People who have worked to create a successful on-reserve school near North Bay say the federal government's plan for First Nations education won't bring the results it’s looking for.

The proposed plan to improve on-reserve education and graduation rates has drawn criticism and public protest in recent weeks.

The new act would see the feds create and enforce standards for on reserve schools and give officials the power to take schools over if they don't meet expectations.

Nipissing First Nation Education Director Fran Couchie said it's an approach poisoned by history.

“I don't know how many times the government has to go through this and see that top down doesn't work,” she said. “[Look at] residential schools … [as a] prime example.”

Couchie says Nipissing First Nation is continuing self-government negotiations with Ottawa, something she said could eventually exempt the reserve from the new First Nations Education Act.

Funding details needed

Teacher Muriel Sawyer has seen a lot of changes in education during the 40 years she has been teaching Ojibway —  first in a Catholic school, and now at Nbisiing Secondary, an on-reserve school in Nipissing.

The school has about 90 students — and a graduation rate on par with, or slightly above, the provincial average.

“That uniqueness of our culture and language comes through, which then leads to fostering self-esteem, self-identity and the self-worth that so many hundreds of years before robbed our communities and our children,” she said

Ottawa now says there is some wiggle room on its plan for First Nations Education.

In an open letter to to the Assembly of First Nations, Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt said he is willing to negotiate improvements to the First Nations Education Act.

The draft legislation was panned by Aboriginal leaders when it was introduced last month — in part because it does not lay out how the system will be funded.

Fran Couchie said it's a key detail.

“You know they said we will implement this system and then we will talk about funding. I would like to ask any school board in Ontario whether they'd assume running a school system without some guarantee of what the funding is going to look like,” she said.

Couchie added she doesn't understand why the proposed legislation would set federal education standards for on-reserve schools, as Nbisiing Secondary already meets provincial education standards.

“Here with our secondary school, we do work with the ministry to ensure our curriculum is meeting the needs to grant credits and graduation diplomas that are on par with what the provincial system is doing,” she said.

“We want our kids to be able to go on and be successful [in] whatever they choose to do.”