By Neil Debassige of LearnFirst Consulting Special to FNWSC
The First Nations With Schools Collective’s community engagement strategy has embarked on a front-line mission to identify how the current federal funding model imposes constraints on First Nation education systems.
Educators, community members and political leaders from participating First Nations are identifying the issues that jeopardize educational prosperity in their communities and using this information to inform the development of a new funding formula.
Each community has a unique set of difficulties that can help inform the bigger picture in terms of education funding for First Nations at large. The educators, caregivers and stakeholders are contributing to the development of this new funding model by asking the questions from the front line, where answers matter most and where changes in student achievement are felt first.
We have been compiling feedback from communities in the following categories:
Instruction: Both classroom instruction and land-based education.
Off First Nation Students: Issues faced by learners who attend high school outside of their community.
Special Education: Additional supports required for students with additional needs.
Leadership, Governance and Administration: Includes in-school leadership principal, office support and ‘school board’ functions such as finance, HR, IT support, curriculum development and governance.
School Operations, Maintenance and Renewal: Includes daily operation of the school (cleaning, heating, insurance, etc.) as well as regular maintenance and more substantive renewal and student transportation.
The community feedback is encompassed in the FNWSC proposed funding formula.
Reforming the funding is critical to success of First Nation learners.
The approach to reforming the First Nations’ Education funding model is not a new concept for Indigenous leadership. The need to reform the funding model has never been more necessary for future success of First Nation learners.
The critical nature of First Nation education based on the current success rate data for First Nation learners is at an all-time high. The 2015-16 cohort (4-year) graduation rate for provincial students in Ontario was 79.6% compared to 47.1% for First Nation students. (Sekaly, 2021)
There are some common themes emerging from both sides of the discussion table that are supported by the research of educational gurus like Michael Fullan, the global leadership director for New Pedagogies for Deep Learning. To further support the research Fullan and associates, Dr. Doug Willms, president of the Fredricton-based Learning Bar research institute, has identified several ‘binding constraints’ that he says contribute to societies’ under-achievement in educational outcomes.
Among the many barriers to success for First Nation learners are systemic racism and inadequate funding, which both impact the education systems in communities.
Reforming the funding model for First Nation education programming requires that binding constraints be addressed.
Critical to reforming how First Nation funding formulas generate an end result (a per pupil amount) is reforming the relationship between the parties responsible for determining the formula.
Oftentimes, the intergovernmental relationship between the federal government and the sovereign First Nation governments is fragile due to factors like historical lack of funding and previously fractured negotiations.
In some cases this has caused a further delay in developing a funding strategy that would allow First Nation communities to bridge the learning gap that has resulted from 150 years of inadequate federal funding and education policy.
*Look for Gabriel Haythornwaite’s blog on this topic on this website, Thursday, June 10
All means ALL
In 2010, Fullan published the Big Ideas Behind Whole System Reform that identified some universal points for further discussion:
1. All children can learn
2. A small number of key priorities
3. Resolute leadership
4. Collective capacity
5. Strategies with precision
6. Intelligent accountability
All means all: This type of thinking is resonating with what Indigenous leaders and educators have been stating for some time – that given the same opportunity, First Nation learners will achieve.
Wiikwemikong Board of Education Communications Officer Dwayne Animikwan informs community members and the broader public about learning successes
By Jennifer O’Brien for FNWSC
Around Wiikwemkoong First Nation, Dwayne Animikwan is affectionately known as “the Picture Guy.”
When students were out in the sugarbush collecting sap for maple syrup last month, he was there with his camera. When the Grade 3 class learned to fillet a rainbow trout, he caught it on video. When the Grade 11 Manufacturing and Technology class built a robot, he recorded that too. Basically, if there is anything interesting happening in a Wiikwemkoong school, you can expect to find Animikwan there snapping photos and shooting video.
And of course it was Animikwan who took the photo at the top of this page, showing Grade 2 Wiikwemkoong Junior School pupils dressed in their #EveryChildMatters shirts to honour the children who never got to go home from residential schools.
As Communications Officer for Wiikwemkoong Board of Education, Animikwan’s role is to inform families, community members and the broader public about the stories — especially the learning success stories — happening at the three schools in the Anishinabek community.
“My goal is to communicate what’s going on in our board of education,” said Animikwan, during a presentation for the First Nations with Schools Collective (FNWSC). “I like focusing on things that make our community proud: Our language, our Land-Based-Learning — things I wish people could get to see.”
Animikwan’s presentation was the third in a media and communications training series hosted by the collective as part of its objective to support its eight member First Nations in sharing education success stories. The FNWSC provides a forum for its members to collaborate and share resources and approaches for education system transformation.
