| That, in the opinion of the House, the government should adopt Shannen's Dream by: (a) declaring that all First Nation children have an equal right to high-quality, culturally-relevant education; (b) committing to provide the necessary financial and policy supports for First Nations education systems; (c) providing funding that will put reserve schools on par with non-reserve provincial schools; (d) developing transparent methodologies for school construction, operation, maintenance and replacement; (e) working collaboratively with First Nation leaders to establish equitable norms and formulas for determining class sizes and for the funding of educational resources, staff salaries, special education services and indigenous language instruction; and (f) implementing policies to make the First Nation education system, at a minimum, of equal quality to provincial school systems.
He said: Madam Speaker, first of all, I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for . I sincerely hope that my speech here today gets as much media attention as other events that have happened recently.
The presentation of this motion will go along the same lines as the approach I used in my previous speeches. Madam Speaker, I have made a number of speeches in this House since I arrived here on May 2, 2011. My detractors and those who might be interested can look at my record at www.openparliament.org. There are nearly seven pages on my speeches.
It should be noted that analysis of the material on the living conditions in aboriginal communities in the country lends itself well to empirical considerations and highlighting cultural subtleties. As with my previous speeches, I will talk about the basics and address the realities as experienced in the communities and on the streets of my home reserve. This ties in with the oral tradition I come from.
Last week, I had the opportunity to attend the press conference held by the national panel on first nation elementary and secondary education. To my great surprise, the spokespeople for the organization addressed a number of points that demonstrate culturally relevant progress, thanks to which it is possible to identify the obstacles to educating youth on first nations reserves. Sometimes in my speeches, I talk about cultural relevance and a culturally integrated approach, and those are the aspects I am going to focus on today, since government efforts in the communities to promote school enrolment and completion of education among youth have to be measures that take into account the sometimes difficult realities experienced by young people in the communities. This has to be a grassroots approach.
The panel is to be applauded for the mere fact that, in preparing its report, it focused on the true causes of absenteeism and dropout rates in the communities. During the press conference, the panel members also highlighted one of the greatest strengths of youth living in adverse conditions: resilience. In fact, as I stand before you this morning, I am an excellent example of that resilience. Despite the fact that industry-sponsored media have tried to take me down, I am still here. I want everyone to know that I ate out of garbage cans as a child. This is nothing new to me, and it takes more than that to bring me down.
In my remarks today, I will focus on adversity and resilience because first nations youth encounter obstacles to learning every day. One of the primary obstacles is the cyclical way of life that has gradually become the norm on reserves in Canada. By “cyclical way of life”, I am referring to, in my language, mitsham shuniau, or social assistance benefits. Life in reserve communities today follows the rhythm of social assistance payments.
Teachers in reserve communities can attest to that. Absenteeism is significantly higher on the 1st and 15th of each month because that is when people get their cheques. As I will show, a large proportion of families that depend on federal transfers do not function well on the days the cheques come in. Children in such families suffer the consequences of their parents' dysfunction and do not go to school because they cannot find food in the morning or get themselves ready. I am talking about young kids, high school kids and elementary school kids.
This factor must be taken into account when implementing education programs adapted to the realities of Canada's aboriginal communities. Teachers and other stakeholders called upon to work on remote reserves that are truly struggling do not have an easy task. Therefore, it is important that we focus on giving educational institutions the tools they need to meet the needs of these students on their individual journeys. When I talk about their journey, I not necessarily referring to their academic journey, but rather their life journey. This is not the case in all communities, but from my personal experience in the communities of Uashat-Maliotenam and the Lower North Shore, from a very young age, children are regularly exposed to deviant, negative influences and behaviour that would be considered unacceptable by today's standards, but that is trivialized in those communities because it is so pervasive.
These young people have been brought up in a world that is quite different from that of other young Canadians. Any teachers who answer the call to go to these communities to work—for they are often from outside the community—will have to learn about and be prepared for this reality, as demonstrated by the youths' behaviour and psyche.
The dysfunctional nature of many aboriginal communities in Canada is partially linked to idleness and dependence on agencies that are part of the band management. For instance, in my community, over half of all individuals who are of working age, that is, 16 and over, depend on Mitsham Shuniau, or money to eat. Basically, that is our word for social assistance. In some cases, band leaders are forced to divert funding to other priorities established by the band council.
There is a case in a community in my riding, a community whose name I will not mention because it is rather infamous. It announced that, due to fiscal restraints, it had to cut the school days at the secondary school to four days a week in order to mitigate the cash shortage. It is the young people who are ultimately going to suffer the consequences. That is a concrete example.
All efforts to implement policies regarding the first nations education system must ensure that the funding allocated to education is used only for the purposes of the specific educational programs.
I will certainly not limit my remarks to students attending on-reserve primary and secondary schools. My arguments also apply to post-secondary students who often have to leave their home communities to pursue their academic endeavours. Those students, like the ones living on the reserves, are entitled to high-quality education that takes into account the added burden on aboriginal youth who want to pursue higher education.
I want to talk about my own experience. I left my home community in early 2000 to pursue my post-secondary education. I then enrolled in the faculty of law at Université Laval. I spent six years in all in Quebec City. Things did not go smoothly at first. I had a hard time adjusting to urban life. I carried the reality I grew up in with me during those years. Young aboriginals who have to study abroad or away from home are dependent on transfers from the band council education authorities. They are on an allowance. Imagine how hard it is to rent an apartment when your only source of income is an allowance from a band council. You can imagine how many doors were slammed in my face. I ended up living in residence. That is just one of the obstacles facing students wanting to pursue higher education, not to mention breaking from their traditional lifestyle and the distance between them and their home community.
I want to clarify that just because my head was leaning over towards my BlackBerry, that does not necessarily mean I was asleep in my seat.
Madam Speaker, I wish to thank my colleague from for his heartfelt remarks. It is a pleasure to work with him on this file.
I think it appropriate to commence my remarks in support of this motion with a quote from Shawn Atleo, the National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations. I intend to close my remarks by sharing messages from children. Shawn Atleo stated:
|| It is unacceptable in Canada that First Nations children cannot attend a safe and healthy school. It is unacceptable in Canada for First Nations education to languish with outdated laws, policies and funding practices that do not support basic standards. It is time for fairness and equity. Shannen Koostachin stood up for justice so the young people coming behind her might have an equal opportunity for a quality education in her community, just like young people have in communities throughout Canada. Now is the time for fairness, justice, and equity. Now is the time to realize Shannen’s Dream.
National Chief Atleo also shared with parliamentarians this sad statistic. More aboriginal students are incarcerated in this country than graduate from high school. Fewer than 50% of aboriginal youth graduate from high school. Why is this? It is perhaps not surprising, given that on average first nations students receive $2,000 to $3,000 less support for their education per year than other Canadian students. That is discounting the non-investment in computers, lab equipment, libraries and other basic supports.
The Parliamentary Budget Officer reported in 2009 that close to a tenth of first nations schools were temporary structures. Only 49% were in good condition. Many had not even been inspected. Seventy-six per cent of Alberta and B.C. reserve schools were reported in poor condition. I have personally witnessed the mould in the Lubicon community school in Alberta.
Increases in first nations children's education funding have reportedly been capped at 2% per year since 1996. Remarkably, the cap on funding was imposed the year following the issuance of the report by the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples calling for substantial new investments. The funding shortfall for schools for 2009-10 was $620 million. The cumulative shortfall in funding is estimated at $1.2 billion since 1996.
The Parliamentary Budget Officer concurred with the finding of the Auditor General that the formula for band-operated schools has not been modified since the late 1980s and warrants review. Auditor General Sheila Fraser, in her final report of June 2011, criticized the poor response by the government to the growing gap in education opportunities and rates of graduation for first nations children. She stated:
|| What’s truly shocking, however, is the lack of improvement. Last year, Indian and Northern Affairs Canada reported that between 2001 and 2006 there was little or no progress in the well-being of First Nations communities. In a wealthy country like Canada, this gap is simply unacceptable.
She criticized the government for failing to implement the action plan that both she and the House of Commons Standing Committee on Public Accounts recommended in 2004 for post-secondary education. They called for a comprehensive strategy and action plan to address serious gaps. She said that education is critical to raising the social and economic strength of first nations comparable to other Canadians. In her words, “Post-secondary education could improve employment opportunities for First Nations”.
Last November, I asked the government when it would finally commit to ending the discrimination in the funding of education for aboriginal children. The responded that another panel had been appointed to recommend an action plan. The action plan from the national panel has been released. Its findings and recommendations mirror those of all the previous reports over the last decade. It issued a strong call for action now. Its recommendations are reflected in this motion.
When asked last week if his government would finally end the discrimination and invest in education and economic opportunities for first nations children, the minister astoundingly replied that he found the report aspirational. If decades of reports and inequities still fall on deaf ears and if its international commitments are not inspiring action, perhaps the government will listen to the pleas of Canadian children. Yesterday, more than 400 elementary school children came to Parliament Hill to deliver their message to the government. Their message was clear. Aboriginal children have the right to an education of the same quality as other children.
They can be counted among the many children across this country determined to carry on the legacy of Shannen Koostachin, to fulfill her dream of a school and quality education for her community of Attawapiskat and all first nations communities. I was pleased to deliver the children's handmade schoolhouse, filled with their letters, to the office of the . They will be waiting patiently for his response.
Last month, a delegation of aboriginal students travelled to Geneva to present their concerns to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child. They pointed to the failure of the government to comply with its international commitment to end discrimination of access to education. The students shared concerns about Canada's failure to comply with commitments under the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the Convention on the Rights of the Child. They testified that Canada has yet to deliver on the right of first nations children to quality education in their own language, respecting their own culture and delivered by their own peoples.
