This article was initially published in Muskrat Magazine. Edited and republished with permission.
While the proposed First Nations education act is on hold, models of First Nations control of education are currently in action across the country, and have been for years.
1. Mi'kmaw Kina'matnewey — Sydney, N.S., with authority for 13 Mi’kmaw communities across Nova Scotia.
In 1999, the Mi’kmaw community won a legal battle for the rights of full management of the education of Mi’kmaw children, and the Mi’kmaw Kina’matnewey is the educational authority doing just that. Mi’kmaw Kina’matnewey has various programs, including the First Nation School Success Program (FNSSP).
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Thanks to FNSSP, Mi’kmaq language courses are offered in all high schools in Nova Scotia, both on- and off-reserve. In Eskasoni, Chief Allison Bernard Memorial High School will see its first generation graduate this year after completing junior high to high school in the Mi’kmaw immersion program.
'In the provincial system, we might have had nine or 10 graduate. In the first year of the Eskasoni school, we had 40 graduate.' - Eleanor Bernard
According to the executive director of Mi’kmaw Kina’matnewey, Eleanor Bernard, the graduation numbers have grown substantially since students moved out of the provincial system and into the Mi’kmaw Kina’matnewey system.
“In the provincial system we might have had nine or 10 graduate. In the first year of the Eskasoni school, we had 40 graduate," said Bernard
Overall, the First Nation high school student graduation rate in Nova Scotia has increased to 88 per cent, compared with the national average of 35 per cent. Last year, more than 500 First Nations students from Nova Scotia were enrolled in post-secondary institutions.
2. Chief Atahm School/ T'selcéwtqen Clleqmél'ten — Adams Lake band near Chase, B.C.
Established in 1991 as a Secwepemc language immersion school, this school has graduated hundreds of immersion students and holds an annual conference to share its resources and strategies with other communities.
3. Seven Generations Education Institute — Fort Frances, Kenora & Thunder Bay, Ont.
Ten bands got together in 1985 to form an educational authority to maintain traditional, cultural and linguistic values as well as improve the economic status of band members. The institute partners with colleges and universities and recently made Academia Group’s top 10 in indigenous education.
4. Onion Lake Cree Education System — Onion Lake, Treaty 6 Territory, Sask.
The Onion Lake Cree Education System was established in 1981, first at the elementary and secondary school levels, and then in 1984 at the post-secondary level as well. In addition to standard curriculum, the goal is to promote culture, the teaching of elders, knowledge of treaties and language.
5. The Kahnawake Education Centre — Kahnawake, Kanienke’ha:ka Territory, outside of Montreal.
Established in 1980 and gaining complete administrative control between 1983 and 1988 from the Department of Indian Affairs, the centre runs three community schools on reserve and extends services and tuition for many students at both elementary, secondary and post-secondary levels outside of Kahnawake.
Infamous White Paper served as a catalyst
Many of these examples were organized by indigenous communities following the 1969 "White Paper."
'First Nations leaders continue to assert that one of the most pressing issues for First Nations schools is lack of adequate funding levels, which are significantly less than in non-First Nations communities.' - J. DaCosta and R. Tabobondung
In 1969, Pierre Trudeau’s government released an extremely contentious document, the Statement of the Government of Canada on Indian Policy, also known as the infamous White Paper.
It was viewed by many as an attempt to assimilate indigenous people. The White Paper backfired and instead became the catalyst for a significant resistance movement from grassroots indigenous peoples.
In fact, the name of Bill C-33, “First Nations Control over First Nations Education,” is a direct reference to the critical 1972 report called "Indian Control of Indian Education." It was published by the National Indian Brotherhood, which later became the Assembly of First Nations.
However, the likeness of Bill C-33 to the original report stops abruptly at the name.
“Indian parents must have full responsibility and control of education," the 1972 report states in part.
"The federal government must adjust its policy and practices to make possible the full participation and partnership of Indian people in all decisions and activities connected with the education of Indian children."
Since that report was first published, First Nations across Turtle Island have developed and implemented community-controlled education models that reflect their cultural diversity, with language inclusion often at its core.
First Nations leaders continue to assert that one of the most pressing issues for First Nations schools is a lack of adequate funding levels, which are significantly less than in non-First Nations communities.