Communication is priority number one
“Success stories highlight why culturally based systems make a difference to First Nation student outcomes,” said Leslee White-Eye, FNWSC Structural Readiness Co-ordinator. “They create pride in the community in their own school and inform the public that First Nations have always been better positioned to govern over their own systems, which is remarkable given the very limited resources communities have at their disposal for education.”
The FNWSC has identified communicating community stories as a critical component in achieving the goal of First Nations control of First Nations’ education.
“Communications is priority number one at this stage,” said White-Eye. “We should give every parent and every leader in a First Nations setting specific examples of success — and of show them how we are doing better than the provincial system in ways that don’t harm learners’ identity development.”
As part of his role, Animikwan helps the education director craft messages, school statements and news releases. He also helps manage interview requests from area news organizations and builds relationships with them. But his favourite aspect is sharing the school and student success stories on the education board’s Youtube and Facebook pages.
Often those posts aim to showcase classroom lessons and education success stories, but sometimes they highlight a school community member or amplify achievements of students, such as an incredible basketball shot by life skills student Fabian or a beautiful piano solo by Grade 9 student Mason.
“These are things that parents wouldn’t otherwise see,” said Animikwan. The posts can generate “a sense of pride,” in educators and students alike, he said.
Having a constant presence on social media can attract outside media attention, which can also contribute toward other board goals, such as recruitment efforts, he said.
“We were highlighted nationally for the robotics team. We need to get (that news) out there and get world class educators to come and work for us,” said Animikwan. “All the stuff we do here in our schools,
I’m really proud of it.” The session was the latest of several webinars the FNWSC has held since its launch in 2016. Previous online events have featured panelists from all over the world who have shared knowledge about Indigenous evaluation methodologies, land-based learning and curriculum design that honours ways of knowing and education law development.
Earlier sessions offered training to help participants find ways to media attention for their stories. Education leaders who participated in this third session heard how having a strategy and an employee dedicated full time to communications has benefited the Wiikwemkoong Board of Education.
The goal of the collective is to share methodologies between First Nations working to reinstitute ancestral knowledge into the daily learning of community life.
Leslee White-Eye and former Ontario Deputy Education Minister Gabriel Sékaly get real about First nations education in strategycorp podcast
By Jennifer O’Brien for FNWSC
As part of its goal to see First Nations attain full jurisdiction and control of on-reserve First Nation schooling, the First Nations with Schools Collective (FNWSC) has been working with StrategyCorp Institute, which provides advisory services on government relations.
In May, StrategyCorp published a report on the “achievement gap” between First Nations and non-First Nations students in Canada, with three recommendations on what the federal government should do to address the inequities and improve outcomes for First Nation students now.
That report — which addresses the education-related trauma and ongoing detrimental effects of colonialism and Canada’s residential schooling system on First Nations — supports a 1972 finding of the Assembly of First Nations, that the cornerstone of education success is First Nation control of First Nation education.
Podcast discusses challenges and what’s needed now
To unpack the challenges and what’s needed from the federal government to achieve equity for students in First Nation communities, FNWSC Structural Readiness Co-ordinator, Leslee White-Eye, joined senior advisor (and former Ontario deputy minister of education in Ontario) Gabriel Sékaly on on StrategyCorp’s podcast Intended Consequences.
During the podcast, moderated by the firm’s Mitchell Davidson, they covered issues that are critical to the work of the FNWSC. Please check out this important conversation and share with people in your network.
Only have a few minutes? Keep reading to see excerpts of what Leslee and Gabriel had to say about some critical issues facing First Nations education and what is needed to improve outcomes for students.
A history of racism:Why communities need more than parity to achieve equity:
Gabriel: Equal funding with provincial systems will never be enough to overcome the history of systemic shortcomings and racism that was built into the education systems in terms of on-reserve education. [What’s needed is] parity plus plus, but it’s equitable outcomes.
Historically there has been a disincentive for education. Not that long ago, if a First Nation citizen went to university… they weren’t counted on the rolls of the First Nation. So the government was saying, ‘if you get an education, we’re going to cut you off.’ That is the legacy we are working with to overcome these huge inequities in education. (For more on the impact of colonial policies, such as the residential school system, on First Nation education, see the report)
The control of the funding should be in the hands of individual First Nations. A fly-in community may require additional funding to attract teachers to be there. Whereas a community in Southwestern Ontario may not. That to me is very important. How we define that and how the outcome-based approach . . . is put together.
On new relationships and the urgent need for new (out of the box) policy:
Leslee: Civil servants that work within the federal government need to come with the expertise to sit down at a table to talk about the comparable types of things that any education system needs. Policy led by the federal government sets the stage and parameters, they create the box.
But the box that the First Nation education leaders are dealing with doesn’t include things like:
data management infrastructure systems.
It’s more than turning the lights on and running classrooms in a First Nation school.