Let me share two of their heartfelt letters. This is from Christa. She writes:
|| A long time ago our ancestors made a 'treaty' with the white people that included education. Now, the government doesn't give the same amount of money as the others, they give us less. To me, I think this is Racism. It's not fair that we get less money. So, it's about time someone stood up and brought up the past about the treaty. We are going to fight for this. We need our education.
A letter from Jeremy, submitted to the UN committee says:
|| I feel angry that the government is taking money from us. It's not fair that we don't have the same amount of money like the other schools near our community. We want to learn as much as them. Why should it be different? We have dreams and we want to realize them. Without this funding, some of us won't make it to college or university. We need an education to succeed in life.
In closing, I would like to share a plea sent to me just last week by Savannah Thomas, a Manitoba first nations student. She wrote:
|| I'm a 19 year old Aboriginal girl who has spent the last three years trying to finish grade 12. I quit twice to go to work at Domino's Pizza. After I make a bit of money I go back to school again.
|| Presently, I have no income. I'm about to graduate from high school at the University of Winnipeg Collegiate.
|| I hear a lot of conversations about how so many Aboriginal youth do not finish high school. For me, the point is lack of funding and no support from anybody except for my grandparents. My grandfather and grandmother have given me what they can over the past two years to help me stay in school. They're both old-age pensioners and cannot spare much.
|| I'm sure there are many other youth in my predicament. What do we do when no one listens? I read the other day about the government's response to the recent study on Aboriginal education. The word I hear is aspirational. However, that is not going to help me at all. I still need to eat and clothe myself in order to stay in school.
|| Perhaps we need to look at individual cases across Canada. Where do we, as Aboriginal youth living in urban areas, go for help? My First Nation community does not have a high school so a lot of us have no choice but to live in the cities. But we are forgotten the minute we leave our communities. Our rights are portable and should extend beyond the borders of our First Nations.
Savannah told me if she can just graduate from high school, she hopes to study earth sciences so she can help protect the environment. What can possibly be more important than investing in Savannah's and all first nations children's futures?
Madam Speaker, I will start my remarks by thanking the constituents of the great riding, particularly the 42 first nations and the great people who work in towns and cities across my riding on first nations education. I appreciate their input over the past couple of years as we move forward together around strengthening education on and off reserve for first nations.
I want to thank the hon. member for his remarks from the outset, and extend my thanks for bringing this important matter to our attention.
That said, of course we have, in my presentation this morning, quite a bit to say about this. We have had some major accomplishments, even quite recently.
I would like to thank the hon. member for the motion and tell him that I support it. Improving the education of students in first nations communities and the conditions in which these children learn must be one of the highest priorities of all of us here in the House. First nations children must be afforded the same opportunities as children who live off-reserve.
The stakes are simply too high for us not to make first nations education a priority. In fact, the stakes could not be any higher. First and foremost, quality education enables people, regardless of their background, to enjoy more fulfilling, more meaningful and more rewarding lives.
We also know that, in today’s knowledge-based economy, a quality education is an essential building block for career success and community enrichment. As a result of continuing globalization and rapid technological advances, new skills and knowledge are required to enter the labour market. In fact, study after study tells us that some two-thirds of all new jobs will require higher education or advanced training.
What may be less well-known is that, in this emerging working world, gaining a quality education is especially critical for people in first nations communities. It is especially critical for these Canadians because there are major developments occurring in regions, particularly in the north and in the great Kenora riding, where new industries and traditional industries, particularly in the mineral resource area, are fast developing.
As a group, first nations people are much younger than the average Canadians. The median age of these Canadians is 15 years younger than all other Canadians, 25 versus 40. What is more, the growth of the first nations population has been five times greater than the growth of the country's non-aboriginal population in the last decade.
Simply put, young men and women of first nations communities represent the fastest growing segment of our country's population and the most potentially dynamic contributors to our labour market moving forward. If our country is to address anticipated labour shortages in a variety of industries, if we are to boost levels of innovation and entrepreneurship, then first nations kids must be equipped with a quality education.
If Canada is to reach its full potential in a world in which the highest paying jobs are filled by people who possess, not only deep knowledge and keen skills but also nimble minds who are eager to take on new challenges, then first nations youth must be ready to take their place in this exciting labour market moving forward.
This was echoed at the crown-first nations gathering that took place in January. The Governor General said that “our future hinges on our ability to share and to learn from each other, and to create the conditions in which aboriginal and non-aboriginal people can thrive equally, according to their hopes and dreams.”
What are current conditions when it comes to education for first nations children? The federal government spends some $1.5 billion each year to support education for approximately 117,500 elementary and secondary school students who live on reserves.
That is a lot of money. Yet it is not giving us the return we want. Educational outcomes for first nations students are not improving as quickly as they should be.
We are working with our first nations partners to improve high school graduation rates for first nations students. Currently they are significantly lower among children who live on reserves than they are for other Canadians. We appreciate that. Without a high school diploma, labour market options are limited and diminished.
Further, our government is currently spending more than $820 million annually on income assistance programs. We need to find ways to use these programs to better prepare first nations for the workplace.
We must take steps to encourage more boys and girls in first nations communities to stay in school. We must work to improve the educational outcomes of boys and girls in first nations communities.
We must help these young people graduate with the skills they need to enter a labour market that is projecting large labour shortages in the next 5 to 10 years, including up to 190,000 jobs in Alberta and 80,000 jobs in Saskatchewan. With a good education and the right supports, these young people can become permanently attached to the labour force and fully share in Canada’s economic opportunities.
Enabling first nations children to experience better educational outcomes and set off on the path of personal and career success is not an easy task. First nations education is a complex matter, complex because the different levels of government involve the different learning challenges that first nations children face and because of the very nature of education, first nations or otherwise.
That is why our government is focused on practical partnership efforts with two new programs that are already working to set the foundation for the long-term improvement for first nations education. Indeed, these two programs are building blocks that are helping us establish some key school-based, commonly found in high school, high-performing school systems around the country.
The first is the first nation student success program. This program was created to support first nations communities as they develop school success plans, implement learning assessments for students, and put in place performance measurements that will enable schools to assess and report on the progress of their schools and students. In particular, the program focuses on projects that these schools can use to improve literacy, numeracy and student retention.
The program encourages individual first nations to partner together to deliver projects and also to align with provinces by implementing comparable assessments and improving the overall standard of education in first nations communities.
We have also advanced work on the education information system. It is a single data system that tracks performance and, in doing so, responds directly to one of the key concerns that were raised by the Auditor General.
I am pleased to report that 92% of first nation students across the country are benefiting from the first nation student success program. That level of enthusiastic adoption of the program tells me that it is working—that administrators, teachers and students at first nations schools recognize the value of the program.
The second program I want to discuss is the education partnership program. This is a common sense initiative that establishes and advances formal and practical working relationships between officials and educators in regional first nation organizations and schools, and officials and educators in provincial systems. I am pleased to report that, since 2008, our government has used this program to put in place five tripartite education memorandums of understanding with provincial governments and first nations communities and organizations in New Brunswick, Manitoba, Alberta, Prince Edward Island. There is also a sub-regional agreement with the Saskatoon Tribal Council and, as I mentioned in the question previous, more recently in British Columbia.
Those five partnerships, as a result of our efforts, have realized practical partnerships between the federal government, the provincial government and first nations communities that now cover the education of some 58% of eligible first nations communities represented in formal tripartite partnerships.
On January 27, 2012, we signed a tripartite education framework agreement with B.C. and the first nations education steering committee. This tripartite agreement seeks to ensure comparable education so that first nations students are able to transfer between first nations schools and provincial schools at the same grade level and similar level of achievement. I would add that this is an important indicator for success in college and university. One of our superordinate goals here would clearly be to reduce, if not eliminate, the number of preparatory years at college or university that first nations students would require before embarking on a substantive program in a specific faculty.
However, the momentum does not end there. Drafting of tripartite arrangements is currently under way in Quebec, Labrador, Ontario and Yukon.
On a similar note, on Friday I will be in Chisasibi First Nation in Quebec, for the grand opening of this community's new elementary school. This new school is yet another demonstration of the commitment we all share to ensure first nations students have the tools and facilities they need to succeed.
I am pleased to tell my colleagues in this place today that over the past couple of years we have opened no less than three schools in the great Kenora riding with another one soon to be opened. In some cases, these were schools that, for more than a decade and a half, needed to be replaced but which previous administrations or governments had passed over. In one instance, the Lac Seul First Nation had a school built for the first time, one of the richest historical first nation communities in the Sioux Lookout region.
Under the education partnerships programs, partners are working together, sharing expertise and services with the objectives of not just improving the learning environments but, importantly and objectively, through the framework to ensure that the appropriate facilities for first nations communities are available to them so that children can go to school in a nice facility and celebrate learning.
Yet it was Chief David Peter-Paul of Pabineau First Nation in New Brunswick who voiced the best reason for this practical partnership approach. He stated that these forward-thinking agreements—like the one reached in his province—ensure that our first nations children are better educated and prepared to meet the challenges of the 21st century.
I could not agree more. These education partnerships are beginning to address some of the key structural impediments to progress raised by the Auditor General's report. However, members should not take my word for it. The success of these partnerships has been so apparent that first nations leaders and provincial officials elsewhere in Canada have expressed a keen interest in forging similar tripartite arrangements.
