NS First Nations Provide Guidance on Education


Photo Credit: CBC.ca

By Joseph Quesnel, AIMS Fellow

The Mi’kmaq model of First Nation education is being emulated across Canada and is providing more evidence that success is not just about more education funding.

Nova Scotia is one province among three that have tripartite agreements with federal and provincial governments over First Nation education funding. These agreements allow funding levels to grow significantly over time. Nova Scotia’s Mi’kmaq communities signed an agreement with both levels of government in 1997, creating an Indigenous school board.

However, the Chronicle Herald recently reported how Nova Scotia officials are demanding more funding for Mi’kmaq educational programming.

But, Mi’kmaq education officials need to demonstrate how funds will be used and how they will improve an Indigenous education system that is the envy of other provinces.

Anishinabek First Nations in Northern Ontario are on the cusp of ratifying Ontario’s first education self-government agreement. The agreement could affect roughly 27,000 Anishinaabe (also known as Ojibway) students in the province.

If passed, the agreement will come into effect April 2018.

Participating Indigenous communities would have full control over on-reserve education. Although the system they have conceived in Ontario is different from the Mi’kmaq model in Nova Scotia, communities there are drawing inspiration from Atlantic Canada.

“The Indian Act hasn’t worked. What has worked are things like negotiated self-government agreements. The Nova Scotia education agreement with the Mi’kmaw is a good example. The B.C. health agreement is a good example,” said Judith Rae, a lawyer with experience on Indigenous issues, in an interview with iPolitics.

However, the Anishinabek First Nations need to focus on accountability for results and structural reform, not just focus on the self-government element. These items are even more important than funding.

The strength of the Mi’kmaq approach in Nova Scotia is its ability to improve high school graduation rates and other education outcomes. When First Nations gain control over education, there is a temptation to focus only on culture and language, to the detriment of traditional literacy and numeracy. Years ago, this occurred in Manitoba.

Finally, the Mi’kmaq approach has shown how self-government does not have to be wholescale, but can be sectoral, and still achieve results. Indigenous communities can sign self-government agreements with government over many areas, such as health or child welfare. The Nova Scotia example on education provides a model for other jurisdictions.

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