On how the funding formula can be addressed:
Gabriel: A lot of [funding] formulas that exist in Canada or around the world are input-based. So many dollars per teacher or per textbook. It’s really not focused on outcome, on ‘What do we want our student to achieve?’ And that’s what we need to move to: ‘What does it take to achieve this outcome that is defined by the First Nation.’
People in the First Nation system are doing a damn fine good job with what they have, but much more is needed. It is a difficult situation.
One student’s story shows why one formula doesn’t work for all First Nations
Gabriel:One of the first times I went up to Sioux Lookout. . . I met this [student], the senior class representative and he was from a community way up North. He told me how many different places he lived before coming to Sioux Lookout because there was nothing else. . . I can’t imagine myself at 13 or 14 moving away from family, from everything you’ve ever known to continue your education. That’s what we are asking a lot of First Nation children to do and they need the supports. They need the supports on reserve, they need the supports when they continue their education.
Leslee:Gabe just described a whole number of communities that live remotely, that are fly-in. When you try to apply a Grants For Student Needs model …. you already know it’s not going to work. We’re facing not only an approach that is similar to the approaches they’ve always taken — which is they lead and define the box and you decide whether you’re going to join in.
It’s so incremental. You get one per-cent, two per-cent change over three, four or five years. The types of changes we need to be doing in our communities at the community level, we could be doing those now if the incremental way of doing things is dropped.
Ontario’s Grants for Student Needs (GSN) funding model is largely based on student enrollment numbers and meant to cover operating costs, which can include teacher salaries. It does not include capital or infrastructure costs.
Leslee: What is taken for granted in the application of the Grants for Student Needs model on First Nation funding formulas is that the Canadian system for education has taken well over 170 years to develop. Ontario only just got into its own curriculum development in the last 35-40 years… It’s taken Canada that long to get to a space where they have a shared data infrastructure — a system with which to collect data for the Ministry of Education — and make solid program decisions. (First Nations) need those resources to develop those basic elements of any education system, and yet we keep getting pulled into the discussion around the delivery of programming within a school… ‘how many pencils do you need, how much paper do you need,’… That’s administering a school, that’s not running a system.
We need large scale flexible deliberation spaces with the federal government to get to the bottom line with resources that are going to make the change needed within one or two years.
On barriers to Funding Parity Plus, introduced in 1972 by the Assembly of First Nations:
Leslee: Lack of political will, lack of funding and a mechanism that’s so outdated in an approach that Indigenous Services Canada and the Crown Indigenous Relations Department [and Northern Affairs Canada] hasn’t been able to overcome. The bureaucracy they’ve over there created does not know how to create the legislative decision-making space, or it’s the will of decision makers in terms of cabinet, to get at the funding needed to make these types of decisions. Ultimately, it comes down to how you interpret section 35 of the Constitution.
On what it will take to move the conversation forward: First Nation control of First Nation education
Leslee:The Collective has always situated jurisdiction as a key component of these discussions. We completely understand and know how to articulate what our education system should look like.
Now, the matter is to sit down with the federal government and get at the negotiations to get to the resources that are needed. Just as the same resources are received by mainstream public systems all across Canada. We don’t have that kind of comparable amount of funding for the duties that the Ministry of Education undertakes, and the school boards undertake and the principals and classrooms undertake in our community.
On what else it will take to move the conversation forward: New policies
Gabriel: We need allies and we need the political will to do it.
The federal government is set in a certain box, which is a program box where everything has to be controlled by Ottawa. It takes a lot to permeate a whole organization. ‘We’ve always done it that way,’… that’s not an answer, there are better ways to think about other things. It’s an inertia in terms of bureaucracy because they are set in a certain mindset and can’t get out of it.
Think about how many communities have boil water advisories. If this happened outside a First Nation reserve, there would be action. Yet there is inaction and it’s like 25 years for some communities. There are over 600 First Nations in Canada and an enormous amount of energy that as a country we can all work together to make our society more equal and better and we’re not doing it. That frustrates me.
Leslee:The [First Nation education directors] are just incredible leaders that have led and are leading in isolation — in a single position running the entire education system for their communities, which usually runs anywhere from early years all the way to adult learning to post-secondary. That’s far beyond what a typical school board director and would do with no additional staff. All of these leaders are working really hard to create the environment for exceptional decisions to be made with very limited resources.
What the federal government needs to do… is to really get at the (human resources) piece that exists in communities, that we can access if given the funding we need to create really robust strong education departments that have a policy advisor, program instructional consultants, immersion coordinators skilled in their craft. These are things school boards take for granted and these are things that are not funded at the local First Nation community level.
And yet we’re told the government cares about land based learning and cares about culture identity and history, but all of that has to be built on the ground nand that takes curriculum developers. It’s that kind of conversation the FNWSC is going to go wholeheartedly into with willing participants and partners. We hope the federal government can commit to those conversations.
