Thunder Bay

Northwestern Ontario First Nations take control of education

Four First Nations in the region are among 23 province-wide to sign the Anishinabek Nation Education Agreement, which transfers power over primary, elementary and secondary education to the First Nations.

Pic Mobert and Long Lake #58 are among the communities to ratify the Anishinabek Nation Education Agreement

Pic Mobert First Nation was one of four in northwestern Ontario to sign the Anishinabek Nation Education Agreement with the federal government and the Master Education Agreement with the province of Ontario. (Margo McDiarmid/CBC)

Four First Nations in northwestern Ontario are among 23 province-wide that signed an agreement with the federal government today handing over control of K-12 education to the First Nations. 

Under the Anishinabek Nation Education Agreement, the First Nations will work collectively under the Kinoomaamadswin Education Body to establish curriculum for schools on reserve, set educational standards and approve resources, said Tracey O'Donnell a member of the Red Rock Indian Band and the Anishinabek Nation education negotiator. 

Funding will still flow from the federal government, but the nations themselves will determine how to spend it according to their educational priorities.   

"Education has been used against First Nations people through the residential school system to take away our culture and language, and now we have an opportunity to take control and rebuild our nation through education," O'Donnell told CBC.

'You share the problems, and you share the solutions'

Pic Mobert First Nation, Long Lake #58, Biigtigong Nishnaabeg and Biinjitiwaabik Zaaging Anishinaabek are the four northwestern Ontario communities who ratified the agreement. 

Long Lake #58 band manager Henry Waboose told CBC his community will benefit from working with other First Nations. 

"People have different issues, different problems, but if you get different thinking from somebody else, and they say 'try this' and 'try that,' it will all work out better for the end," he said. 

"You share the problems, and you share the solutions." 

A total of 39 First Nations qualified to vote on the agreement, O'Donnell said.

Some failed to reach the 25 per cent-plus one threshold to achieve ratification.

Anticipated to take effect April, 2018

Others held off on holding a vote, she said, because they had other priorities, because they wanted to wait and see how the new system functioned, or because they chose to go in a different direction with their education systems. 

The federal government is expected to introduce legislation to bring the agreement into effect, O'Donnell said.

She anticipated it would take effect in April of 2018. 

In addition to signing the Anishinabek Nation Education Agreement Wednesday, the same First Nations signed a Master Education Agreement with the provincial government creating a new partnership between the province and First Nations in the provincial school system.

The agreement gives First Nations a say in the provincial curriculum and the selection of educational resources, with a view to better supporting Indigenous students in the provincial school system.