First Nations seek equal funding

By Gaven Crites

If funding is any indication, the federal government is asking First Nations educators to do more with less.
A report commissioned by the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations (FSIN) released in late March indicates federally funded, on-reserve schools receive 40 to 50 per cent less money than provincial schools. The report’s authors compared the funding formulas between on-reserve schools and school boards in the North Battleford area. Included in the report was the Living Sky School Division and the 10 schools part of the Northwest Nations Education Council, which is funded by the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development.
Where Living Sky receives $688 per pupil for items such as books and computers, schools in the NNEC receive less than $50 per pupil.
Judy Okanee, director of education at the Meadow Lake Tribal Council, said these numbers more than likely match those of schools in the Northwest.
“It would be pretty much similar across the board,” she said.
Like the authors of the report, Okanee points out this disparity has been well researched and documented.
On April 15, the FSIN released its final report of the Joint Task Force on Improving Education and Employment Outcomes for First Nations and Métis People. In “Voice, Vision and Leadership: a Place for All,” the authors recommend the province, FSIN and First Nations education authorities examine the discrepancy in education funding.
“Following this examination, it is recommended the province and First Nations authorities jointly engage the federal government to resolve any funding disparities and, if necessary, seek mediation,” the report states.
Okanee added the per pupil breakdown between on-reserve students and their provincial counterparts was especially dramatic.
“The discrepancy there is quite big,” she said. “The numbers speak for themselves.”
Jason MacDonald, of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada, said the government believes it funds on a comparable level to the provinces, but agrees the system needs fixing.
“That is why we have committed to having in place by 2014 an education act that will ensure education systems on reserve are stronger, more accountable and lead to more students graduating,” MacDonald said. “We have also committed to exploring mechanisms to help ensure stable, predictable and sustainable funding for First Nation schools on reserve.”
Okanee wants to know exactly what the government means when it says “stable” funding and says their funding should at least match their provincial counterparts.
“Maybe not even equal (funding), but more than, because we’re facing more barriers than most and we’ve never received more dollars per child,” she added.
FSIN vice-chief Simon Bird said if First Nations and non-First Nations groups and political organizations all put the same pressure on the federal government, they would all stand to benefit.
Okanee hopes the report will make a difference, but remains uncertain.
“I’ve been in this business for 40 years and it gets to be, ‘Here we go again.’”

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