I can assure the House that this government will continue to work with our partners in the months and years to come to develop these kinds of important agreements.
We are also using our success with these tripartite agreements as a springboard to carry out the next phase of partnership-based reform. Our government will continue to work with first nations groups and other willing partners to overcome the challenges and impediments they face.
We in this government know that we must work hand in hand with first nations communities to address these impediments. There is simply no other way.
Last summer, we joined the Assembly of First Nations' national chief, Shawn Atleo, a champion in no uncertain terms for education for first nations, to announce Canada's first nations joint action plan. One of our key action plan priorities was education, a non-partisan, arm's-length national panel on first nations K to 12 education. We asked panel members to travel to first nations communities across the country to gain perspectives and opinions from first nations leaders, parents, students, elders and teachers on further steps that we could take to improve first nations education for children living on reserves. Many other Canadians have also had the chance to contribute to this important effort via the panel's website.
Let me provide you with one quote the panel received from Kenzie, a grade 7 student from Cross Lake First Nation in Manitoba, where I worked as a nurse over 7 or 8 years ago. He said, “No matter what kind it is, we will be better off with education. We become better people and better citizens and we also can have better lives.”
We are indebted to the national panel members for their tremendous work, which will guide our actions in the months and years ahead. Their report, which was released just last week, provides valuable feedback and recommendations on the next steps that could be taken to improve education on reserves. They done first nations youth in our country a great service by offering a menu of pragmatic measures and recommendations to ensure that first nations children succeed in school, develop their talents and fulfill their hopes and dreams.
We will now work with the Assembly of First Nations and others to consider and act on the panel's recommendations to improve K-to-12 first nations education.
Our overall goal, however, remains much the same: to provide first nation students with quality education that enables them to realize their aspirations and receive the skills they need to enter the labour market and be full participants in a strong Canadian economy.
With just a couple of minutes left, I want to emphasize that our government is determined that aboriginal learners will enjoy the same opportunities as other Canadians. This motion also represents a relationship here in this place between all parties. It recognizes that while there remain some structural challenges ahead and there continue to be questions of resources, it does not depend exclusively on any one of these. It demands partnerships here in this place and non-partisan, substantive discussions about how we can work with first nation communities, first nation leadership and organizations and the provinces to improve the fortunes of first nation students and the education they receive.
I want to thank the for his tremendous leadership in education and leadership in working with National Chief Shawn Atleo and stakeholders and the provinces across this country, and for giving me the opportunity, not just at committee but in so many instances, to work lock-step with him and my colleagues on the standing committee. We have received tremendous support from this caucus to make important strides toward improving education in first nation communities across this great country.
Madam Speaker, I am pleased to speak today on behalf of the Liberal Party on the opposition day motion on Shannen's dream, moved by the member for , although I must say I was disappointed by the gesture made by the member in an inappropriate attempt at humour at the beginning of this very serious debate.
It also gives me a huge opportunity to thank the people who help me do my job on a daily basis: the Right Hon. Paul Martin; our leader from Toronto Centre; former minister Andy Scott; members of the Aboriginal Peoples' Commission; and past aboriginal candidates, especially Cynthia Wesley-Esquimaux; and our aboriginal colleagues in the Senate. I also want to thank Daniel Rubinstein and Rick Theis in my office. This is a huge file and it is not possible for me to handle it in any way on my own.
Today's motion is inspired by the courageous words and work of Ms. Shannen Koostachin of the Attawapiskat First Nation, who raised national awareness of the gap between first nations and non-first nations education systems. She died tragically in a car accident before she could realize her goal of equal education for first nations kids.
At this time I think we also need to applaud the inspiration and tireless work of Cindy Blackstock and the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada, who thankfully is there all the time, pushing us to be better. When people across the country ask what they can do, sending people to the society's website to understand Shannen's dream, Jordan's principle and the first nations “I Am a Witness” campaign actually makes people feel there is something they can do to bear witness to this unfortunate situation, where more and more causes across this country are really relegated to the refrain of, “See you in court”.
On behalf of my Liberal colleagues, I would like to pay tribute to Shannen Koostachin, reiterate our strong support for Shannen’s dream, and demand that the funding gap be closed for first nations education.
We support the right of every aboriginal student to quality and culturally appropriate education. In order to achieve this, the federal government must work in consultation and partnership with the first nations in order to, first, admit that a funding gap exists, which the refuses to do; cooperate with the first nations in order to establish a framework to fund education based on real needs and costs; create structures to guarantee success and also mutual accountability when it comes to results in first nations education.
The recent report on the National Panel of First Nations Elementary and Secondary Education concluded there was actually no first nation education system in Canada. Instead, a patchwork of uncoordinated, unaccountable and underfunded policies and programs have failed first nations students.
The panel heard from first nations about many gaps, including: no regular reporting on the educational attainment of the child; poor quality of reporting on learning needs; inadequate or non-existent early literacy and numeracy programs; absence of any meaningful or functioning special needs system; no funding or support for language and cultural curriculum and programs; poor school facilities, including at least 100 schools that are not up to standard in terms of physical facilities and are not safe places for learning; very limited programs for quality distance learning; limited availability of technology or library support; and significant discrepancies in remuneration, institutional support and benefits for school staff, including teachers and principals.
Unlike in the provincial education system, where there is a statutory guarantee for education and funding that is based on real costs and real needs, there is no legislation governing first nations education and a cap currently exists on funding increases.
With these significant gaps, it is no surprise that the educational outcome of first nation learners on reserve are so unacceptably poor. According to the aboriginal affairs 2010 departmental performance report, the high school graduation rate for first nation students living on reserve was just 33.3% in 2009-10. The graduation rate actually fell 7% from 2008 to 2009.
In comparison, 77% of non-aboriginal Canadians have a high school diploma.
The Auditor General noted that at this pace, it would take 28 years for the first nations communities to bridge the education gap.
The lack of educational attainment is directly related to the disproportionately high rate of incarceration of aboriginal people in Canada. For example, according to the 2006 census, the incarceration rate among aboriginal young adults in Alberta without a high school diploma and employment was 46.1 per thousand, compared to 2.4 per thousand for those with a high school diploma and a job.
A major impediment to closing the gap is in the chronic underfunding of first nations education, which the continues to shamefully deny.
For the benefit of the minister, here are the facts. Based on population growth and cost inflation, federal funding for first nations K to 12 education should have grown at 6.3% per year. However, the Conservatives have continued to cap funding at 2% per year.
At the same time, provincial funding for education from kindergarten to grade 12 has increased at a rate of over 4% since 1996.
This has created a funding deficit of approximately $2,000 to $3,000 per student per year.
The Assembly of First Nations calculated that the cumulative funding shortfall for first nations education was $620 million in 2009-10 and $1 billion since 2006. The underfunding does not take into account what is needed for basic services like libraries, first nations language training, support services like special education and the development of culturally appropriate curriculum, which are not included in INAC's funding formula for first nations education.
Recent reports by the Senate Standing Committee on Aboriginal Peoples and the Auditor General, as well as the national panel, have all called on the federal government to end its systemic underfunding of first nations education and base funding on real cost drivers.
Even the provinces are calling on the federal government to respect its moral, legal and constitutional responsibilities and provide equal funding. Just yesterday, Don Drummond's report to the Ontario government recommended that the Ontario government should put strong pressure on the federal government to provide funding for first nations on reserve education that at least reaches parity with per student provincial funding for elementary and secondary education.
This past December, the Senate committee likewise concluded in its report, “Reforming First Nations Education” that:
||—we believe that a new funding formula, negotiated by the parties and based on real cost drivers, must be developed to replace the current system of contribution agreements.
Just last week, the national panel recommended that the government ensure adequate funding to support a first nations education system that would meet the needs of first nations learners, first nations communities and Canada as a whole, and remarked:
|| It does seem clear that most First Nation schools do not have sufficient resources to properly support the success of their students.
It is important to acknowledge that both Senate committee and the national panel reiterated that funding alone would not solve the problem. It must be accompanied by steps to build a new first nations education system, centred around a jointly developed first nations education act. For this reason the national panel recommended the following steps be taken immediately in the upcoming budget: a new funding formula, coupled with new standards of accountability for expenditures and results is developed; increase education funding in the 2012-13 school year by an amount equal to the percentage increase for provincial schools; increase teacher and administration compensation to a level equivalent to provincial schools in order to recruit and retain educators; and make an immediate investment in the early literacy programs.
My Liberal colleagues and I agree completely with the need to immediately lift the 2% cap. We will be looking to the upcoming budget to see if the Conservative government is upholding its stated commitment to improve first nations educational outcomes.
The minister's remarks that the national panel's recommendations and timelines are merely “aspirational” have put this commitment into question. This reminds me of the government's position on the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which states clearly in article 14:
|| Indigenous peoples have the right to establish and control their educational systems and institutions providing education in their own languages, in a manner appropriate to their cultural methods of teaching and learning.
|| Indigenous individuals, particularly children, have the right to all levels and forms of education of the State without discrimination.
|| States shall, in conjunction with indigenous peoples, take effective measures, in order for indigenous individuals, particularly children, including those living outside their communities, to have access, when possible, to an education in their own culture and provided in their own language.
While the Conservatives endorsed the declaration in November 2010, after initially refusing to do so, the government has since made clear that it views the declaration as, and I repeat, “aspirational”.
In reply to a recent order paper question I submitted, the wrote that Canada endorsed the declaration without the intention of creating legally binding obligations and that the declaration did not give rise to any requirement to undertake specific reforms. I surely hope the minister's use of the term “aspirational” does not indicate that the government intends for first nations education reform to befall the same fate as the declaration.
