'Historic' school system gets grand opening on Wednesday

A new school system operated exclusively by First Nations is ready to make its public debut.

First Nations take control of their own education system

Indigenous Services Minister Jane Philpott, second from left, and AMC Grand Chief Arlen Dumas, second from right, announced money for a family advocacy centre on Tuesday. On Wednesday, they'll be at the grand opening of the Manitoba First Nations School System. (Jacaudrey Charbonneau/CBC)

A new school system operated exclusively by First Nations is ready to make its public debut.

Officials and dignitaries will converge on Sgt. Tommy Prince School on the Brokenhead Ojibway Nation on Wednesday, where the community will celebrate the official grand opening of the Manitoba First Nations School System.

Hailed as a historic agreement when it was announced last December, the deal increases funding levels while putting jurisdiction over schools in 10 First Nations communities directly in the hands of Indigenous leaders.

Indigenous Services Minister Jane Philpott said the First Nations-managed school system is a "long time in coming."

"Whether it relates to education, health care, Child and Family Services, what Indigenous peoples in this country want is what every Canadian wants, and that's control over their lives," said Philpott, who was in Winnipeg a day ahead of Wednesday's grand opening.

Students from Sgt. Tommy Prince School. (Manitoba First Nations Education Resource Centre/Facebook)

"And so when it comes to educational services, the announcement we'll be making [Wednesday] is an important one, because it's an announcement about a school system that is designed, managed, co-ordinated and delivered by First Nations for First Nations."

The deal will also see federal education funding sent directly to school boards, instead of to chiefs and band councils to disperse.

"And it will give an opportunity for children to grow up knowing that they have quality education, but a high-quality education that's specifically designed for them, that's culturally appropriate, that's respective of First Nations knowledge and practices and that will lead them to success in the future."

Family advocacy office

In Winnipeg on Tuesday, Philpott also announced $800,000 in funding for a family advocacy office run by the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs. The office works to bring down the number of Indigenous children in the care of Child and Family Services across the province.

Manitoba has among the highest number of children in care in Canada — most of them aboriginal. Statistics say the province seized an average of one newborn baby each day in 2015.

"Addressing the CFS crisis in Manitoba requires political will from all concerned stakeholders," AMC Grand Chief Arlen Dumas said in a news release. "Canada's support for the advocacy office is a positive step in a series of many required to realize true First Nations Child and Family Services program reform in Manitoba."

The AMC's Grandmothers Council and First Nations Women's Council will take leading roles as local First Nations implement ideas that support family reunification and restoration, the news release said.

Philpott also attended an afternoon press conference in which she announced $500,000 in federal funding to help the Ma Mawi Wi Chi Itata Centre expand its family group counselling services. The Winnipeg Foundation and the Manitoba government are each contributing $1 million to the organization.

With files from Meagan Fiddler and the Canadian Press