Cross Country Checkup·Special

What is the key to creating the best education for First Nation communities?

Four prime ministers have struggled to improve education in Indigenous communities. The Mi’kmaw have a possible model for the rest of Canada. What's the key to creating the best education for First Nations?

Cross Country Checkup- Live from Membertou!

6 years ago
Duration 2:28
On remote broadcast in Cape Breton, Cross Country Checkup heard from the community in and around Membertou First Nation about how they devise their education policy.

Four prime ministers have tried to improve education in Indigenous communities, and three of them failed. Is $2.6 billion in new federal money enough to combat high dropout rates and poor resources? The Mi'kmaw in Nova Scotia are having success with a new approach. Is it a model for the rest of Canada?

Host of Cross Country Checkup, Duncan McCue.
If you walk down the halls here at the Membertou School, it looks like any other elementary school in Canada. A jumble of tiny snow boots outside classroom doors and colourful kids artwork plastering the walls.

It's a hopeful place.

Of course, that's why parents send our kids off to school every day. They're hoping education will give them a brighter future, and unlock that golden door to freedom.

But for too many Indigenous children in Canada, school isn't about hope. It's something to endure and survive. 

Too many don't make it. Graduation rates at schools on reserve are still below 50 per cent. The numbers are better for those who go to school off-reserve, but the education gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous kids in this country remains vast.

Efforts to reform First Nations education and fund it properly have become a political football, dividing politicians and chiefs for decades now. Justin Trudeau is the latest Prime Minister to offer a fix, committing $2.6 billion dollars over five years. But is it enough? And will funding alone do the trick?

The crisis in Indigenous education is so longstanding it seems to defy solutions. But bright spots exist, and we're here at Membertou to hear those too. Almost 20 years ago, the Mi'kmaw communities of Nova Scotia took back control of education from the federal government. We'll find out today if efforts to bring Mi'kmaw language, customs and history into the schools are paying off.

Our question: What is the key to creating the best education in First Nation communities?


Dan Christmas, the first Mi'kmaw senator, and senior adviser for the First Nation of Membertou, N.S

Darren Googoo, Director of Education, Membertou and the New Chair of the Cape Breton-Victoria Regional School Board.

Dawn Stevens, Principal of Eskasoni Elementary and Middle School.

Sister Dorothy Moore, member of the Order of Canada. Educator and former principal of Eskasoni Elementary and Middle School.

Karlee Johnson, 3rd year student at Dalhousie University.

Neeta Kuma Britten, public school teacher in Sydney, N.S.

KJ Dettanikkeaze, Councillor at Northlands Denesuline First Nations in Lac Brochet, Man.

Norma Kejick, Executive Director of Northern Nishnawbe Education Council.

Live chat:

What we're reading

Mentioned in the show


Canadian Education Association

The Chronicle Herald

The Globe and Mail

National Post

Maclean's Magazine


CD Howe Institute