Getting back to the need for a funding reform, Liberals also strongly support the recommendation that any new funding formula must abandon the old model of grants and contributions in favour of multi-year, statutory funding based on real costs that is predictable and sustainable. This would not only respect first nations jurisdiction and the government-to-government relationship between the Crown and first nations, but would undoubtedly create stability and improve outcomes.
There is also a need for dedicated funding for first nations on reserve educational infrastructure. The impetus from Shannen's Dream was a struggle for Attawapiskat to secure its funding for a new school to replace the existing portables located on the site contaminated by a spill of over 50,000 litres of diesel fuel. While the federal government repeatedly issued tenders for the construction of a new school in Attawapiskat after years of delay, there are 100 other communities with similar needs. Without appropriate infrastructure funding, the gap will surely remain.
There have also been recommendations to create an accountability and reporting framework to assess improvements, a national commission to support education reform and improvements and the creation of regional first nations educational organizations.
Today, as this House discusses the first nations people's rights to education, we must remember that the objective of investing in education is not simply to make aboriginal communities self-sufficient, but also to bolster the performance of the Canadian economy in its entirety.
Canada is facing a critical skilled labour shortage, which will get worse over time. The first nations can and must play a leading role in alleviating this shortage, but only if we work together.
The Centre for the Study of Living Standards noted that raising the education levels and market performance of the first nations to equal those of other Canadians would contribute $401 billion to GDP, increase government revenue by $5.8 billion and reduce government spending by $8.4 billion over 25 years.
Access to quality education, particularly in northern or remote communities, means that more aboriginal people will be able to participate in the development of natural resources and in other projects.
Liberals have recognized both the right to education and the economic imperative of education. We have strongly supported the need to work in consultation and partnership with first nations to dramatically increase the level of education attainment.
Our party collaborated with aboriginal people to create the Kelowna accord, which among other things provided $1.8 billion in new targeted funding for education over five years in order to raise first nations outcomes to a level equal to the rest of Canada.
While today's debate is largely about first nations K-12 on-reserve education, we also need to address first nations post-secondary education as well as the barriers facing Métis and Inuit in achieving better educational outcomes.
In terms of post-secondary education, the 2% cap on the post-secondary students support program is a significant barrier to increasing the number of status Indian and Inuit students receiving a post-secondary education.
The need for more investment in post-secondary education is clear. In 2006, only 8% of aboriginal people had a university diploma as opposed to 23% of the general population.
In addition to post-secondary education, I learned in a recent meeting with the Association of Canadian Community Colleges that there is a great demand for additional investment in academic upgrading programs so that aboriginal Canadians who have not graduated from high school are able to do so later in life.
Regarding Inuit education, the recently released national strategy on Inuit education report “First Canadians, Canadians First” identifies the factors behind the Inuit education gap and recommendations for the way forward.
The federal government also needs to work collaboratively with its provincial and territorial counterparts to ensure that there are Métis-specific educational programs.
Before I conclude my remarks, I would like to share with members a letter written by a young first nations boy named Wesley, who contributed to “Our Dreams Matter Too”, an alternate report from the Shannen's Dream Campaign to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child on the occasion of Canada's third and fourth periodic reviews. Wesley wrote:
|| I'm writing this letter to you as a young native man with something to say about my education. I have attended kindergarten, elementary, and high school on reserve and I am aware of the differences between the education that I have received and the education that non-aboriginal, off-reserve students have received. The lack of funding is a concern, the lack of resources is a concern, but the lack of cultural content in our school is the biggest concern for me.
|| If we had more funding, there would be more possibilities to include cultural activities. If we had a better sense of culture, we would be more confident, which would lead to success in life.
|| I would like to see native aboriginal students treated and funded the same as any other non-aboriginal students because we are all students, we are all human, we are all equal and should be treated as such.
I would urge all members to support today's motion. We have lost six very long years in improving the educational outcomes for aboriginal students in Canada, but it is never too late. We know what must be done. All that is left is political will to do not only what is right in terms of fairness and equity, but what is right in terms of securing Canada's economic, social and cultural future. Ending the underfunding of aboriginal education is where we must begin.
Madam Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Timmins—James Bay who has been a true advocate on first nations issues.
I am proud to speak to this motion today on a subject that is of vital importance to the people of my riding, the first nations and Canada.
The motion, if I were to sum it up in a word or two, speaks to opportunity. It addresses the nuts and bolts of levelling the playing field for first nations students who are being denied what most of our kids take for granted. It sets a course that would see the benefits of education improve the lives of more first nations people and, by extension, their communities, which can only be described as a very good thing.
What we are debating today comes largely from Shannen's dream. Many members would know that Shannen Koostachin never got to attend what we would call a “normal school”. Her school was closed because it was built on contaminated soil. She received her education in portable trailers that were charitably called “temporary schools”.
Shannen dreamt that she would be able to go to school like all other Canadian kids. It is a simple dream if one thinks about it. Most kids are not dealing with that issue and get to enjoy other dreams. Sadly, Shannen passed away, but not before she brought her dream to prominence and created a great awareness of the challenges she and other first nations students faced. She was extraordinary and all she wanted was what we would call an ordinary school.
This was in Attawapiskat. It is the same community that Parliament was seized with as winter set upon northern Ontario a few months back. Nine years ago, the children there created an Attawapiskat school campaign and have heard promises from three different ministers of Indian Affairs since, none of which ever amounted to a new school.
Sadly, we know that Attawapiskat is not alone. There are many first nations that share similar circumstances. In fact, former auditor general, Sheila Fraser, told us that it would take 28 years to bridge the gap if we did not increase our efforts, which is why New Democrats are making this issue a priority.
For many Canadians, it is difficult to understand how we can have a thoroughly modern country but are unable to deliver the kind of education that makes all the difference in a child's development for a significant portion of our population who live on first nations.
This chronic problem has moved well past pressing and immediate. It could more accurately be described as critical and urgent. There is a cost associated with chronic conditions and, over time, the cost can start to outweigh those of the preventive measures that would put an end to the condition. In this case, the cost is that Canada is being robbed of the benefits that flow from a better educated population. It is short-sighted if we decide that we cannot make the proper investment now.
The Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development is studying land use and sustainable economic development right now. We are hearing a lot about training. The motion today addresses the conditions that are needed to ensure that any training received on reserve has roots set in solid ground. That ground is good education, one that allows a person to be a lifelong learner, able to develop more skills and become a net benefit to themselves, their community, our country and its economy.
If we think about it, this motion dovetails nicely with the agenda set out by the government on its own committee. I hope that other members will come to see it in that way, as well.
I certainly would not want to stand before members and say that there are no success stories among our first nations schools. The shame is that there are not more. The same can be said of any school, it is true, but the challenges faced by educators and students in far too many first nation schools are of a different scale and seem to persist no matter how much goodwill this chamber can muster.
I want to share with the House some of the findings from the report of the national panel on first nation elementary and secondary education for students on reserves. I think it will help focus some of the broader issues that New Democrats are trying to address in our motion.
The report stated that, in 2006, approximately 50% of the on reserve population aged 25 to 34 did not have a high school certificate compared with 10% for other Canadians of the same age. Can anyone believe that? There is an absence of a system for quick assessment and diagnosis of special needs to provide individual learning plans and resources for children with those needs. At least 100 schools are not up to standard in physical facilities and are not safe places for learning.
Those are not findings we should be particularly proud of as parliamentarians. They speak to the challenges that must be addressed and the work we need to undertake. This motion goes a long way in doing some of that.
Who could actually say that they are against ensuring good schools are in place for first nations kids? Who could be against the broader benefits of education or deny basic health and safety to school kids? We would have to be a Scrooge McDuck to say that Canada should not make this investment and make it a priority.
I read something as I prepared for this debate. It was written by Lorna Williams on the subject of Indian control of Indian education and it captured the benefits of education in a nutshell. She wrote, “Education teaches more than the required curriculum. It teaches hard work, persistence, self-discipline, consistent effort, responsibility, co-operation, commitment, mutual respect and tolerance”.
Those are certainly qualities we would like to see our children have. How could it be any different for parents on reserves across Canada?
I will take a moment to tell the House about a constituent I met shortly after I was first elected. Her name is Eden Beaudin and she lives in the M'Chigeeng First Nation on Manitoulan Island. When she was nine, Eden created the Pegasus Literacy Writing Award to encourage first nations students and other students to write stories of their own and to pursue an education. I have been invited to my friends' award ceremony every year since and think she is a great example of a young girl who is getting a good education on reserve. I want there to be more Edens all across Canada and I think this motion goes a long way to doing just that.
I am hopeful that some of the government's new-found willingness to work with the opposition on reasonable proposals makes its way into the vote on this motion.
I am glad that the parliamentary secretary for Indian affairs has indicated that he will help us pass this motion and use the upcoming budget to provide the funding needed. I believe that is the kind of Parliament Canadians want and this is the kind of motion they would like to see come from this place once in a while.
The challenges are obvious. We have had steady inflationary growth, coupled with population growth on first nations, that erodes current education budgets and allows no headway to be made on well-documented problems.
We know that people with a grade 12 education are twice as likely to be unemployed, receive social assistance, engage in anti-social or self-destructive behaviour and be involved in the criminal justice system. We know that improving education for first nations will give them opportunities to contribute to the economy and workforce.
We have an idea of the money needed to do all of this work and we should not be afraid to make this good investment in ourselves. We should be proud to be parliamentarians who can say that we did something to really move the chain on the education crisis plaguing our first nations.