‘The time is ticking’
Gabe: The time is ticking. We can’t wait 10 years. How many Indigenous languages have been lost worldwide? You have to preserve that…
The political level needs to say to the public service, ‘You get this done… If there are roadblocks at the bureaucratic level at the federal government because they can’t get out of their box, it has to be at the higher level where the minister and the minister’s staff say ‘This is important. . . we don’t want the old ways. We want it done by this timeline.’
That works. I’ve seen it and I’ve lived it.
A case for action
Leslee: If you want to solve a lot of social challenges facing Indigenous people in Canada, you’re going to do it by education. It’s a far better investment and use of public funds to invest in something that’s going to prevent incarceration rates, mental health crises, drug addiction, the representation of Indigenous people in the courts. . . the list goes on and on.
The same investment put into the Canadian education system over decades should be put into First Nation schooling education systems.
We can do it together between the First Nation governments and the federal government.
We’ve got the skills and know how to do it and the Collective is an example of that. Everyone on this team is well-versed in the work of education. We’ve got the answers, we just need to get to a table that get to the places where there is some commitment of substantial resources that are stable and predictable.
By Gerry Kerr, Chignecto Consulting Group Special to the FNWSC
The term “achievement gap” refers to any significant and persistent disparity in academic performance or educational attainment between different groups of students.
For the purposes of a Funding Parity discussion — which FNWSC has been engaged in — the First Nation achievement gap is defined as the difference in achievement outcomes between students attending First Nations schools and students attending schools in the provincial system.
To put it simply, First Nation students are less likely to graduate high school than non-First Nation students. And that’s completely preventable.
Let’s be clear: The achievement gap is not caused by First Nation students having less inherent capacity to succeed than their provincial counterparts. It is not an intellectual or ability-to-learn gap.
It is the result of an education system that has been chronically underfunded and underserviced.
That needs to change in order to close the gap. Programming must be provided that recognizes and challenges the intellectual capacity of First Nation students, and does not assume they aren’t capable of meeting provincially equivalent educational norms.
Disparities in test scores don’t tell the whole story
The most widely used measure to determine an achievement gap is disparities in test scores.
Standardized tests, tend to be the most discussed, scrutinized, and reported measure of achievement gaps in provincial systems. In Ontario, the Education Quality and Accountability Office (EQAO) assessments of reading, writing and mathematics are administered to all Grade 3, 6, 9 and 10 students.
And Indigenous Services Canada (ISC) now requires First Nations to report any results of learning assessments as a condition of their funding agreements.
However, the EQAO test results are not aggregated beyond the community level.
Other studies have also highlighted the persistent achievement gap including graduation rates, post-secondary enrollment rates, post-secondary completion rates, course grades, and higher dropout and absenteeism rates.
Despite restrictions in available testing data, there is significant evidence — including that completed by the federal government’s Office of the Auditor General,— that the achievement gap is so significant that closing it will take many years and significant supplementary funding.
‘An incomprehensible failure’
The federal government’s inability to help improve life for Indigenous people in Canada, including education, was termed an “incomprehensible failure,” by the former auditor general, Michael Ferguson.
His predecessor Sheila Fraser estimated that without additional funding it would take 30 years for First Nation education systems to reach provincial achievement equivalency.
In many First Nation communities, students graduating from Grade 8 are heading into high school at a reading level that is three years behind most of their peers coming out of Ontario’s public school system. The same goes for numeracy.
Because so many of the issues that cause the achievement gap will continue to be factors impacting academic outcomes — even if others, such as poverty and housing are addressed — achievement gap funding will be required until all these factors are addressed.
It is recognized that not all activities that need to be addressed in closing the achievement gap require additional resources.
It is also understood that each community has specific challenges and opportunities to address the achievement gap and will require a specific strategy to address these.
Having said that, significant additional resources are required by First Nation communities if the achievement gap is to be addressed in First Nation schools. The incremental amount required is a much higher percentage over base funding currently posed by federal policy makers.
By Gabriel Sekaly of StrategyCorp Inc. – Special to the FNWSC
March 26, 2021
As part of its framework to improve education funding on First Nation unceded territory, the Government of Canada has proposed using an adapted version of Ontario’s education funding formula for Ontario-based First Nations. This formula is called the Grants for Student Needs (GSN).
Before embarking on a review of the federal proposal to utilize the GSN, a number of very important points related to the history and context of First Nation education as well as history of the GSN should be laid out and taken into account.
The legacy of the historical underfunding of First Nation education, of the implementation of Residential schools and of other active and passive measures of governments to assimilate and not recognize First Nations must be part of any discussion leading to the development of an education funding model.
