Education Governance Administration Resources Key to Progress in Education Law-Making

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Education in First Nation communities has long been an exercise in education management of federal government dollars to run a school. The transformational change First Nations are looking for requires a much broader view of the role of First Nation governments in delivering education.

Councillors-elect running on two year terms is not going to be enough to move the yard stick in education law-making nor is placing the work on already over-worked education directors/managers. First Nation governments must identify qualified staff to coordinate and provide oversight on a nation’s law-making processes in the form of governance coordinators/directors and/or policy advisors.

At a recent dialogue session hosted by the First Nations with Schools Collective, it became apparent how critical governance staff is to getting work done on jurisdictional matters. Kyrie Ransom, Justice Coordinator, talked about the critical role she plays to support the Chief and Council at the Mohawk of Akwesasne with their policy and law making duties.

The unfortunate reality is most communities do not have the resources to hire policy advisors, governance coordinators and/or justice coordinators. ‘Band’ administration dollars fall incredibly short and the Chief and councillors are left managing the piece-meal ‘rights-based’ mandates and processes in-between other portfolio responsibilities at monthly governance committee tables with community volunteers.

If a community is serious about their self-determination they will need to dedicate resources to a full-time, qualified staff member(s) who will build the structures, institutions and processes required to be truly self-determining in education. Provincial governments have Ministries of Education; First Nations need the same resources to carry out those same functions. Curriculum, curriculum resource development, infrastructure planning, parent engagement, board and data governance, financial administration, teacher development policy and education innovation come from this level of government that First Nations are unable to resource.

First Nation governments deserve the same foundational supports to their systems. Federal transfer arrangements must include statutory funding amounts for governance costs if they want to make the monumental changes needed for excellence in education to be reached where there is high student achievement for First Nation students.

Go to the Publications page on this site to see our latest Discussion Series summary report resulting from the presentation by Kyrie Ransom at Mohawks of Akwesasne community.

Why an Education Governance Framework Matters in First Nation Education Transformation

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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 territory[1]and 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 nation[2]terms 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.


[1]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.

[2]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. 

FN Governance Readiness is a Community-Driven Exercise

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FNWSC communities can strengthen their law-making processes and understanding by sharing each other’s unique assertion histories and current approaches in policy and law development, implementation and evaluation.

Since the late Winter of 2016, delegates from participating nations in the FNWSC dialogue at strategic planning sessions about their law-making processes, education governing experiences, i.e., how they run their boards of education, for example, and what their vision of a transformed First Nation education system looks like in their respective communities.

Through think tanks held on-line through virtual meeting platforms, delegates dive deeper into governance specific topics and share their policies, ask questions and offer valuable insight into each other’s challenges and opportunities in education governance matters.

Delegates raise important questions about current law-making structures that cause even deeper recognition of the work ahead, such as:

  • In what ways does our community assert education jurisdiction now?
  • How do I ‘Indigenize’ the current education policies we have now because as I reflect on them they are simply mirror images of the public school system policies and do not reflect our Anishinaabek/Haudenosaunee view?
  • Are there words in the language that will better express the intent of a policy?
  • Does this policy take into account our key principles, values and beliefs as described in our draft frameworks?