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The Aboriginal population is often forgotten in discussions across the board, but education is the most important one that many people are unfamiliar with. The Aboriginal population in Canada is the fastest growing population in the country, and the potential work force is being ignored. People often have a misunderstanding of funding, as one will often hear people say that Aboriginal receive a free education, especially when it comes to Post-Secondary, I will return to that issue later.

On-Reserve schools, both elementary and High School (if the Reserve is lucky enough to have one) across the province and country receive up to 60 % less funding than off-reserve schools. The Federal government says that it is because the public systems are based on the tax system, and since Reserves do not generate taxes the funding is less. This argument would make sense if on-Reserve residence who attends public schools were given the same amount of funding dollars. I will give an example to clarify: Situation 1: my daughter and I reside on reserve, my daughter attends the Reserve school, and the school receives $3’500 for her; Situation 2: my daughter and I reside on reserve, my daughter attends the public school off-Reserve, and the school receives $6’500 for her. This gap in funding leads to a number of short and long-term issues; economic, political, social and etcetera.

Funding dollars in the public school system are underfunded and we often hear of the consequences in the media and in public forums such as this one. So now take a moment and think about what the Reserves are going through with less than half of those funds. The schools have to resort to hiring unqualified staff, including administrators as well as teachers; they lack even the basic resources such as supplementary materials, let alone books. Once they have completed elementary school they are pushed into the Public High Schools, because most reserves in Ontario lack a High School. These public High Schools are now flooded with students who are normally 2-4 grade levels below their peers. These students are at risk for dropping out, which a high number of them do, and the students who remain in High School place an added strain on the public schools which are now responsible to provide additional resources such as teaching staff for these students. This creates a strain in the system and a social friction between students and parents.

The gaps in High School graduation rates between Aboriginal and Non-Aboriginal are enormously high, and they are even higher in graduation rates for Post-Secondary. Although Aboriginal students are eligible for Post-Secondary funding through their Bands, the amount of qualified students (students holding a High School Diploma) is low and the majority of those applicants are refused. The reasons vary, but they are all the result of one thing; not enough funding.

The overall picture for the people of Ontario is this; when the Aboriginal people are uneducated the results are seen across the board. Unemployment rates increase; more public dollars are shifted to programs such as Ontario Works, Addictions programs and so forth. I believe that most Canadians would like to see the Aboriginal population in this country to be able to participate more in a positive way to our provincial and national economies.
I would like to see the Reserve School system to be placed under the Province completely so that they are held to the same standards, as well as accountability for funds as education dollars are often shifted to other departments on Reserves. Enrolment funds, qualified teaching staff, resource material and an overall responsibility to the Aboriginal children of this province.

There are many restrictions to solving this dilemma; you can’t simply get rid of Reserves or force Aboriginal children into off-reserve schools. I would encourage everyone to discuss this issue in a positive manner with their school boards; MLAs, MPs as well as their local Aboriginal population, to gain a better understanding of how Aboriginal Education affects everyone in the province in all areas. I know that there are a lot of issues which I did not touch on, but please fell free to contribute you comments or questions. All ideas on how we can better the current situation would be greatly appreciated.

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I very much agree that we do need to raise our voices in support of First Nations Education!  Some good resources which pertain to this can be found on the Assembly of First Nations website--they issued a national call to action on education last year:     http://


I am researching successful parent engagement strategies in First Nations education (both urban and on reserve).

Has anyone come across any innovative programs-ideally Canadian, but also interested in seeing what's being done internationally as well.

Many thanks!

Penny Scott

Best Start Resource Centre, Health Nexus Santé

Hi Penny:

Parent engagement has been identified as a priority for many organizations concerned with First Nations Education.  I know the Ontario Federation of Indian Friendship Centres and Chiefs of Ontario have both identified it as a priority. 

In terms of specific programs, that tends to be school by school or board by board, and I don't really have .  It is definitely worth checking out what is going on in Akwesasne, where parent involvement has a key role in their efforts to develop integrated children's services.  There is also a program called the Urban Aboriginal Education Pilot project that has been doing work with several boards (Toronto, Lakehead, Simcoe) - you might want to try to track them down.  Hillside School at Kettle and Stony Point Reserve did a session on parent and community involvement at this year's Circle of Light Conference on First Nations, Inuit and Metis education.  Unfortunately, I don't have contact information for these programs, but hopefully you might be able to track them down.