Former national chief, Phil Fontaine, posed this question in a 2008 editorial article:
|| If 88 per cent of all children do not have access to early childhood programs, no money for language education, no funding for libraries, and no money for computers, what does this say about how our country cares about our children's future?
I believe we could pass this motion, include the money needed in the upcoming budget and move on to the next challenge. There are many challenges to address. We are asking a lot of our first nations. We just need to ask the bands that are seized with questions about development on their land.
Mr. Speaker, it is a great honour to speak to Shannen's Dream motion, representing the great people of the Timmins—James Bay region where Shannen Koostachin was born. Today in Fort Albany is the great moon gathering, where all the Cree communities will come together. I would like to point out that tonight in Fort Albany the great band Tragically Hip will be performing because it has been inspired by the young people of the James Bay coast.
This is a historic moment in Parliament and for Canada. This is the first motion that has been drive by children. The reason we are debating this issue is because children across the country have recognized their brothers and sisters have been denied basic education rights. This is about putting children first. I cannot think of another instance where school children in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Ontario and across western Canada could tell every member in Parliament about what Shannen's Dream means. They know it, they have been living it and they have been inspired by the story of Shannen Koostachin. This is a historic opportunity.
It is also an extremely important time for parliamentarians because of all the rock throwing that has gone on in the House and all the blame that has happened. It is our job to fight with each other, but there are occasions when, as a nation, we are called to rise to something greater. That moment came for me when members in the last Parliament gathered for the apology regarding the residential schools. I remember standing in the House on that historic day, wondering who was going to apologize to this generation of children.
That question has remained unanswered until perhaps today with the adoption of Shannen's Dream, not just the idea of Shannen's Dream but the actual principles that have been articulated about the need to close funding gaps, to ensure there is ring fencing around capital projects so we can start to build schools and ensure that there are adequate teacher-student class size ratios, just like every other child in our country. If we agree to that as parliamentarians, we are taking a historic step forward. I can tell everyone that the children are watching.
I would like to tell the House a bit about Shannen Koostachin. George Stroumboulopoulos picked five teenage girls in history who kicked butt. I know that is probably not a parliamentary expression, but George Stroumboulopoulos' words were even tougher. He picked Joan of Arc, Anne Frank, Mary Shelley, Buffy the vampire slayer, and I am not sure why but my kids say that has a lot of street credibility, and he picked Shannen Koostachin as number one. That is an extraordinary achievement for a child who came from the impoverished community of Attawapiskat.
Shannen did not want to make history. She might have liked to make history, but she did not set out to be a hero. She wanted to be on a volleyball team. She wanted to have a locker. She wanted to write notes in the classroom. She had a dream that she could have what she called “a comfy school”.
I once walked with Shannen in Cobalt, Ontario at little St. Patrick Catholic School, a tiny school. It would not even be on the radar of what people think of as a proper school today, but it has a nice, comfy little feel. Shannen kept disappearing on me. I went to look for her and I found her looking in a classroom window. I asked her if something was wrong and she said, “I wish I had my entire life over so I could go to a school like this”. At age 13, she had realized that opportunity was slipping away from her and that might never come back. To see a sense of urgency through a child's eyes, the sense that if he or she does not get an education, that the child will never be better off, is deeply disturbing.
We have known about the underfunding. We knew about study after study that sat at the Department of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development for years. It just was not a priority. Nobody in the House thought it was a priority that children were suffering, that there was substandard education and children were being treated with systemic discrimination based on their race and the fact that they lived on reserve. It was never a priority until one child said, “Enough”. When Shannen Koostachin started to fight, other children came with her. She has been called by many young people across Canada as the Rosa Parks of this generation, the one who said, “Enough is enough. We don't want to spend another day sitting at the back of the school bus”.
This can be about the blame game. This can be about the 100 and some horror stories that have been mentioned. I have been to communities where I do not know how the children can go to school in the morning and sit in those cold substandard classrooms. To me, that is a sign of real heroes. We could talk about all of that or we could talk about how we will actually fulfill the obligation of this great nation.
Every now and then I hear people say, “When is enough enough? When have we done our bit with first nations?” We are on a path together. We are in a relationship together. It has been an abusive and dysfunctional relationship, but we will continue on in this relationship together.
It is incumbent upon the members of the House of Commons to stand today and say that we as Canadians believe in the fundamental principle that every child has a right to an education. Every child has the right to guaranteed access to education. A right to an education is not just access to a school. A right to an education is a more fundamental principle. Children should not have to know what that right is when they walk in that school. Just like any child, whether in Timmins, Red Deer or any other community in the country, their rights are encoded in law, that class-to-size-ratios are guaranteed and that there is a plan for children with dyslexia, autism or special needs because they only have one childhood. It is too precious a thing to waste. Under the bureaucratic indifference of successive governments, we have squandered the lives and potential of tens of thousands of wonderful young aboriginal children who have never been given what they should have been given.
Shannen's Dream motion was born the moment of her horrible death on May 31, 2010, on Highway 11, just south of Temagami. It was the worst day of my life when I found out we had lost a youth leader. National education leaders, national labour leaders, Cindy Blackstock and others called me to say that we had to carry this on. Young Chelsea Edwards from Attawapiskat called me. Her community and the whole of James Bay area was devastated that we had lost this young leader. They said that we had to fulfill what Shannen started.
The language of Shannen's Dream was crafted out of that tragedy, out of that sense of grief. We sat down with members of the Assembly of First Nations, the Canadian Public School Boards Association, the trustees and teachers to ask what steps were necessary to guarantee that this generation of children would not be squandered.
Shannen would be 17 now. She had a dream. I think she wanted to be a lawyer on some given days and I am not sure what she wanted to be on other given days, but she wanted to get an education more than life itself. That was her passion and her belief. She used to tell me that it was not about her anymore; it was about the younger brothers and sisters. I think of those younger brothers and sisters in my communities, in Kashechewan, where we do not have a proper school, and in Attawapiskat where the kids still wait for a school. They are looking to the House of Commons.
This is a moment of unity, not just for first nation students but for non-native children from across Canada who have reached out to say that if we work together, we can bring change.
Here we are in the House of Commons. This is our moment. I call upon all parliamentarians to say that this is our time to apologize for what has gone on and that this is the way we will move forward as a country. I would like to see the support of every member in the House as we stand for Shannen's Dream.
Mr. Speaker, I thank the House for the opportunity to express my full support for the motion tabled by the hon. member for .
The education of first nations students is of the utmost importance. This government will continue to do its best to improve the educational outcomes of students attending first nations schools.
Education plays a crucial role in preparing individuals for the labour market. A quality education equips a young person with the skills and sensibilities needed to thrive as an adult. There is no question that first nations students should have access to educational opportunities that will help them thrive.
For all young Canadians, education should encourage and inspire them to stay in school. Ultimately, education should enable students to acquire the skills they need to enter and succeed in the labour market and to share fully in Canada's economic opportunities.
The truth is that for many years high school graduation rates among first nations youth have lagged well behind graduation rates among other Canadians. This means that this young and growing segment of the Canadian population is limited in its ability to contribute to and benefit from Canada's economic prosperity. Achieving this goal absolutely depends on improving educational outcomes among first nations students. Unfortunately, there is no easy solution. Many factors contribute to the problem.
Solving such a complex problem requires a multi-faceted strategy developed in partnership with first nations, one that addresses specific factors in a complementary way to inspire overall progress. This is an apt description of this government's strategy for first nations education. While much work remains to be done, I am convinced that this strategy has us on the right track.
My remarks today will focus on a single aspect of the strategy: infrastructure.
First nations own and operate community infrastructure on reserve. As such they are responsible for the operation and maintenance of their schools. They are also responsible for minor renovations.
The Government of Canada also has responsibilities for first nations education infrastructure. Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada plays the lead role in exercising these responsibilities.
The department provides financial and advisory assistance to first nations for the development of school infrastructure on reserve. This assistance takes a number of forms, from investing in projects to building new schools and facilities, to renovating and repairing existing ones, and providing funding for project design and planning.
In the 2010-11 fiscal year, our government's total investment in the building and renovation of schools was $304 million. Since our government came into office in 2006, up to 2010 we have invested approximately $924 million on school infrastructure projects. For the 2011-12 fiscal year, Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada plans investments of approximately $198 million.
These amounts reflect the fact that this government appreciates the benefits of safe and productive learning environments for first nations students. To get a better sense of how investment decisions are made, one must have a grasp of a few key programs and processes.
The primary funding vehicle within Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada is the capital facilities and maintenance program. The program invests in four main areas: housing, education, water and waste water systems. It also invests in other community infrastructure, such as roads, bridges and fire protection.
The total annual budget for the program is approximately $1 billion. Investment decisions under the program are guided by four criteria. The first criterion involves addressing immediate concerns related to personal health and safety. The second criterion relates to proactive measures to address potential risks to health and safety. The third criterion involves recapitalization and major maintenance. For example, whether a project would extend the useful operating life of a facility or asset or maintain its original service level. The last criterion pertains to actual and anticipated growth and the adequacy of existing infrastructure vis-à-vis a community's current and emerging needs. School projects, whether for new construction or renovations, are further prioritized at the national level based on health and safety, overcrowding and curriculum requirements.
To manage funding decisions, the program relies on regional five year capital plans. Each investment plan lists specific projects first nations in the region intend to complete as funds become available. Regional investment management boards make the final investment decisions, based on program criteria and relative priorities.