A number of recent reviews have addressed the issue of First Nation education, such as the Truth & Reconciliation Commission. These reviews included a focus on closing the achievement gap between First Nation and non-First Nation students.
We call upon the federal government to eliminate the discrepancy in federal education funding for First Nations children being educated on reserves and those First Nations children being educated off reserves.
We call on the federal government to draft new Aboriginal education legislation with the full participation and informed consent of Aboriginal Peoples. The new legislation would include a commitment to sufficient funding and would incorporate the following principles:
i. Providing sufficient funding to close identified educational achievement gaps within one generation.
ii. Improving education attainment levels and success rates.
This achievement gap is alarming. First Nation students are much less likely to graduate than non-First Nation students.
In the 2015-2016 school year, Ontario’s overall percentage of students who graduated within four years is 79.6%. For First Nations students, this rate is less than half at 47.1%.
Similarly in 2015-2016, Ontario’s overall percentage of students with eight or more credits at the end of Grade 9 was 88 per cent. For First Nations students the percentage was 65 per cent.
And the year-over-year results tell an even graver story. The rate of First Nation students leaving Grade 10 with 16 or more credits is 52 per cent from 2012-2013 to 2015-2016 school year. For Ontario students province-wide, 78.5 per cent on average had 16 or more credits during the same time period. This is a 26 per cent achievement gap.
Given other data sources available, it would be safe to presume that the educational achievements are, at best, on par with that in the English school system which shows a significant gap in reading, writing and math in all grades and through the years in the report.
The Grants for Student Needs that the Ontario Ministry of Education uses to allocate funding to the 72 provincially run school boards is an “input-based” formula. Every year, the Ministry of Education makes adjustments to the formula and funding levels (inputs) based on government policy and fiscal decisions. For example, whether to increase or decrease class sizes. This formula funds the activities of 72 school boards encompassing about 5,000 schools and over two million students.
More importantly, for our purposes is the fact the GSN was developed in the late 1990’s/early 2000’s to support a mature educational system. A system that had in place structures, processes, curricula, etc.that had evolved over the previous more than 150 years in Ontario. This includes school board administrative infrastructure, well trained (and organized teachers), robust local governance, relevant curricula, etc.
In fact, prior to education reforms in the late 1990’s, local school boards had the power to increase local tax rates on property owners. In addition, in this provincial model, the ministry has substantial responsibilities, including the development of province-wide curriculum, collective bargaining and provide ongoing support to school boards.
First Nation communities, beyond having to overcome more than 150 years of underfunding and deliberate action by governments to undermine their language, culture and sovereignty also do not have in place the systems, processes and infrastructure that Provincial school boards have and to which the GSN applies.
Fundamentally, the GSN is meant for a mature system.
On First Nations, education traditionally goes beyond the classroom. It is an education that is rooted in the language, culture, traditions, and history of each individual First Nation. This focus means that Elders, Traditional Knowledge Keepers and the community as a whole play an important role in the education of their children. It means that First Nation education encompasses lands-based education that connects the students to their environment and teaches the importance of caring for “Mother Earth for the next 7generations,” a principal found within the FNWSC Education Funding Policy Framework.
Fundamentally the Federal approach of using an adapted version of GSN to determine education funding for First Nation education systems contains a number of flaws, including:
It is not an outcome-based approach – it uses an input-based system that does not take into account the significant learning gaps between First Nation and non-First Nation students;
It does not provide the funding needed to overcome the decades of underfunding and active measures by successive governments to undermine the language and culture of First Nations;
It relies on decisions of the provincial government for any annual adjustments to the formula and funding levels. The Government of Ontario makes these decisions based on their policy choices for their educational system and does not take into account First Nation run schools and systems;
It uses a funding framework developed for 72 mature school boards not for 130 independent First Nations, the majority of which have one school;
It does not take into account third level services provided by a Ministry of Education and does not adequately take into account second level services provided by a school board;
It creates a system in Canada whereby First Nations in each province/territory are funded at substantially different levels and on a different basis depending on provincial/territorial jurisdiction decisions, thereby creating inequities across Canada; and,
It does not recognize the full aspirations of First Nation communities to provide a holistic approach to the education of their children that includes the important role of the community.
Surely the Government of Canada can do much better.
So why is the FNWSC calling for parity plus in terms of funding for FN Schools? Because it is not about an equal amount of “input”; it is about achieving similar educational and societal outcomes. And to achieve these equitable outcomes, it will require the Government of Canada to properly fund FN schools to overcome the historical inequities and truly support “First Nation control of First Nation education”.
As a collective, 8 First Nations draw on each other’s common view of success and work to build a data infrastructure blueprint
March 23, 2021
By Dr. Ashley Sisco, Jana George, & Alisha Fowler, Sisco & Associates Consulting Services Inc. – Special to the FNWSC
First Nations have always had their own ways of gathering, protecting and using their knowledge and information. However, Canada has continuously ignored First Nations sovereignty.
