First Nations education funding should be boosted, leaders urge next federal government
Treaty 7 Education Conference speakers focus on funding gaps of schools
With the federal election just days away, First Nations leaders are calling on whatever party might form the next government to increase education funding on reserves across the country.
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Speakers at the annual Treaty 7 Education Conference in Calgary on Tuesday, with about 600 education workers attending, kept circling back to the upcoming vote on Oct. 19 and the disparity in aboriginal education funding.
"The main priorities are on education and economic development and we want to see a party that begins to take a lead role with us in regards to closing the gap on these issues," said Charles Weasel Head, chief of Alberta's Blood Tribe and grand chief of Treaty 7.
"We can't afford to lose another generation," he added.
Weasel Head said First Nations communities are "immensely interested in which party forms government." He used the recent Alberta election as an example of the growing numbers of First Nations people who voted, and encouraging turnout in advance polls for the federal election.
"The last few years we haven't seen many of our files moving forward, especially in the area of education.... I think at this point in time our people are looking for change."
'There's a huge fiscal imbalance'
Perry Bellegarde, national chief of the Assembly First Nations (AFN), reiterated the importance of First Nations people getting out to vote.
"If we're going to get rid of poverty, then there's no better way than a good education and right now there's a huge fiscal imbalance — a gap that needs to be closed."
Alberta's Education Minister David Eggen also referred to funding disparity between schools on and off reserves.
"Funding has not been adequate by the federal government for a long, long time," he said.
Eggen said the Alberta government is serious about making improvements and "putting our money where our mouth is." Plans include pilot projects with school boards in close proximity to reserves to help better track students and improve curriculum.
"We know there is a general migration to urban areas, but students are taking with them lot of special education issues that they need to have satisfied wherever they go to school. (The ministry) is looking for ways to do a more accurate analysis of where people are and how they might be moving during the school year."