Last year, Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada completed a progress report on educational facilities in first nations communities. The report examined the period of April 2006 to December 2010 and provided a valuable summary of recent accomplishments. During the period, 248 school projects were completed with a total value of approximately $415 million. Projects completed during this period included 22 new schools, major renovations to another 22 schools and the construction or major renovation of 20 teacher residences. The list also includes another 184 projects involving minor renovations, the purchase and installation of portable classrooms, and feasibility and design work. Another 100 school projects were still underway, including new schools, major renovations, teacherages, upgrades to mechanical and heating systems, roof repairs and other renovations.
Since the review wrapped up, I am pleased to report that the implementation of the final year of Canada's economic action plan has been successful in the completion of 12 new school construction and renovation projects, an investment of $173 million. As a part of the building Canada plan, $102 million has been allocated from the gas tax fund to build five new and renovate two existing on-reserve schools. Of these, four school projects have been substantially completed and the remaining three projects are progressing well.
Although investment statistics and details of programs and funding processes are essential parts of this government's strategy, they tell only a small part of the story. To get a true sense of the considerable benefits of improvements to on-reserve school infrastructure, one must look closely at individual projects and their impact on communities. Consider a new school that opened last year in British Columbia's Okanagan Valley. The Penticton Indian band's Outma Sqilxw Cultural School is a modern facility built to highlight ancient cultural traditions. The school has already become an important gathering place for the community. Jonathan Kruger, the chief of Penticton Indian Band, says the school means a great deal to the community. During an interview, he described it this way:
||...it builds a strong foundation for the future if our children …grow up in a stronger environment….
He further stated:
||they’re going to grow up to be healthy…and they’re going to make great decisions and they’re going to do great things.
Schools such as this can help lead to better educational outcomes for first nations children. Better outcomes lead to employment success and personal fulfillment. They create the foundations for strong sustainable communities. This is part of the reason that Canada's economic action plan invested $7 million in this project.
Another new school in British Columbia also promises to improve educational outcomes. In 2011, Ahousaht First Nation opened the Maaqtusiis School with 11 classrooms. The school will provide a safe, comfortable and stimulating environment for students in grades 8 to 12. This government contributed $9 million through Canada's economic action plan and another $3.8 million through the Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada capital facilities and maintenance program.
Last November marked the grand opening of Kistapiskaw Elementary School at Peter Ballantyne Cree Nation in Saskatchewan. A fire destroyed the old school in 2005. The new school will accommodate 250 students, with 170 in grades 1 through 5 and another 80 in kindergarten. Canada's economic action plan contributed $20 million to the project. Our contribution supported the design and construction of the school, roadways, parking lots and playing fields. Investments such as this one provide lasting, sustainable benefits for first nations and help create jobs.
Birch Narrows First Nation built a new, $25 million, comprehensive school last year thanks to investments from our government, the Province of Saskatchewan and the first nation. Before the school was completed, students attended schools outside the community. Chief Robert Sylvester described the impact this way:
|| Not only will we have input into the instruction our students receive, as parents, we'll have peace of mind knowing they are not having to travel outside the community to get it. This school will also help to enhance our rate of students graduating, which should translate into an increase in the number of students who continue their education beyond Grade 12.
Further east, a major school renovation project in the Innu community of Natashquan, Quebec has already begun to have a positive impact. Thanks to an investment of $9.4 million from the Canada economic action plan, the project replaced several portables at the Uauitshitun School with permanent classrooms. The first nation managed the project. In an interview, Chief François Bellefleur talked about the impact of the project:
|| This work is excellent news for the community, especially for the students. Natashquan youth deserve to study in a safe, healthy and modern school. In the long run, modernizing the school, especially by building new classrooms, will certainly contribute to the success of our youth.
School infrastructure projects have had similarly positive impacts in several communities in northwestern Ontario. Last November, Wabaseemoong First Nation opened a 16 classroom facility for students of kindergarten through grade 12. The Mizhakiiwetung Memorial School can accommodate up to 460 students. This project was made possible thanks to a $25 million investment under Canada's economic action plan.
In the words of Chief Eric Nelson Fisher:
|| I look forward to witnessing generations of learners passing through the school and reaching their full potential.
In September last year, North Spirit Lake First Nation in Ontario also opened a new school. Construction was made possible by investing $14.4 from Canada's economic action plan and $1.5 million from the Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada capital facilities and maintenance program.
Chief Rita Thompson had this to say about the project:
|| The children of North Spirit Lake have a beautiful new school to learn and grow in. This facility will be an asset to our community for current and future generations to come
In speaking about Shannen's dream, I would add that Attawapiskat First Nation, also in Ontario, has begun to plan construction of a new elementary school. This government has set aside funding over the next three years to support that project. The first nation, in partnership with the department, is responsible for managing all aspects of this project, including tendering and selecting contractors. The first two phases of the work plan to build the new school have been completed. The school capital planning study and the detailed design phase were approved on January 25, 2012. The construction phase is ready to move forward. It is anticipated that the school will open in the 2013-14 school year.
I am happy to report that the local member of Parliament for is supportive of this timeframe, having stated in a May 20 Canada Press article that:
||—2013 is a good timeline, you couldn’t build a school up there any quicker—
The Government of Canada is encouraged and hopeful that Shannen's dream will continue to have a positive impact on Attawapiskat First Nation, and potentially on other first nations across Canada.
All of these stories emphasize the important link that exists between schools and a first nation, between the bricks and mortar of a school and the hearts and minds of community members.
With more than 400,000 Aboriginal youth projected to enter the labour market by 2020, the Aboriginal population is poised to help meet Canada's future labour market requirements. In order for the young men and women of first nations communities to take full advantage of the opportunities available, they must be equipped with a quality education. That challenge begins with the buildings themselves.
This government will continue to invest in school infrastructure projects in first nations communities as part of our larger strategy to improve educational outcomes. We are committed to working with first nations and interested parties to ensure that first nations children receive a quality education.
I encourage my hon. colleagues to endorse the motion before us and to support the government's efforts to improve educational outcomes in partnership with first nations.
Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time.
I would like to acknowledge those colleagues who have worked so hard on this issue. We have heard from many of them in the House already.
I rise to speak in support of today's opposition motion. The motion calls on the government to adopt Shannen's Dream by the following:
||(a) declaring that all first nation children have an equal right to high-quality, culturally-relevant education; (b) committing to provide the necessary financial and policy supports for first nations education systems; (c) providing funding that will put reserve schools on par with non-reserve provincial schools; (d) developing transparent methodologies for school construction, operation, maintenance and replacement; (e) working collaboratively with first nation leaders to establish equitable norms and formulas for determining class sizes and for the funding of educational resources, staff salaries, special education services and indigenous language instruction; and (f) implementing polices to make the first nation education system, at a minimum, of equal quality to provincial school systems.
Shannen Koostachin of the Attawapiskat First Nation had a dream: to provide first nations children and youth with culturally-based education in safe, comfortable schools, or “comfy” schools as she called them. In her short lifetime, Shannen became the voice for first nations reserve children who had been deprived of their right to an education.
For 10 years, the community of Attawapiskat fought for a school to be built on its reserve. It refused to accept that the best the federal government could do was portables set up on grounds that were so toxic and so contaminated that children were actually passing out from the benzene fumes.
For a time, it seemed that the community's efforts would pay off and that a school would finally be built for the children of Attawapiskat. However, in 2007, the federal government reneged on its commitment, choosing instead to continue the chronic mismanagement and underfunding of the education of first nations children.
The lack of adequate first nations education is inextricably linked to the issue of widespread and persistent poverty. In Canada, being aboriginal often means being poor. One in four first nations children grows up in poverty, that is 25%.
Why is this the case? There are a number of factors that contribute to these unacceptably high rates of poverty. The unemployment rate of aboriginals is almost 10 percentage points above that of the non-aboriginal population. Aboriginal youth are less likely to complete secondary education, as my colleague from pointed out earlier today in his speech. Living and health conditions are also well below Canadian averages.
It has been documented that aboriginal people have shorter life expectancies, in part due to higher risks of diseases, such as obesity, diabetes and heart disease.
We know that we can break the cycle of poverty through education.
We must also understand the importance of culturally-based education. During the era of residential schools, aboriginal children were forced to assimilate into European-Canadian society. Their cultural traditions and languages were taken away from them in what some would describe as a cultural genocide.
Today, educators of first nations children face the task of recovering the cultural heritage of first nations so that the children can once again take pride in their heritage.
In my riding, there are two first nation communities, the Kwikwetlem First Nation and the Qayqayt First Nation.
The Kwikwetlem First Nation takes its name from the salmon that historically travelled up the Coquitlam River. Kwikwetlen literally means red fish up the river. Its culture is similar to other Stó:lo and northwest coast Salish groups. Its traditions are closely tied to watersheds and the life cycle of the salmon. After contact with the Europeans, its spiritual, linguistic and cultural traditions were challenged. It lost its right to sell and trade salmon, its children were placed in residential schools and a system of regulations and protocols handed down by Ottawa were imposed on its lands. The process of regaining these rights and traditions is a lengthy and complex one.
I will now talk about the Qayqayt First Nation, which is historically located in New Westminster. At the end of the 19th century, there were some 400 members of that nation. However, by 1913, only one orphan band member remained. The federal government seized most of the band's reserve lands and the orphan child, Marie Lee Bandura, was sent to a residential school where she would be punished for speaking her native language. The burden of shame stayed with her throughout her lifetime. Her daughter, Chief Rhonda Larrabee, eventually uncovered her family's heritage and, after a lengthy process, she was able to reclaim her status as a member of the Qayqayt First Nation.
