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Federal Budget: Impact on Native Education
The federal budget tabled March 29 committed $275 million to First Nations elementary and secondary education over three years. But that figures falls well short of the $500 million the Assembly of First Nations said is required to bring on-reserve learning up to par with provincial schools.
“(The government) made a commitment at the Crown gathering to implement jointly agreed to recommendations (from the National Panel on First Nations education). The signal in this budget is that the recent report isn’t just being shelved and a sense that our people are beginning to be listened to. But there is a long ways to go yet,” said AFN National Chief Shawn Atleo.
The Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations and Nishnawbe Aski Nation of Ontario did not participate in the national panel’s efforts and were critical of the process. That criticism continues over the dollars the federal government has allocated to First Nations education in the budget.
NAN Grand Chief Stan Beardy said the money does not “adequately address the shortfalls” in the NAN communities, while FSIN Vice-Chief Morley Watson said that as the two per cent cap remains, First Nation will not be able to improve in education or economics. “This is a proven formula for disaster," said Watson in a news release.
Atleo said the national education panel helped to “recognize and make it unequivocal” that the two per cent spending cap placed on on-reserve funding in 1996 has caused the gap to widen between First Nations students and their provincial counterparts.
Of the $275 million allocated for First Nations education, only $45 million is to be spent in the current fiscal year.
“Nurturing the Learning Spirit of First Nation Students,” the report tabled by the national panel on education, called for an immediate increase in funding to be received for the 2012-2013 school year.
The budgeted First Nations education dollars will see $100 million spent for literacy programming and other supports, while $175 million is for building and renovating schools. After the initial spending in teh current fiscal year, the balance will be divided equally over the next two budget years.
It is unclear whether the literacy funding can be used by First Nations for language and culture programs.
“If the residential schools, under the guise of education, thought to take away our language, culture and identity… we will continue to press with our people that education must support the return of our language, culture and identity in connection with our territories, our treaties and our rights. That is absolutely fundamental and it must be led by First Nations,” said Atleo.
The government is planning on bringing in a First Nations Education Act in September 2014, one of five recommendations made by the national panel on education. The act is targeted at improving on-reserve elementary and secondary schools and increasing First Nations graduation rates.
In his speech, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty said the new funding was “initial steps” in improving education on First Nations.
“We are going to seek clarity about resources that were announced in education and we will push, we will be unrelenting to push, especially for support for education,” said Atleo.
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