Atlantic Canada offers guidance on aboriginal education


By Joseph Quesnel, AIMS Fellow

Six months after pledging historic investments in indigenous education within the federal budget, Prime Minister Trudeau is now being criticized for the pace of new funding.

The former Conservative government tried to reform Aboriginal education with one major national piece of legislation called the First Nations Control of First Nations Education Act.

There was nothing wrong with the proposed Act per se, as it did propose a major overhaul of education standards for First Nations students, especially on band-operated schools, where those standards were needed.

However, perhaps less of a national, one-sized-fits-all model was needed. First Nations communities and regions are quite different, despite facing many of the same challenges.

One model of Aboriginal education reform in Atlantic Canada could perhaps provide guidance. In 1999, the Mi’kmaw community of Nova Scotia won the legal right to manage their own education system. The Mi’kmaw Kina’matnewey became the education authority for 13 Mi’kmaw communities across Nova Scotia. One chief strength of the authority was its ability to act as a “school board” of sorts to support local band schools. This was something many band schools lacked across Canada. Band schools lacked enforceable standards. The authority was able to improve education standards and promote Mi’kmaw language and culture. Most importantly, the First Nations graduation rate in Nova Scotia increased to 88 percent, compared to the national average of 35 percent. This is very important given that new jobs in the trades and in the natural resources sector require Grade 12, and these are areas where we can tap the younger Aboriginal population.

Perhaps the answer is to roll out accountable and transparent aboriginal education reforms on a provincial or regional basis.


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