'It's just not fair; it's not right': First Nations say schools still getting short-changed

The federal government promised hundreds of millions of dollars for First Nations schools last year, but First Nations say almost none of it has arrived.

Education funding on agenda Wednesday at Assembly of First Nations meetings

Star Blanket Cree Nation Chief Michael Starr said First Nations schools are still getting short-changed, despite Liberal government promises. (CBC/Jason Warick)

First Nations say their students and teachers are still getting short-changed.

"It's just not fair. It's not right," said File Hills Tribal Council literacy co-ordinator Alana Starr.

On-reserve schools receive thousands of dollars less per student than schools in towns and cities across the country. The federal government promised hundreds of millions in new funding last year, a measure that would have partially closed the gap.

But teachers, principals and other First Nations leaders say almost none of that money has arrived. With planning already underway for the new school year, it's leaving families and teachers frustrated.

Education tops AFN agenda

Education was the first agenda item Wednesday for the 1,300 delegates at the Assembly of First Nations meeting in Regina.

"It's a little bit frustrating. We've been promised these amounts of money. It still hasn't arrived," said Star Blanket Cree Nation Chief Michael Starr.

"Our nations are hurting."

Alana Starr works regularly in several different reserve schools. She sees how they succeed despite the lack of funding.

But there's no denying it's a struggle, she said. Some can't afford basics like decent computers or sports equipment. Others lack funds to deal with moisture and toxic mould. Most would like to offer full immersion in their native languages as Francophones do, but have no resources, she said.

File Hills Tribal Council literacy coordinator Alana Starr said her son, Cassius Cappo, should be able to get a good education no matter where he goes to school. (submitted)

Since she lives in the town of Fort Qu'Appelle, her son, Cassius Cappo, goes to the school in town at a provincial school.
"If we were to live on the reserve, he would be worth what, six, seven thousand dollars less? His education isn't as important or isn't as expensive on reserve as it is in the provincial system? I don't know. Why is that?" she said.

Premier Brad Wall, University of Saskatchewan economics professor Eric Howe and a chorus of others have said the funding gap should be eliminated. They say Saskatchewan's future prosperity depends on a quality education for all residents.

Both Assembly of First Nations Chief Perry Bellegarde and Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations Chief Bobby Cameron said this week education funding should be a top priority.

"It's not flowing as fast as our First Nations would like to see. Bureaucracy is stalling things," Cameron said.

Indigenous and Northern Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett was at the AFN meetings, but was not available for comment.