New Brunswick

Off-reserve children need Indigenous language classes too, council says

The head of the New Brunswick Aboriginal Peoples Council says she's disappointed children living off reserve won't benefit from changes to education funding.

Three-quarters of Indigenous people in Canada live off reserves

Amanda LeBlanc is interim chief and president of the New Brunswick Aboriginal Peoples Council. (Supplied)

The head of the New Brunswick Aboriginal Peoples Council says she's disappointed children living off reserve won't benefit  from changes to education funding.

This spring, on reserve-schools will receive $1,500 per student every year for language and cultural programs, and schools will offer full kindergarten for on-reserve kids aged four and five.

This comes after the federal government announced it will reallocate $2 billion for First Nations education to attempt to bring equity between on and off-reserve schooling.

Amanda LeBlanc, interim chief and president of the council, said children who live off-reserve need to be able access their language and culture, since those elements are built in on-reserve schools.

"It does a lot of damage to a child growing up in a public school system, especially for those who don't have maybe a reserve community close to them, like Saint John, for example," she told Shift New Brunswick.

Indigenous Services Minister Seamus O'Regan said the funding reallocation was developed with the help of many organizations, including the Assembly of First Nation. (Danny Arsenault/CBC)

"I think it just adds a whole other layer of complication for those growing up to have to go through this whole other identity piece."

LeBlanc said support for language classes off reserve, in the public education system, would be a good start.

"We know that loss of language is a big issue, especially here in the East Coast and the Wolastoq language, especially, is on the verge of extinction," she said. "I think supporting just those basics would be a great first step."

'Missed opportunity'

The council describes itself as the national voice for off-reserve Aboriginal People in the province, including people of Indigenous ancestry who don't necessarily have status under the Indian Act. 

LeBlanc said her criticism doesn't mean on-reserve children shouldn't get funding.

"It's just the fact that if you look at the 2016 statistics, three-quarters of Indigenous people live off reserves, meaning we access the public school system," she said. "So the fact that at least three-quarters of the population won't have access to this, I think that is a huge missed opportunity for the federal government."

At the funding announcement last week, Indigenous Services Minister Seamus O'Regan said the funding change was made after the government consulted organizations such as the Assembly of First Nations.

He told reporters this funding reallocation means communities will be "taking greater control of their education."

With files from Shift New Brunswick and The Canadian Press

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