The stories of the Kwikwetlem and the Qayqayt First Nations demonstrate that today, more than ever, the federal government must work in partnership with first nations across Canada to ensure that first nations children have access to culturally relevant education so that students can re-engage with and take pride in their traditions, languages and cultures.
We know what the challenges are and we know what the solutions are. These solutions have been reiterated time and time again over the past two decades. Over the course of former auditor general Sheila Fraser's 10-year mandate, her office produced 31 audit reports on aboriginal issues. In these reports, Ms. Fraser highlighted the gaps between first nations and non-first nations education, stating that, “conditions are getting worse instead of getting better”.
She also noted that between 1991 and 1999 at least 22 studies recommended the following measures to improve the quality of first nations education: address retention of aboriginal languages; enhance curriculum to meet first nations needs; increase funding for special education, counselling and library services; address inadequacies in special services, technologies and guidance clinics; and improve teacher training.
In her final report in 2011, Ms. Fraser criticized the government for failing to take action on her previous reports, noting that, despite over 30 reports in the past decade, little action had been taken by successive governments to address the inequality.
This February, the national panel on first nations elementary and secondary education released its final report following through on its mandate to consult with first nations communities to develop recommendations on how to improve education for first nations children. The report called for the co-creation of a first nations education act, which would outline responsibilities for each partner in the system and recognize and protect the first nations child's right to their culture and identity, a quality education, funding for the system and first nation control of first nation education.
Another of the report's recommendations called for statutory funding that is needs based, predictable, sustainable and specifically designated for education.
Report after report has called on the federal government to take action to protect the rights of the first nation child. How many more dozens of reports are required before the government will take substantive action?
I believe that the national attention paid to the Attawapiskat this past winter has served as a wake-up call to the government. I certainly would like to acknowledge my hon. colleague, the member for , for his tireless work and for drawing attention to this important issue.
The first nations summit held in Ottawa just this past January was a step in the right direction. Now it is time for the government to keep its word and take immediate concrete action. This begins by rebuilding trust between first nations and the government and working in partnership to break through the status quo.
I hope that today all members of the House will come together in agreement that it is time for change.
I will finish by reading into Hansard the words of Shannen Koostachin:
|| I would like to talk to you what it is like to be a child who grows up never seeing a real school. I want to tell you what it is like to never have the chance to feel excited about being educated. That's why some of our students begin to give up in grade 4 and grade 5. They just stop going to school. Imagine that. Imagine a child who feels they have no future even at that young age. We want our younger brothers and sisters to go to school thinking that school is a time for hopes and dreams of the future. Every kid deserves this.
That was Shannen's Dream and we need to make that a reality.
Mr. Speaker, it is with a great deal of sadness that I rise to speak to this motion.
From 1984 to 1992 I taught at an inner-city school in Nanaimo. At that inner-city school there was a very high percentage of aboriginal students. I saw the struggles first-hand that those students were going through.
After having taught for a while, I became a counsellor at the school. I soon began to see overall how many of the aboriginal students left school, disappeared from the school I should say, at a very early age. I had to ask myself why that was happening. Why was it that so many secondary school students from the aboriginal community were leaving school? We had no way of knowing what was happening to them.
As I got to know many of the students, I began to realize the struggles they were having. I also began to realize that in order to address those issues we had to talk not about equality but about equity. There were services we needed to provide that were not needed by all students at the school but were absolutely needed by first nations students. I also saw in the school the lack of role models and mentors. I saw the alienation aboriginal young people felt in public schools when they walked onto those hallowed halls.
I left in 1992, but I returned to that school in 2007. During that period, the provincial and federal governments made all kinds of pronouncements about how they had made things better. It was with a great deal of sadness that I realized when I went back to the school that things were actually worse for first nations students. Things were worse 15 years after I had left that inner-city school.
Yes, I saw more first nations workers. I saw more liaison and closer ties with the community. I saw more social interaction. However, I also saw a greater number of students who were disillusioned and not engaged in their learning. There are fundamental reasons the students were not engaged in their learning. We were trying to educate them in an environment that was not culturally sensitive. We were trying, through our own education system and without meaning to, to colonize them. That is what happened. There was very little in the curriculum or the day-to-day teaching about the aboriginal community itself or the language. Maintenance of a language is a very important link to a culture and therefore, it is absolutely imperative to try to preserve many first nations languages.
The point I want to make is when we look at Shannen's dream, she is asking not just for a nice school but also for a culturally sensitive education so that the curriculum actually speaks to who the first nations children are. Who their parents are speaks to their history, dreams and aspirations.
This reminded me a little of my early years in teaching. There was a wonderful program in England called the Ladybird reading scheme. The stories are written in beautiful language. Jane and Peter, both Caucasian, had a dog called Pat. They went on beautiful picnics. They would put out a tablecloth. They would go to the park. Everything was glorious.
That reading program was sent to the Caribbean. This amazing program that was so successful in England failed in the Caribbean because children in the Caribbean could not relate physically to Jane and Peter nor to the activities in which Jane and Peter engaged. They did not have the kind of family structure that Jane and Peter had. Every Sunday in the summer they did not go to the cricket field or on a picnic.
One of the things I have learned from teaching over the years is that if we really want to connect and engage children in their learning, we have to connect with the child. Those of us who teach may enter the profession to teach a subject but I can assure the House that those of us who have a passion for teaching and who stay in teaching do it because we love working with children.
I have argued the point most of my life that the only way to be an effective teacher is to build relationships and know where the students are coming from. The teacher's role is not to make them like everybody else. Today in our multicultural society, we are sensitive to that. I would say that where we lack sensitivity as a nation even today is toward our first nations communities.
Attawapiskat has been in the news a lot recently. I thank my colleague, the member for , not only for his courage but also for his passion for social justice and equity. He has not given up on that story or that community. He has gone there. He has painted us a picture.
Suddenly the world's eyes are on Attawapiskat. The United Nations is looking at it. The Red Cross is looking at it. Every Canadian is looking at what I would say are some of the worst third world living conditions right here on Canadian soil for Canadian citizens. Canadians are upset. They want action.
Canadians do not want long-term promises anymore. The children cannot wait. I have a very difficult time when people say that this is going to be a 20-year plan. That 20-year plan has to start today. It has to be meaningful and it has to provide services.
Twelve years is a long time. Imagine that from birth to the time a child reaches 12 years old is how long Attawapiskat has been dreaming of a school. In the meantime, Shannen has passed on without having her dream realized.
I would urge all my colleagues on all sides of the House to go to www.shannensdream.ca and to watch the very moving video. I urge all members to make a commitment in this Parliament to work together to make Shannen's dream come true.
All Canadian children, no matter where they are born, north, south, centre, east, west, no matter whether they are from aboriginal or other ethnic groups, deserve a quality education. It makes economic sense to provide that. The savings to the health care system, the increased productivity and the taxes going into the public purse all show that this is not just a humanitarian issue, but it makes economic sense as well. The Conservatives should be able to understand that.
Mr. Speaker, I am thankful to have this opportunity to stand in the House to address this important issue and talk about our government's commitment to first nations education.
There has been proof in the House of our government's commitment to ensure that we produce results for first nations children, their families, and the communities that are represented in many of our constituencies. I am proud to represent 32 first nations.
Members on this side of the House recognize that education is a key personal empowerment tool that leads to prosperity. We fully understand that the way for individuals to succeed, for communities to escape poverty and for first nations economies to prosper is to have an educated, skilled and employed population. A strong economy and a good education really go hand-in-hand.
There is no question that our government is committed to ensuring that first nations students enjoy the same opportunities as other Canadians do. First nations students deserve an education that ensures they graduate with the skills that they need to succeed in the jobs of today and that they can fully enjoy the same opportunities everybody else in Canada can.
That is precisely why, in partnership with the Assembly of First Nations, we created the national panel on first nations education last year. The panel criss-crossed the country during the fall of 2011, consulting with first nations leaders, parents, elders, students, teachers, provincial officials and the private sector about how to improve the elementary school experience and the outcomes for first nations students across the country.
We are grateful for the panel. It did tremendous work. Its final report offers ideas to improve educational outcomes for first nations children and youth. We are currently reviewing this report and its recommendations carefully before determining the next steps.
Successive federal budgets further reinforce that this government places a high priority on first nations education. We invest roughly about $1.5 billion on an annual basis to elementary and secondary programs for 117,500 first nations students across our great nation. This investment supports structural service, special education, cultural educational centres and targeted initiatives for first nations students. Band councils and first nations educational organizations manage and deliver these programs and services in some 520 on-reserve schools.
We are also investing $200 million on an annual basis to school infrastructure so first nations children have a safe and healthy environment in which to learn. Construction projects are under way in communities across the country. I know of many in the province that I represent and even in my own constituency. These include new comprehensive schools, such as the one that has been recently opened in Birch Narrows First Nation in Saskatchewan, the new community school in North Spirit Lake First Nation in Ontario and the recently inaugurated Mah-Sos School in Tobique First Nation in New Brunswick. Our government has completed 248 school projects since April 1, 2006.
More important than issuing cheques, we are working in close partnership with first nations communities and the provinces to ensure that every first nations school gets off to a good start. We know that dollars alone will not address the challenges confronting first nations students.
Budget 2008 was an example of this. There was an investment in first nations education, not simply by adding money to existing funding arrangements but by focusing on practical initiatives that would lead to real results in the classroom. The budget launched the reforming first nations education initiative, which set out the foundation for long-term improvements to first nations education.
