Thunder Bay·Audio

New era of 'residential schools' necessary for First Nations students, report says

A five-point action plan for Indigenous education spelled out in a new report from the Northern Policy Institute, a northern Ontario think tank, draws the conclusion that First Nations-run residential schools will help students succeed.

Race relations commissioners, culturally appropriate curriculum and more funding, also recommended

Dennis Franklin Cromarty High School in Thunder Bay is a model of success for First Nations education, according to a new report from the Northern Policy Institute. (Marc Apollonio/CBC)

A five-point action plan for Indigenous education spelled out in a new report from the Northern Policy Institute, a northern Ontario think tank, draws the conclusion that First Nations-run residential schools will help students succeed.

The report, titled After the Healing: Safeguarding Northern Nishnawbe First Nations High School Education, is a response, in part, to an inquest into the deaths of seven First Nations students in Thunder Bay, Ont.

The inquest issued 145 recommendations for improving the lives of Indigenous students that are "much more than can be digested," said author Paul Bennett, the senior education policy fellow with the institute.

In particular, Bennett finds the recommendation that all First Nations communities should have high schools of their own to be impractical.

"We're going to need residential schools in the future because we can't possibly accomplish what is the longer-term goal, which is to have a high school in each and every one of the isolated communities," Bennett said.

"It's going to take years and years to achieve," he added. "So the question arose — in the interim, what can we do to properly serve those students who will continue to have to go to larger communities to go to school?"

'Action plan'

His five-point action plan urges policy makers to:

  • 1. Close the funding gap 

Federally-funded First Nations schools in the area receive 25 to 30 per cent less per student than provincially-run schools, according to the report.

  • 2. Fund a student living centre for students who currently live in boarding homes while attending school in Thunder Bay

"We need to invest in that," Bennett said. "You cannot expect the kids to come to Thunder Bay to live in those home-stays and then to go to school each and every day and survive in that kind of environment."

  • 3. Expand student support services for young people adjusting to life in a new town or city
  • 4. Establish a race relations commissioner

"Building a more receptive culture in Thunder Bay and Sudbury and Sioux Lookout is a longer term goal," Bennett says. "I don't think it's easy to achieve but we do recommend race relations commissioners and officers to get busy on building bridges."

  • 5. "Expand and fortify" curriculum initiatives that are based on Indigenous ways of knowing

"The biggest obstacle to really implementing a student success curriculum is the provincial guidelines, which impose on First Nations education a different set of expectations," Bennett said. "It's very important that we start to develop a sense of pride and identity through education."

'Models of success'

The report points to Dennis Franklin Cromarty high school in Thunder Bay and Pelican Falls First Nations high school near Sioux Lookout, Ont., as models of success.

Graduation rates at both schools are continually rising and have exceeded the provincial average for First Nations schools in Ontario since 2009, the report says.

Last June, 100 per cent of the Grade 12 students (24 of 24) graduated from Pelican Falls, while 64 per cent (33 of 51) Grade 12 students graduated from Dennis Franklin Cromarty, according to the research.

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