Anishinabek First Nations ready for vote on historic education reform

An historic vote this fall could change how many of Ontario's First Nations youth are taught both on and off reserve.

Aim of new system— if it gets the vote this November— is to create a separate Indigenous schoolboard

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      An historic vote this winter could change how many of Ontario's First Nations youth are taught both on and off reserve.

      Members of the Anishinabek First Nations will decide this November whether they want to create their own education system for students from kindergarten to grade twelve.

      The proposed system would affect 26,000 students who belong to 32 First Nations across the province. Many of them are located in northern Ontario, including Nipissing, Wahnapitae, Atikameksheng, Dokis and Sagamok.

      The aim is to establish curriculum created with culturally-appropriate learning for students including aboriginal history and language education along with subjects like English, math, and geography.

      According to the Anishinabek Nation Grand Council, the graduation rate for First Nations youth is 50 per cent lower than the provincial average.

      A 20-year wait

      Gaining self-governance over how First Nations children are educated has been a long time coming, according to Magnetawan deputy chief Lloyd Myke.

      The education-advocate has been travelling to different communities answering questions in preparation for the vote.

      "We've always believed that our culture and our heritage and our language are core beliefs to what we feel that our children need to have to succeed," Myke said.

      While more Ontario schools are bringing Indigenous-minded teaching into the classroom, half of the province's elementary and secondary schools still have no aboriginal educational opportunities, according to Anishinabek Nation Grand Council. (Marina von Stackelberg)

      More than 90 per cent of Anishinabek youth attend provincially-run schools off-reserve, Myke said. Decisions would need to be made as to how the First Nations education system could operate within or outside the current provincial system.

      The plan is to create a separate Indigenous council, similar to a school board, that would be run by First Nations. That organization would be tasked with setting standards and delivering the $100 million in annual federal dollars to schools.

      The process to get here has taken 20 years, Myke said, and both levels of government appear ready to finally make it happen. 

      "This is the first time that anything of this large scale is going on across Canada," Myke said.

      "There's a lot of first nation communities outside of Ontario that are looking at our model."