Education data sovereignty is not an exception.
Data sovereignty is defined as the right to manage information in accordance with a community’s unique laws, customs and culturally-relevant practices. Data is key to self-determination because it provides evidence to influence decision-making.
Canada’s education system determines educational success and funding based on indicators such as attendance, grades, standardized tests and graduation rates. These indicators reinforce European values and undermine Indigenous worldviews. Yet, First Nations are forced to conform to these indicators in education. Funding shortages have prevented First Nations from consistently collecting the data that connects learning outcomes to community goals.
The First Nations With Schools Collective (FNWSC)— a group of eight First Nations in Ontario working together to advance shared goals in lifelong learning — is asserting data sovereignty through redefining how First Nations’ lifelong learning is measured.
For FNWSC First Nations, the purpose of education is to support individuals, family and community members in reaching their full potential, based on their individual goals. Member First Nations share common educational goals, impacts and measures, which differ from Canada. However, due to chronic federal funding shortfalls, they have not had the capacity to collect data using their own lifelong learning measures and build the comprehensive data systems comparable to provincial data systems.
Our firm, Sisco & Associates Consulting Services (SISCO), has been honoured to support the FNWSC First Nations in developing their data sovereignty capacity. Through this pilot project, the FNWSC is building on conventional student achievement measures by adding community-defined goals and indicators. The purpose of this work is for the FNWSC First Nations to be able to measure and support their learning journeys, as well as advocate for federal funding in a meaningful way for their communities.
Throughout this process, our team experienced a few “aha moments” that gave us important insight into FNWSC community values and visions for learning.
FNWSC member First Nations define lifelong learning as an ongoing process that supports individuals in developing strengths, realizing their potentials and contributing to their communities. This is in contrast to the Canadian system, which is designed to train students to support the economy.
For FNWSC First Nations, learning occurs from pre-birth to post-death, not solely confined to a period of someone’s life (e.g. Kindergarten to Grade 12). It is not confined to the classroom but happens everywhere, especially in the community.
Education is all around us. It is what an individual learns from every experience in daily life. FNWSC First Nations currently collect data by areas like social services, economic development, and health separately from education because funding authorities require it this way. What we learned is that in order to understand lifelong learning this data should be collected and considered together as indicators of success.
First Nations need both adequate funding for and control over First Nations education.
If Canada is serious about reconciliation, it must respect First Nations jurisdiction to define and measure lifelong learning and uphold federal funding obligations for First Nations education.
As a next step, Canada must make space at intergovernmental tables for First Nations as sovereign Nations with self-governments of equal decision-making power.
As the Ford government prepares to announce their education budget March 24, 2021, First Nations are left awaiting their school funding fate as the two budgets are now inextricably linked
Every year in many First Nation schools on-reserve in Ontario, teachers decide if they will pursue another year of teaching in the community or seek employment at provincially funded school boards where they can be paid up to twice as much. These decisions become more difficult for teachers who want to remain in the community as the wage gap between on-reserve teachers and public school board teachers widens year over year.
This lack of education funding parity persists across all First Nation education systems on-reserve in Canada.
Teachers often enter First Nation systems as first year teachers with little experience and leave just at the time when instructional skills are firming up, three or four years later, around the same time the wage difference is too great to ignore.
You can see the ripple effect of this high turnover on students and families on First Nations who must constantly adapt to new, inexperienced staff. The achievement gap never gets addressed.
As the federal government’s new Interim Funding Approach finishes its 2nd year of implementation this month, First Nation leaders find themselves anticipating a Ford government budget announcement.
Why? The new First Nation education funding formula is now modeled on Ontario’s Grants for Student Needs (GSN), the provincial formula used to decide yearly funding allocations to district school boards.
An Ontario change in class sizes could dramatically impact overall funding shortages already felt in First Nation schools resulting in even less classroom supports, less funding to pay teachers, and less special education supports.
FNWSC is calling on the government to remove the cap in funding and move with earnest in fulfilling First Nation children rights to a quality education.
There is much to unpack here. This will be the focus of a series of blogs over the next eight weeks.
Join FNWSC feature contributors beginning March 18 as they explore the long-term impacts of consistent year over year shortages, funding caps and how the new comparability model measures up as an alternative.
Fifteen community leaders attended the webinar, which was the second session in a two-part series led by Dr. Anver Saloojee, a Ryerson University politics and public administration professor who specializes in human rights law.
The Human Rights training and planning sessions focused on how Indigenous communities have used human rights laws in Ontario and Canada to affirm rights. Members discussed how these codes have been strengthened by Canada’s duty to meet specific obligations set out in the United Nations declaration.
