Bigstone Cree Nation taking federal and provincial governments to court over student funding

The Chief and council of Bigstone Cree Nation have filed a statement of claim against the provincial and federal governments for what they’re calling a “failure to protect the treaty rights to education for Bigstone Cree peoples.”

'Province abused us by using those funds without any accountability,' Bigstone Cree Nation

The Bigstone Cree Nation is taking the federal and Alberta governments to court over education funding. (Bigstone Cree Nation/Supplied)

The chief and council of Bigstone Cree Nation have filed a statement of claim against the provincial and federal governments for what they're calling a "failure to protect" treaty rights to education.

"For decades, the federal government has given our monies owed by treaty to the province without our consent," Bigstone Cree Nation Chief Gordon Auger said in a news release.

"The provincial government used the monies without any accountability and violated the rights of our children for years."

Any person wants the best for their child.- Josie Auger, Bigstone Cree Nation Councillor

The claim lays out a long history of government changes to the delivery of education in northern Alberta dating back to the 1960s.

"Governance of education is a treaty right," said Josie Auger, a Bigstone council member.

"Canada transfers millions of dollars to the province without any accounting for the education funding."

$90 million to Northland School Division

The claim says a 1988 tuition agreement gave $90 million over 10 years to the Northland School Division.

The division's school board was disbanded in 2010 because of poor student attendance and low provincial test scores.

In October, a new board was formed and held its first vote in seven years.

Auger is concerned her 11-year-old daughter doesn't have access to a proper education in the division. All five of Bigstone's schools are in the division.

"I don't know how I'm supposed to give her guarantees of an education that can result with her going to university or college," said Auger.

Upgrading needed after graduation

Auger said students that do graduate typically need to upgrade their classes after graduation.

The Bigstone Cree Nation is made up of six reserves in the Wabasca-Desmarais, Calling Lake, Sandy Lake and Chipewyan Lake areas.

Auger said the Bigstone Cree Nation would like control of funding to improve things like schools, vocational training and adult education.

The claim lays out a laundry list of issues, including high teacher and staff absentee rates, inadequate housing for teaching staff and poor science and computer facilities. It alleges mismanagement of funding over the years has resulted in "abysmal" graduation rates for Bigstone members.

None of the allegations in the claim have been proven in court.

"Our government is committed to walking the path of reconciliation, and our program and financial commitments are meant to enhance, not replace federal programs and funding," said Alberta Education spokesperson Lindsay Harvey in an email.