Issues have continued to rise between the Canadian government and the First Nations Assembly (AFN) as they work towards creating an Education Act expected to pass in September, 2014. The act is aimed towards improving education for First Nations youth.
The Canadian government claims improving education is a “shared priority” with the First Nations community and has recognized that research shows the dismal outlook for First Nations youth.
“A proposed First Nation Education Act would provide a framework for achieving better outcomes for students through reform by: creating standards and structures; strengthening governance and accountability; and providing mechanisms for stable, predictable and sustainable funding,” reads a document from Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada.
Data from the AFN shows that the high school graduation rate is 36 per cent in First Nations communities, in comparison to 72 per cent in Canada as a whole. According to this data, First Nations youth are more likely to end up in jail than graduate high school.
Frustration in the First Nations community brought mass media attention to the failure of the education system last year, despite the long-term history of the problem.
“The proposed approach would permit the same degree of local flexibility that currently exists throughout provincial systems. First Nations would be able to develop and tailor curriculum materials – in support of better student outcomes, including improved graduation rates,” stated Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada.
Morley Googoo, the AFN regional chief for Nova Scotia-Newfoundland and Labrador, is the spokesperson for the organization’s education portfolio. Googoo states that the government is not engaging them properly, and raises issues with the system designed for them, rather than by them.
“They’re going to take seven consultation sessions and say, ‘we’ve consulted,’ and draft the legislation and send it out like they promised, but with no guarantees changes will be made, and tell Canadians, ‘What more can we do? We talked to them and gave them a draft. Now this is what we think is best for them, so we’re going to pass this, because they can’t make up their minds,’” said Googoo.
According to Googoo, First Nations are concerned that the government will not take into account cultural needs such as language. Concerns stem from their perceived lack of control over the education system and some First Nations leaders argue that the one-size-fits-all approach the government is currently using is failing.
Ontario Regional Chief Stan Beardy says he is also not pleased with the process, claiming it is inherently disrespectful and restricting.
“They will not address the discriminatory funding gap that exists and it is clear that the outcomes have been predetermined.”
First Nations youth gathered in Thunder Bay on Mar. 25 to discuss the multitude of issues facing them in regards to education, culture, and suicide prevention plans.
Youth in First Nations communities are at a high risk for drug and alcohol abuse and suicide. Many live without proper access to nutritious foods, drinking water, health care, or suitable housing. The goal of youth has been to take matters into their own hands by presenting the government and First Nations leaders with possible solutions and plans by youth, for youth.
Kathryn Morris, a youth leader with the Office of the Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth, told the CBC that young First Nations people are committed to creating change and building a better future.
“We realize that we need to find action-based solutions that will lead to meaningful programs and supports at the root level to meet the needs of First Nations children and youth.”
The event involved more than 90 Northern Ontario First Nations people who gathered to share their stories and experiences. Included were workshops where many of the young people discussed losing family and friends to suicide and drug and alcohol addiction. They discussed dreams of access to schools and playgrounds.
“We are stronger together and the forum gives us a chance to play a role in building a better future for our communities and to make them safer, stronger and healthier places for children and youth,” said Morris.
The event concluded with presentations to dignitaries, both government officials and First Nations leaders, discussing their commitment to finding a solution and creating change. Their hope is to get the government on board with them and lend a helping hand.
First Nations communities were invited to share in the consultation process for the First Nations Education Act by submitting responses on the act’s website. According to Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt’s spokesperson, hundreds of responses have already accumulated.
“Our Government has made improving First Nations education a priority. We all agree that the current system is not working.”