“UNDRIP is the most comprehensive international instrument on the rights of Indigenous Peoples,” said Saloojee, who examined several articles of the declaration that focus on education. “It is a universal framework that sets the minimum standards for the survival, dignity and well-being of Indigenous Peoples around the world and it relies on existing human rights standards.”
The session presented the information in a way that was specific to educators and the advancement of education equality, laying the foundation to help inform First Nations with Schools Collective’s strategic planning methods as it works to advance education equality for First Nations through policy changes.
“In the Education world we talk about UNDRIP . . . but we’ve never taken the time to align it with the work we are doing in education. I really appreciated that.” said one participant.
“This is just a beginning,” said another participant. “It’s a new project and our first encounter with these ideas.”
NEXT STEP: As a follow up to these sessions, the FNWSC will develop a Discussion Paper that critically assesses Canadian and international legal strategies to challenge racist and discriminatory education policy practices and obtain education equality for First Nations.
During the break-out sessions, members discussed commonalities with other Indigenous Peoples around the world and how international law can advance Indigenous education self-determination.
Members also discussed whether outside human rights institutions that operate in a settler system in Ontario and Canada are beneficial to First Nations and whether there should be advocacy for an autonomous Indigenous Human Rights Commission.
For example, article 14 states: Indigenous peoples have the right to establish and control their educational systems and institutions providing education in their own languages, in a manner appropriate to their cultural methods of teaching and learning.
“The value of this convention resides with those who are going to hold the government of Canada accountable for its implementation,” said Saloojee. “The onus of responsibility is both on the government of Canada and Indigenous communities to hold that government accountable for what it has signed. The UN declaration is the minimum standard that we can work with.”
The webinar was the latest in a series of webinars the FNWSC has held since its launch in 2016. Previous online events have featured panelists from all over the world who have shared knowledge about how to raise awareness and impact change by sharing community stories, Indigenous evaluation methodologies, land-based learning and curriculum design that honours ways of knowing and education law development. The goal of the collective is to share methodologies between First Nations working to reinstitute ancestral knowledge into the daily learning of community life.
Through team meetings, members share information and practices to help communities overcome challenges — including the current provincial framework and curriculum, K-8 schooling, students being transferred to district school boards — and frame First Nation curriculum in culturally appropriate ways that puts family well-being at the centre.
LESLEE WHITE-EYEis the Structural Readiness Coordinator for the First Nations With Schools Collective (FNWSC), an inter-nation table of First Nations seeking control over education.
While First Nation communities have yet to see the true impact of COVID-19 in terms of health and well-being, there is certainty in knowing the impacts will be devastating. Given our collective vulnerabilities to disease as a colonized people and continued limited access to Western care, this virus will find a perfect host in the average Indigenous body.
A recent talk by Dr. Michael Yellow Bird, Dean of Social Work at the University of Manitoba, entitled “Decolonizing COVID-19: A Return to Traditional Indigenous Prevention Strategies in the Time of Uncertainty” led me to think more deeply about how leaders in First Nation communities must legislate specific health education standards for their school(s) that align more closely with critical local health and cultural needs to reduce chronic disease instances and strengthen immune systems.
It is important that these standards go far beyond expectations found in the Ontario Health and Physical Education Curriculumcurrently in place in Ontario schools. First Nation communities have a huge hill to climb in terms of positive health outcomes. Each community having scarce resources would need to hyper target a change to their curriculum to bring about the most positive change to student health, i.e., observing traditional feasting protocols for their high nutritional value, incorporating daily reflective thinking practices such as meditation, instituting more time outdoors or allowing for participation in intermittent sweats and fasting that have strong mental health benefits.
Dr. Yellow Bird highlighted how centuries of tried and true Indigenous cultural practices, almost eradicated by colonial and racist policy, were mechanisms to build physical resiliency in our bodies. In his talk, he references western research related to natural and seasonal sleep patterns, ‘immune memory’, and cognitive resilience that relate to and affirm benefits of traditional practices like prolonged fasting; prolonged singing, dancing in supportive social groups; humour and laughter; and sweats. Each cultural prevention strategy did its part in building immunity in our microbiome, cognitive and muscle/skeletal structures.
With this in mind, more must be done to include traditional physical health practices in First Nation schools. Dr. Yellow Bird worries about the epidemic of inactivity, the devaluing of independent play and the disconnect in relationships between people and place that have become prevalent in modern day society, which is why, he focuses on Indigenous mindfulness practices in his work. Adopting similar practices and more land-based learning that is culturally based as a requirement of curriculum in First Nation schools could be an easy remedy to these issues.
And now more than ever, First Nation education system leaders are in a position to engage in discussions about setting rigorous learning goals that represent the needs of the community and are culturally relevant health standards for all students.
What would a revised Physical Education curriculum look like?
