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The Indian Act - Three Simples Pages Say it All!

There’s a price to be paid – both socially and economically – if we all fail to address and correct the educational inequities between students in our First Nations communities and those in mainstream Canada
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Three simple pages say it all!  That’s the length, in its entirety, of the sections in the Indian Act that govern education on reserves for First Nations. Contrast this to the over 150 pages of the provincially-controlled Public Schools Act and Education Administration Act in Manitoba. From this perspective alone, is it any wonder that the most pressing social crisis facing our nation today is the inequitable state of education between students in our First Nations communities and those in mainstream Canada?

Where the Indian Act is silent, the Public Schools Act legislates critical issues such as minimum teaching days, board governance, and teacher certification. It also holds government accountable and gives parents guaranteed rights.  Even in its limited capacity, there are no such mechanisms in place for First Nations parents, thus rendering the Indian Act all but irrelevant.

Compounding this problem is a lack of adequate funding for on-reserve schools that receive between $2,000 and $3,000 LESS per student than their provincial counterparts. In some cases, schools in remote communities suffer with $9,000 less per student.  The fall-out includes:

  • Higher pupil-teacher ratios;
  • Lower pay and less benefits for teachers;
  • Limited ability to keep up with curricular advances;
  • Lack of ICT advances, and;
  • Overcrowded schools.

Is it any wonder that our students, our communities, and our country are suffering both socially and economically?  The truth is there’s a price to be paid – both socially and economically – if we all fail to address and correct these educational inequities.  Just look at on-reserve graduation rates, which are as low as 29% in some areas of Canada. It’s a statistic that would cause an uproar were it to happen in mainstream Canadian schools. 

Is it any wonder that our students, our communities, and our country are suffering both socially and economically?  The truth is there’s a price to be paid – both socially and economically – if we all fail to address and correct these educational inequities.  Just look at on-reserve graduation rates, which are as low as 29% in some areas of Canada. It’s a statistic that would cause an uproar were it to happen in mainstream Canadian schools.  From a financial perspective, the Canadian Council on Learning estimates the 10-year cost of high school attrition on-reserve exceeds 1 billion dollars with an estimated cost to Canada of $4,750 per year for every student who drops out of high school.

The first step in addressing educational inequities is to acknowledge that this is a Canadian issue, not just a First Nations issue.

The first step in addressing educational inequities is to acknowledge that this is a Canadian issue, not just a First Nations issue.  Other steps for consideration include:

  • Encouraging First Nations Education Directors to become full members of provincial associations, as the Manitoba Association of School Superintendents has done.  This has had a lasting beneficial impact on capacity building (at the same time recognizing First Nations control of First Nations education).
  • Fostering relationships between First Nations people, school boards, and governments in order to build trust and encourage staff to tackle some of the most challenging issues.  If a Board is afraid to act based on fear of being labelled or of making mistakes, the poor outcomes of First Nations learners will continue.

Now’s the time for action because, sadly, if we do not begin to deal with this problem, we will relegate generations of students to disadvantage, furthering the mess of residential schools and harming Canada’s economy.

Related Education Canada article: