Twenty-three Ontario Indigenous communities signed historic agreements with the federal and provincial governments today in Chippewas of Rama First Nation to solidify plans for an Anishinabek-led education system.
The accord is the largest self-governing document in Canada, and will allow Anishinabek communities to take control of education funding, and decide what is taught and how for on-reserve students between junior kindergarten and Grade 12.
"Our children's futures are at stake here," said Patrick Madahbee, Grand Council chief for the Anishinabek Nation.
"We want to ensure that for the development of our communities, that we have capacity at all levels of our kids getting the proper foundation and the proper education.
"One of the most important elements here that's missing in the non-First Nation process ... pride in our identity, pride in our culture and language, and pride in the fact that we are Anishinaabe people."
'Opportunity to turn things around'
The new agreements symbolize a new relationship in which students who live off reserve will be given more support to learn about their heritage, according to Anishinabek education negotiator Tracey O'Donnell, who helped create a new education authority for the First Nations.
The purpose of the self-governing education authority is to preserve the Anishinaabe culture, language, traditions and history, O'Donnell said.
It is also a way to rebuild what was lost during the residential school era.
"The legacy of the residential schools has left behind a history of harm to our communities, and even a fear sometimes of the education itself," O'Donnell said.
"We now have the opportunity to turn things around, and where the residential schools were about taking away our culture and language, we're going to use education now to rebuild."
'Ensure that the Anishinabek voice is clear, strong'
Chief Scott McLeod of Nipissing First Nation said he hopes to save the traditional language in his community of approximately 2,400, where the number of speakers has fallen to 36.
"It's very scary," McLeod said. "As a community, we've lost that language pretty quick since the implementation of the Indian Act."
The Anishinabek First Nation voted in favour of creating its own education authority, the Kinoomaadziwin Education Body, in 2016.
The new curriculum is expected to roll out by next spring, which is also when construction is anticipated for Kinoomaadziwin's head office in Nipissing.
"I think it's going to provide us some stability in understanding and knowing and planning where we are going to be located so that we can put a solid plan together moving forward," Kinoomaadziwin chair Debbie Mayer said.
"The significance of this Anishinabek education system is intended to ensure that the Anishinabek voice is clear, strong, and we're taking a stand towards the education of our students."