Best of luck.


People for Education

Good news from the Federal Court today for those who want to challenge the incredible inequities in funding of First Nations education.

The fabulous non-proft, First Nations Family and Child Caring Society has been working for years to advocate for better children's services on reserves.  With the AFN and others, they brought a human rights complaint to the Canadian Human Rights Commission to challenge the inequitable funding of child welfare funding on reserve.  Because of this lack of funding, child welfare services on reserves are often far less than provided in provincially funded child welfare systems, and, despite abuse levels lower than Canadian average, there are now more First Nations children in foster care than there were kids in the residential schools system at its peak.

The Human Rights Tribunal held that it couldn't hear the case because the only child welfare services funded by the federal government are the ones on reserves, so they couldn't do a comparison and find the federal government was  providing services differently to First Nations children on the basis of race.

This morning the Federal Court held that the Tribunal was unreasonable in making that decision and that it is appropriate to compare on-reserve programs with the provincially funded child welfare services that kids who are off-reserve receive. 

This decision is important in its own right (though they still have a long way to go, and need support).  It is also important for issues of on-reserve schooling, where the same situation of unequal funding exists.  According to the the Department of Aboriginal Affairs, the level of funding for on-reserve schools is $1000-$3000 per pupil - not even taking into account factors like remoteness, high levels of special education need, and overall socioeconomic disadvantage. 

This is an important one to keep watching.

The Gifts Within is actually edited by my thesis advisor, I will have to tell her how far the contents of that book are reaching and that it came up in the discussion in this community. Her students were excited to hear that I had used some of their experiences in my own research.

As a student who is doing a thesis on First Nations education policy, I have found that my second job is explaining the issues related to my research to people who are unaware, although I am constantly learning. I think that people who are informed have a choice to act on what they know, people who don't know, can't act, therefore I think it should be mandatory for preservice teachers to take a class in Aboriginal education. I have presented workshops on parent engagement to preservice teachers and I felt some significant pushback from some of the participants. There was an adversarial attitude toward parents in general, not just Aboriginal parents that concerned me. I just hope that the students who took something away from the workshops will draw on what we discussed someday and it will inform their practice in some positive way.

When I did a presentation in one of my policy classes about Aboriginal education policy in Ontario, teachers and adminstrators in the class said that they had seen the cover of some of the material from the Ministry, but they had never read any of it. I recognize that teachers are pulled in a million different directions, but it seems like a bandaid solution to drown the province with policy material that will never be read or implemented.

I would be curious to know how often issues related to Aboriginal education are discussed in professional development settings.

I am also interested to know if the Valentine's Day campaign generated any feedback. I never received a message that mine was opened, even though I was told that I would receive a message that my valentine had been read.

This organization that is attached to the University of Western Ontario is involved with mentoring Aboriginal youth and has some great resources that are related to engaging parents and the barriers that they face that prevents engagement. They are also involved in mentoring youth and they participate in the Circle of Light conference that was mentioned in an earlier comment.

Moderator: This information was posted by Medhat (Matt) Wanes in another discussion. I thought it would fit better in here...

In many First Nations schools, it’s a struggle just maintain the status quo when it comes to student success. We can see evidence of this in the auditor-general’s 2004 statement, which noted that even if First Nations educational systems were on par with provincial schools, it would take 28 years for native students to catch up to their non-native counterparts. Since then, that 28-year gap has widened.

Human rights – not colonialism

In 2012, the Supreme Court of Canada highlighted, "The history of colonialism, displacement, residential schools, and how that history continues to translate into lower educational attainment, lower incomes, higher unemployment, higher rates of substance abuse and suicide... higher levels of incarceration."

