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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.

Tags: Aboriginal education

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From the Moderator: This post from Medhat Wanes was in another discussion, so I moved it here. He is quoting from a Toronto Star article found at

"Ontario elementary schools receive on average $11,000 per student to fund their education. Schools that operate on-reserve receive approximately $6,000 per student from the federal government. This is the disparity usually highlighted in discussions about the differences between provincial and First Nations education systems. The feds do not provide funding for our libraries, computers, extracurricular activities, data management systems, native languages, principals, education directors, professional development, development of culturally appropriate curricula or special education.

Listen carefully to the elders in any one of our more than 600 First Nations communities across Canada and the message is clear: High-quality education for our children is the key to overcoming the devastating effects of a past informed by residential schools, serial reports with unmet results and an epidemic of broken promises."

The grade 11 course that the Independent Learning Centre runs on Native Studies that I did a year or two ago for the purposes of a project I was working on was quite high quality I thought.  The information out there is amazing, and it's now so much more accessible.  And because of Idle No More, probably, teachers, students and everyone else will become so much better educated about Aboriginal issues.  I just was reading this morning a Chapter 10, probably from the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples report I found on the internet about the history of Indian Industrial (Residential) schools that was excellent.  I wrote a paper on this subject a few years ago when I was doing some research for the Director of Aboriginal Studies/Centre for Aboriginal Initiatives at University of Toronto.  I was thinking of trying to get that paper published, but I don't know that's a priority when so much excellent information is already out there, so easy to read and access.  Disturbing information for sure, but it's our responsibility as citizens, I believe, to confront it and do what we can to carve a better future for Canada and First Nations.

If we don't take some responsibility, we will be allowing negative voices and stereotyping to predominate.  Another thing the Idle No More and social media have helped put the spotlight on is how hurtful and ignorant so many of the comments are from ordinary citizens on this issue.

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