First Nations schools seek promised federal dollars

by Sabine Gibbins

When is the money coming?

That is the question Judy Okanee, director of education for the Meadow Lake Tribal Council (MLTC), has for the federal government when it comes to funding.

First Nations schools in the Northwest have been eagerly anticipating the arrival of federal dollars so they can determine – depending on regulations – where it’s most needed.

Earlier this year, Prime Minister Stephen Harper promised $275 million to be directed over the next three years for First Nations schools across Canada. This money included $100 million to provide early literacy programming and related supports, as well as services to reserve schools and students.

The remaining $175 million was earmarked to help build and renovate schools on reserves, in order to provide students with a better learning environment.

Kopahawakenum Elementary School at Flying Dust First Nation is one of a handful of schools in the Northwest still awaiting its money.

“We need money for our school’s operation and maintenance,” Okanee explained. “We’ve been waiting since the announcement in April to determine what we can do with the money. They’re dividing it between the 69 First Nations in Saskatchewan alone. I’m not saying that we are the only ones who need the money, but any extra amount does help.”

The other reason they are eagerly awaiting the funding, she added, is to see how much could be allotted to teachers.

“It’s not fair to the teachers,” she said.

The school would also love to see the funds be directed toward early literacy.

When one looks at the bigger picture, Okanee added, the funding is important for the education of a child.

Okanee also said there is quite a huge disparity between funding regulations between the provincial and federal governments, especially considering provincial schools receive more than $10,000 per student in funding, she said, opposed to about $6,400 per student who attend First Nations schools.

“If it were your child, wouldn’t you want the same equality?” Okanee said.

Parent Tina Maurice agrees.

“Our children deserve the best education possible, as all other children do in our country,” she said. “The government needs to know these funds are important to their livelihood and well-being.”

For his part, Desnethé–Missinippi–Churchill River MP Rob Clarke said he understands the frustration coming from the First Nations communities.

However, he said although the funding has been announced, there is a timeline and process to follow when it comes to delivering the money. While he isn’t sure when the funds would actually be coming to Flying Dust, Clarke said the school can be rest assured it is on its way.First Nations across Canada, he said, are provided with $1.5 billion per year.

“The government is committed to providing education for First Nations students on reserves,” he said. “That’s why we have had 33 new schools built. That’s why we are investing.”

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