]
No regular student progress reporting? No accommodations for kids who fall behind? No early literacy programs? No system to monitor student attendance? No way to certify or regulate teachers? Sorry, but a patchwork of funding does not begin to explain why there are those kinds of problems. However, what does explain those problems is a lack of funding, no not from the federal government, but from the leadership of the Reserves who decide how to spend the funding they receive.
However, as I mentioned at the start of this post, there are some excellent Aboriginal education programs available on some reserves, which begs the question: How is it that the leadership of some Native Bands, like the Six Nations Grand River Reserve can make education a priority, while others don’t?
For example, the Polytechnic offers literacy programs and a diploma access program (for those who haven’t completed their high school credits), as well as, in conjunction with five universities, teacher training, nursing training, EMS and even advanced medical training. Yes, I noticed that Imperial Oil sponsored the Six Nations high school diploma program, but all First Nations have access to government and other funding like that.
So, in my opinion then, while more money might help to improve First Nations education, significant reform will only happen when:
- Defenders of the status quo stop blaming the federal government for every problem;
- Aboriginals themselves recognize the importance and relevance of education and are willing to be accountable for the money they do or do not spend; and lastly
- First Nations communities become willing to relocate, temporarily or permanently (as done by their forefathers), to where there are opportunities to lead a successful and productive life.
The crux of the matter is then, that for education to improve in Canada’s First Nations communities, particularly the poorest communities, there needs to be an attitude change on the part of everyone from the leadership to parents and students. Chiefs and Band Councils need to provide all the money that is allocated for education and Aboriginal parents need to help their children understand why education is important.
Meaning, that without that kind of attitude change, no amount of money is going to make any difference.
- If there are other good news stories about educational programs within or extensions of, Aboriginal communities, just leave a link in a comment and I will add updates here.
- Remember, the comment feature is via the talking bubble at the top right side of this post.
- While it is not the topic of this post, the misuse of government funds seems to be a constant topic when it comes to government funding of First Nations education programs. For example, in the spring of 2010, funding was cut by the Government of Saskatchewan for the state-of-the-art First Nations University of Canada (FNUC) — which seems to indicate that an attitude change is definitely necessary if we are ever to get beyond the notion that funding for Aboriginal services will be misused.