We could increase educational funding for Aboriginal children tomorrow (and we should) but what how much would that really change?  Would Aboriginal unemployment be magically reduced?  Would Aboriginal resentment suddenly disappear?  This educational funding issue, like that of alleged financial mismanagement on some reservations, only serves to divert attention from the underlying problem that we Canadians would rather ignore.  That is the need for an honest appraisal of the place of Aboriginals in Canadian society - and all that follows.  Such an appraisal will only be possible when enough of the public understands that treaties were broken, lands were stolen and Aboriginal kids were punished for speaking there own language.  It's time we addressed the issue of what we non-Aboriginals are taught in school about what we did to Canada's first Canadians.


Until then, we will be endlessly spinning our wheels, trying to solve one Aboriginal crisis after another, never reaaly changing much at all.

I agree with Andrew about the risk of spinning our wheels.  However, I think it's important to take steps on equitable funding and other presenting issues, even if they're baby steps.  Learning and teaching about "what we did to Canada's first" people will be empty without concurrent steps, even if they feel like token steps going nowhere as far as the built up "resentment" is concerned.  So many Aboriginal people I've met are remarkably free of resentment. Even when they have so much knowledge of the abuses, and usually direct experience of abuse as well.

We're definitely at a cross-roads in this country.  Even without First Nations issues, we have mounting evidence that the status quo is unsustainable and unjust.  Just witness the Occupy movement that spread like wildfire last year, and identified the widening gap between the 1% "haves" and have nots.  In reality it's probably much less than 1%, much fewer than ever before in Canada as far as sharing resources is concerned.  A hundred years ago business owners were far more likely to live in the town where their employees lived, and they realized that if their employees were mistreated and suffering, everyone, including their own families and children would suffer.  We seem to have lost the ability to create and raise children in healthy communities, villages, tribes.  We are all suffering.  We need to celebrate the reality that Canada was founded on not just two, but at least three cultures, ways of life and ways of seeing the world.  The reality is that we are a blend, and First Nations ideas and culture has had far more impact on us than we acknowledge. We in North America are not European.  While many longed to go back and struggled to replicate Europe here, many, including early immigrants from Royal families, chose this beautiful, freer land, over the customs and requirements back home.  Some turned their back on the opportunity to inherit vast fortunes in England and other countries in order to pursue a life more like the First Nations here.

Thankfully, in this age where impersonal business interests seem to be wreaking more and more havoc on our planet, we have a non-European model and way of life to look at and learn from as we move forward.

I don't think anyone, including First Nations people I know, wants to turn the clock back completely.  No one wants to unlearn what we now know about our planet and it's different peoples, and new technology and ways of life.  Most people are happy that we've been able to experience and see so much -- movies, Elvis, jet planes, exotic food and the list goes on.  We've had a chance to check out whether the grass is greener somewhere else.  Now I believe it's time to build a new tomorrow together, with all our accumulated knowledge and wisdom.  It's time to think hard about what our basic needs really are, and how best to share resources, and be faithful stewards for the animal and plant kingdoms too.  

If we don't put Aboriginal knowledge and wisdom in it's rightful place, I doubt we'll be able to build that great future we so want our descendants to have.

Sorry I couldn't help getting on my soap box here, but it's an issue I can't remain silent on.

Have a great day,


I'd like to think that IF funding on reserves was close to equitable with funding in provincial schools, it might make a difference - we know that it is far from it.

And as the recent Auditor General of Ontario's Report on the education of Aboriginal students demonstrated, Ontario is doing far less than it says it will in implementing the First Nations, Metis and Inuit Education strategy.

I don't disagree things are complicated, and that there are alot of factors which can make actual action on any front feel like a drop in the bucket - but we cannot accept 'its complicated' as a reason for really deeply inadequate, unequal public endeavours when it comes to Aboriginal Education. 

In this climate, and with our appalling track record, I really worry that defeatism undermines accountability for adequate programs.

We both agree that equitable funding for Aboriginal funding is a must.  But what I'm saying is that this injustice, and other injustices, will only be corrected if our MPs want it to happen.  The only way the MPs will want it to happen will be if voters want it to happen.  But our non-Aboriginal voters don't care (see attached survey) because they are uninformed.  This is why we need our schools to have their curriculum reviewed with respect to how Aboriginal issues are presented.


Great points!  I agree. Thanks for sending the survey, Andrew.

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