Sask. teachers, First Nations call for immediate investment to address Indigenous grad gap
Both groups say Indigenous grad rates are starting to slip
First Nations leaders and Saskatchewan teachers are calling for an immediate investment in education to help address a graduation gap between Indigenous students and their peers in Saskatchewan.
On Friday, Bobby Cameron, chief of the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations, sat side-by-side with the Saskatchewan Teachers' Federation and called on both the provincial and federal governments to commit, in writing, to properly funding Indigenous students in the province.
"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."
According to Saskatchewan's auditor, First Nations, Métis and Inuit students are far behind their peers when it comes to graduating Grade 12 within three years.
In 2018, 86.5 per cent of non-Indigenous students were graduating within three years — but that number drops to 44.5 per cent for First Nations, Métis and Inuit students.
While the auditor's latest report indicates Indigenous graduation rates have climbed by 41 per cent between 2004-05 and 2018, the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations and Saskatchewan Teachers' Federation say they've observed a drop of about one per cent in the last year, something they call "unacceptable."
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."
He said the federation and the teachers union will be working together to "put to task" all of the individuals running for legislative seats ahead of the 2020 provincial election, calling for a serious commitment to education investments.
"We need to see it in writing so we can feel good, and optimistic, that this is going to happen," he said.
CBC Saskatoon reached out to Saskatchewan's Ministry of Education and Indigenous Services Canada on Saturday for comment on the calls for funding from the two groups, but a response was not immediately received.
Patrick Maze, president of the teachers federation, argued at the press conference that the current system is being "starved of funds" and says students are paying the price as a result.
"We look forward to a substantial investment in education so that teachers can be set up for success," said Maze.
"Teachers want the best for their students, and yet they feel like they're working basically with their arm tied behind their backs in trying to trying to meet the needs of all their students."
Cameron said some of the areas that need investment include Indigenous language and cultural components, which he says are "critical" for Indigenous students to succeed.
"It gives them self-identity. It boosts their self-esteem," he said. "It gives them more self-confidence. It gives them the incentive to want to succeed."
Saskatchewan's provincial election will take place on Nov. 2, 2020.