FSIN calls for 'needs-based, treaty-based' education funding formula

The funding model will eventually be replaced by regional education agreements, established between the federal government and First Nations, with programs tailored to each region, but Pratt the work is slow going.

FSIN Vice-Chief says new funding model from federal government still has gaps

The Treaty Medallion for Treaty No. 6 was on display in Saskatoon on Nov. 1, 2019 as the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations and the Saskatchewan Teachers' Federation called on both levels of government for a funding commitment to address a gap in graduation rates between non-First Nation, Metis and Inuit. (Albert Couillard/CBC)

Saskatchewan's Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations (FSIN) says an interim federal funding model to address gaps in Indigenous education doesn't go far enough.

The new model, introduced on April 1, 2019, aims to provide adequate and stable funding to First Nations students and schools on reserve.

Alongside providing $1,500 annually per student for cultural and language learning, the new model replaces proposal-based programs and ensures base funding "is comparable" to the provincial systems across the country.

2nd Vice Chief David Pratt handles the education portfolio for the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations. (CBC)

FSIN Vice-Chief David Pratt, who handles the education portfolio for the organization, said the new model has issues.

Pratt said the federal government has mimicked the provincial funding model, which he says has "significant gaps."

The interim federal model will eventually be replaced by regional education agreements established between the federal government and First Nations, with programs tailored to each region. Pratt said the work is slow going.

"Those negotiations aren't going very well," he said. 

Pratt said the FSIN wants to see a "needs-based, treaty-based" funding formula, noting the FSIN is currently working to develop its own formula. He said he wants to see funding based on current enrolment levels, as opposed to funds based on the previous year.

"We believe that there's much more that remains to be done," he said.

Pratt said the federal government needs to consider that First Nations education has been underfunded for years.

Bobby Cameron, Chief of the Saskatchewan's Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations (left) sat with Saskatchewan Teachers' Federation president Patrick Maze at a press conference on Nov. 1, 2019. (Albert Couillard/CBC)

Last week, the FSIN and the Saskatchewan Teachers' Federation called for an "immediate" investment from the federal and provincial governments to address the graduation gap between Indigenous students and their non-indigenous peers.

In 2018, 86.5 per cent of non-Indigenous students in Saskatchewan were graduating within three years. For First Nations, Métis and Inuit students, that number was 44.5 per cent.

In a statement sent to CBC, the federal government pointed to $2.6 billion outlined in Budget 2016 that has "helped address a number of priority areas," including high-cost special education, language and culture, and literacy.

"Starting in 2019-20, the new funding approach was launched, so that students in First Nations schools are supported by predictable base funding that is more directly comparable to funding in provincial education systems," said ISC spokesperson Matrine Stevens in a statement.

FSIN Chief Bobby Cameron said the organization has observed a roughly one per cent decrease in Indigenous graduation rates this last year. Cameron said the FSIN has asked for a proper investment in Indigenous education in the past, but said the working together and communication outlined in the treaties, particularly within Saskatchewan's education sector, "is not happening."

"Things have to change," said Chief Cameron. "We need positive action. We need immediate investments for all of our students in order to succeed. Investing in education, rather than incarceration, benefits everybody."

Minister of Veterans Affairs Seamus O'Regan responds to a question during question period in the House of Commons Friday Nov. 23, 2018 in Ottawa. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

Gerry Craswell, the assistant deputy minister of education, said the province is working to address the issue. 
He pointed to several initiatives, including the "Following Their Voices" program, which looks at instructional strategies and teacher-pupil relationships that contribute to a greater level of engagement, currently active in 35 schools in the province.

Craswell also said First Nations leaders have been at the table as the province develops a new plan that will replace the Education Sector Strategic Plan in the coming years.

He says the decrease in Indigenous grad rates in Saskatchewan is something that can be reversed. 

"We'd always like to see it increasing, but when you're talking about a relatively small sample size, the one point one percent decrease represents a fairly small number of students," he said, referring to the decrease as a "blip." 

"Overall, we're moving in the right direction. There's steady improvement over the years and there's a lot of work going on — that takes a lot of different forms."

About the Author

Covering everything and anything for CBC Saskatoon, Morgan is a journalist interested in municipal and provincial affairs, Canadian crime and Canadian politics. Familiar with a variety of beats, Morgan has worked as a staff reporter for the Saskatoon StarPhoenix, Metro Calgary, Metro Saskatoon and the Fort McMurray Today and now works for CBC in Saskatoon.