In the short-term, community education decision-makers could legislate increased instructional time outdoors, increased hours of physical education per week and a redefining of what constitutes physical education. Educators can then, in turn, reinvigorate key physical experiences, co-taught with cultural knowledge keepers, like fasting, hiking, canoeing, camping, fishing and other land-based training to strengthen children and youth physical health and cultural knowledge.
In the mid-term, for example, community infrastructure planners would need to build school fire pits as Wikwemikong Board of Education has; teaching lodges as Chippewas of the Thames has outside their school; and, outdoor shelters. Lands and environment officers would need to designate areas for maple bush growth, sweetgrass harvesting (as in the case at Walpole Island First Nation), hunting and interpretative trails to support the work. Curriculum writers and cultural leads would need to help teachers align learning about customs to seasonal timetables, i.e., winter storytelling, and prepare teachers to be flexible when natural life circumstances present significant learning opportunities, i.e., deaths, births, feasting in a revised school improvement plan. And finance officers would need to assess budgets for their ability to hire knowledge keepers, provide the equipment, safety supports, transportation and liability insurances to run rigorous outdoor education programming.
Why culturally relevant curriculum will help our immunity?
Our cultural values place the highest importance on the interconnectedness of all living things. Dr. Yellow Bird says knowing cultural values like humility and respect for all life would keep in check the current thinking prevalent in some youth who believe they are invincible to COVID-19. One example he provided of cultural thinking in the face of disease is being able to see viruses and bacteria as thinking living species that live in our bodies ‘as a great population’ in balance and harmony. Students who understand these values and can apply them to their own immune system functioning will be less likely to take for granted the instability and threat to life a pathogen, like COVID-19, can be to their bodies in times like these.
What will a call to action look like?
Let’s create research teams to assess how First Nation schools are impacting immune system functioning in our students. Let’s legislate for school-led cultural experiences where a healthy level of environmental stress through fasting, doing sweats and being outside for longer period of times strengthen immunity. Let’s plan for schools where children and youth laugh, sing, dance, sleep, meditate, and run more. Then finally, let’s track the impacts these changes in education legislation have on overall community wellbeing and immunity over the long-term.
By learning the lessons of this pandemic, communities can build stronger physical education experiences that draw from tried and true cultural practices for greater physical health.
 The talk was hosted by KIN Knowledge in Indigenous Networks on April 7, 2020 and can be found on their Facebook page.
See National Collaborating Centre for Aboriginal Health at https://www.nccih.ca/en/ for a diversity of publications, resources and other information related to Indigenous health.
What matters most in any community sovereignty discussion is with what intention and capacity will we as a people have control over and responsibility for a territoryand how our local governance efforts strengthen our nation relations as a distinct community amongst other communities of the great Anishinaabek or Haudenosaunee or Cree nations in Ontario for example.
A governance framework should be a ‘living’ document. When actively used, decision-makers will be protecting the pre-existing sovereignty, values and ‘legal’ traditions or responsibility concepts of the nation while staying the course in terms of adhering to the long-term growth and development goals of the community and nation.
Well-designed education governance policies created in community and nationterms are key to exercising jurisdiction over education in the territory. Strong First Nation-contextualized life-long learning governing structures and functions is a key area of development in sovereignty affairs of any community wanting to achieve the ‘good life’ for its people. It is also a means to ensuring a balance between family-Creation well-being or people/place well-being and living in a modern global economy. It is also a way of protecting the many medicine bundles (songs, dances, rituals, protocols, teachings, rites of passage, etc.) left behind by our ancestors that are evidence of First Nation law concepts of Natural and Spirit Law and ways to ensure family well-being.
The work ahead for First Nation government officials, its citizens, staff and allies therefore is long and arduous for many reasons including nation state law-making traditions, colonization and resulting socio-cultural impacts which speaks to finding the right balance for each community between carrying on in a Western-structured education governance environment and making the monumental changes needed to ignite a cultural movement within education governance for ourselves.
A community that is united and coordinated in its approach, staffed with field-specific and cultural expertise and equipped with a community-approved education governance policy framework could be the spark to ignite the bright road ahead in terms of taking control of education and finding the right balance that tips the scales significantly toward full jurisdiction.
See Kent McNeil, “Indigenous and Crown Sovereignty in Canada,” in Resurgence and Reconciliation Indigenous-Settler Relations and Earth Teachings, ed. Michael Asch, John Burrows, and James Tully (Toronto, ON: University of Toronto Press, 2008), 293-314.
For the purposes of this blog post, ‘community’ is the geo-politically defined First Nation community largely understood by the Crown as a ‘band’ having responsibility over a community of people within a specific territory or place while ‘nation’ is referring to the whole of the First Nation communities who belong to the larger body of people who share a language, beliefs and ways of organizing their social, physical and spiritual lives.