Excerpt from The Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada: Volume 6 [emphasis added.]
Aboriginal control of Aboriginal education (pp. 97 – 102)
A growing number of self-government agreements negotiated between First Nations and federal and provincial governments contain education jurisdiction com- ponents, including Sechelt (1986), Nisga’a (2000), Tlicho (2005), Tsawwassen (2009), Maa-nulth First Nations (2011), and the Yale First Nation (2013). However, many First Nations with such self-government agreements have chosen not to exercise that jurisdiction because of the lack of support for the elements of a system of education.
The other emerging trend has been towards the negotiation of tripartite agreements. In 1998, eleven Mi’kmaq First Nations concluded the first tripartite agreement providing for the transfer of education to local control. Under the agreement, the education sections of the Indian Act—provisions that once forced Aboriginal parents to send their children to residential school—cease to apply to the participating communities. The agreement also provides that First Nation laws regarding education on reserves prevail over provincial education laws. The Mi’kmaq schools under this agreement have been pioneers in programs designed to preserve and draw on the wisdom of the Mi’kmaq language and have become important cultural centres for the whole community.
In 2006 the Government of Canada, British Columbia, and the First Nations Education Steering Committee signed the Education Jurisdiction Framework Agreement, which put in place a process to transfer jurisdiction over on-reserve education to participating First Nations in British Columbia.213 The First Nations Jurisdiction over Education in British Columbia Act gives effect to the framework agreement.
Those First Nations in British Columbia that wish to participate can negotiate individual education agreements that transfer education authority to the participating and/or self-governing First Nations. Once a jurisdiction agreement has been ratified, participating First Nations assume responsibility for providing educational services from Kindergarten to Grade Twelve on reserves. The agreement also established a First Nations Education Authority to support First Nations in exercising education jurisdiction in three key areas: teacher certification, school certification, and the establishment of curriculum and examination standards. First Nations can co-manage educational services with the Authority, or delegate their jurisdiction entirely to the Authority.
Apart from these approaches, other tripartite agreements have been negotiated in four provinces (Manitoba, New Brunswick, Alberta, and Prince Edward Island) and there is a sub-regional agreement with the Saskatoon Tribal Council. Canada states that the seven tripartite education agreements (which include the BC and Nova Scotia. However, unlike the agreements concluded in BC and Nova Scotia, the agreements negotiated through the Education Partnership Program are not legally binding and do not involve a transfer of jurisdiction. Instead, the agreements are focused on promoting collaborative relationships between the parties and committing to developing strategies to improve educational outcomes for First Nations students who attend both band-operated schools and provincial schools.
There are also promising examples of Aboriginal peoples working within the public education systems to better meet the needs of Aboriginal students. The Mi’kmaq Kina’matnewey (Nova Scotia) and the Ahkwesahsne Mohawk Board of Education (Ontario) have established agreements that require the public education system to be more reflective of Aboriginal culture, values, and language.
In 1999, the First Nation Education Steering Committee (BC) engaged Canada, the province, and the BC Teachers’ Federation in discussions aimed at improving school success for Aboriginal learners. The memorandum of understanding that was eventually signed in BC set the foundation for the creation of local enhancement agreements requiring public schools to provide strong programs on the culture of local Aboriginal peoples.
These developments are promising, but there is also reason to be cautious. The Senate Standing Committee on Aboriginal Peoples observed that while these partnership agreements have some benefits, witnesses who testified before the committee argued they are not a lasting solution to the education challenges facing First Nations. control over education and adequate funding for the great challenges left by residential schools is still necessary.
Meanwhile, as in other legacy areas such as child welfare and health, these education developments are taking place on a piecemeal basis, agreement by agreement across the country. Aboriginal peoples have neither the resources nor the time required to negotiate and renegotiate such temporary agreements. Significant and durable change, which honours the Treaties and Aboriginal peoples’ rights to self- determination, must happen much more quickly to ensure that today’s children are not left behind.
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