For instance, our first nations students success program took the tools to strengthen on-reserve education and put it into the hands of local decision makers. The program helps first nations educators plan and make improvements in the three priority areas of literacy, numeracy and student retention. Over 90% of first nations students are now benefiting from these initiatives.
Participating schools develop school success plans tailored to increase efforts in these priority areas. They are supported in developing success plans, conducting student assessments and measuring performance to assess and report on school and student progress. To monitor progress, students are looked at to ensure that they are making progress. Schools implement a student learning assessment process based on provincial jurisdictions and established performance measurement systems. These processes and informed instruction methods help teachers in setting priorities in assessing the planning to increase student success over the long term.
Our government recognizes that language and culture also play an important role in helping first nations students build confidence and self-esteem. These are essential skills and important elements to ensure academic success.
Pride in one's heritage and culture is important in encouraging first nations students to stay in school. Understanding this, Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada provides $9.5 million for cultural educational programs, which help to preserve and strengthen aboriginal culture, tradition and language.
Support is also available to first nations through initiatives, such as the new paths program, to allow first nations and their organizations to develop a curriculum for first nations schools, which are culturally relevant to the student population.
There is an additional $5 million that the Government of Canada provides each year under the aboriginal language initiative. It underwrites community-based projects to preserve and revitalize first nations, Inuit and Métis languages.
Beyond these important activities, our government recognizes that deeper structural reforms are needed to provide education that is comparable to that which is provided in the public school systems, but this is not something that we can tackle alone. Improving educational outcomes is a shared responsibility in which governments, communities, educators, families and students all play an important role.
Another of our key reform initiatives is the education partnerships program to increase collaboration among first nations, provinces and Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada so we can collectively increase students' success.
Many first nations schools have operated largely independently, with little connection to one another, or any connection to the provincial systems. As a consequence, these schools are left without some of the essential tools that are needed to improve student outcomes, attain provincial educational standards and ensure students can transition between first nations and provincial schools with no academic penalty.
The Government of Canada believes that co-operation and collaboration among first nations and other governments are essential to provide first nations students with the same advantages that other Canadian children enjoy. These three-way partnerships marry first nation control over local education with new models of accountability for results and stronger links to provincial standards for students and teachers.
The educational partnerships program supports the use of joint action plans where first nations and provincial officials share expertise and services. This approach helps to ensure that first nations students receive comparable instruction and obtain comparable results, whether the classroom is located on reserve or off.
To date, we have reached seven tripartite educational partnerships across Canada and five new tripartite educational memorandums of understanding have been entered into by our government since introducing the reforming first nations education initiative.
Since 2008, these include agreements with first nations and the Governments of New Brunswick, Manitoba, Alberta, Prince Edward Island and a sub-regional agreement with the Saskatoon Tribal Council. There are additional pre-existing tripartite partnerships in Nova Scotia and British Columbia. These tripartite agreements enable first nations communities to provide educational programs with high standards and strategies that reflect their unique first nation cultures and aspirations.
I am happy to report that negotiations are under way to complete many more such agreements. We are close to finalizing a tripartite educational memorandum of understanding with the First Nations Education Council in Quebec as well as with the Labrador Innu in Newfoundland and Labrador.
Equally encouraging, there is a province-wide effort to reach an MOU in Ontario with the Chiefs of Ontario office. Several sub-regional agreements are proceeding well and so too are negotiations with the Yukon first nations. We are especially excited about the work that is taking place in British Columbia, which perfectly illustrates the benefits of the tripartite approach.
In budget 2010, the Government of Canada invested $30 million for comparable education for first nations. We started in B.C., where there is an advanced state of partnership between the province and the First Nations Education Steering Committee.
The committee is an independent society that represents 88 first nations across the province and provides administrative services for first nations school administration. B.C. First nations and FNESC have been working together to establish an educational system that provides support for first nations students, demonstrating their capacity to administer educational programs and services.
On January 27, a new second generation tripartite educational framework agreement was signed by our government in the province of British Columbia and the First Nations Education Steering Committee. Under this agreement, the steering committee will support the delivery of quality education programs and services. This means meeting standards that will allow first nations students to transfer, without academic penalty, at a similar level of achievement between first nations schools and the provincial public schools.
Most promising is that this partnership agreement is accompanied by a new funding model. First nations education funding will be comparable to a similar size and situated school which would be funded in the public system within British Columbia. Progressive steps like these will close the gap in educational outcomes and graduation rates between first nations and other Canadian students.
The tripartite educational framework is an option available to all first nations in a province to help operate their schools. Communities in British Columbia are currently negotiating educational self-government agreements that they will be able sign on to and the framework that will establish the conclusion of the self-government agreements.
I should point out that approximately 21 nations and Inuit communities have opted to negotiate an assumed jurisdiction over education outside the Indian Act as part of a broader agreement or modern treaties covering self-government arrangements and comprehensive land claims.
Our government is determined that first nations students will enjoy the same opportunities as other Canadians. We are providing the funding necessary to make education accessible to individuals and communities. Most important, we are partnering with first nations communities and the provinces to bring about meaningful educational reforms that will lead to lasting student success.
We know that education holds the key to creating a future in which first nations are self-sufficient and prosperous, making their own decisions, managing their affairs and making strong contributions to their communities and the national economy.
I am not suggesting that the initiatives I have outlined today are the entire solution, but there is no question that they are vital steps in the right direction.
There should be no doubt about our government's determination to keep moving forward. We have made it clear with our investments and commitments to productive partnerships that we believe in the value and necessity of education for first nations children and youth. We are ready to do our part and anxious to work with willing partners to achieve better and greater results.
I know that we all agree in the House that first nations children deserve nothing less. With the fastest growing youth population in the country, we want to ensure first nations young people acquire the knowledge and skills that are necessary to be part of the growing Canadian economy and society.
I can assure the opposition that our government will continue to work with first nations partners across Canada, as we have been doing, to deliver tangible and lasting results and ensure that first nations are well positioned to be full participants in a strong Canadian economy.
I just hope that first nations children and youth can count on the support of all parties in the House to work together as we move forward.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House to speak to this very important motion. I will be splitting my time.
I want to acknowledge the good work that has been done by the member for and the member for . I particularly want to thank Shannen Koostachin's family for allowing their daughter's name to stand in this place and honour the work that Shannen did in her very short life.
There are a couple of other people I want to recognize specifically as well, because I will also speak about Jordan's principle. I want to acknowledge the family of Jordan River Anderson and the Norway House Cree Nation.
Back in 2007 I had the honour to stand in the House and move Motion No. M-296:
|| That, in the opinion of the House, the government should immediately adopt a child-first principle, based on Jordan's principles, to resolve jurisdictional disputes involving the care of first nations children.
I must point out to the House, because many of the members here were not in the House in 2007, that the motion passed unanimously in this House of Commons. All parties supported that motion. What was said in that motion essentially was that we would put children first.
While I acknowledge the member for for moving the motion, here we today debating a motion that still talks about the fact that first nations children have substandard education in this country. I want to refer to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Article 14(2) reads:
|| Indigenous individuals, particularly children, have the right to all levels and forms of education of the State without discrimination.
Nonetheless, many here today have spoken very ably about the fact that first nations children in this country are often in facilities that are so substandard that we cannot even begin to list all of the deficiencies, whether doors that do not close; or children having to wear jackets, mitts and coats in the middle of the winter because there is insufficient heat; or children who do not have text books. The list is appalling.
What happens in some of these communities is a repetition of the residential schools all over again, because those children, in order to get an adequate education, must leave their communities and go somewhere else. The elders are saying that its feels like the residential schools, because once again their children are being removed from their communities, even if voluntarily, to get their education.
Surely in 2012, with all of the technology and resources we have available in this country, we should be able to provide those children with an equitable education that is culturally relevant, that respects their languages and traditions. Here we are in 2012, once again having to talk about this.
The member for rightly pointed out the studies we have done. We could probably paper this chamber with the studies that have been done, and still we have children with substandard education in this country, first nations children, Inuit children. When will it change?
The government talks about productivity. It talks about skills shortages. From meeting with first nations leaders from coast to coast to coast, what they are saying to us is, “We have the children. Educate them. They could be part of that work force. We want to take our place in the economy of this country. Give us the tools to do that”.
It gets worse. Because we cannot get justice in this country, organizations are forced to go to UN bodies to talk about the state of education in this country. I want to refer to a briefing called “Our Dreams Matter too: First Nations children's rights, lives and education”, a self-described alternate report from the Shannen's dream campaign to the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child on the occasion of Canada's third and fourth periodic reviews. Of course, I do not have time to read the whole brief, but I want to touch on two recommendations. In the preamble it says:
|| Inspired by our friend Shannen Koostachin, we respectfully ask the Committee to hear our voices and stand with us as we demand that the Government of Canada (INAC) respects our rights and honours its obligations to First Nations children, youth and communities. We are growing up right now and we cannot wait for the Government to decide to do the right thing.
One of the recommendations refers to Jordan's principle:
|| Make sure Canada implements “Jordan’s Principle” across all Government services provided to First Nations children and youth. This would prevent us from receiving inequitable levels of service, experiencing excessive wait times and being denied urgent medical and other needed care simply because the provincial and federal governments can’t figure out who should pay for the service.
This is in the voices of the children in this country.
It is not just members of first nations who are talking about Jordan's principle. The Auditor General, in her May 2008 report, talked about how first nations child and family services reflected the inequities in this country in terms of adequate child welfare services on reserve. She pointed out that Jordan's principle put first nations children first. She said:
|| However, in our view, a dispute-resolution mechanism will not work in the presence of irreconcilable differences and without a change in funding authorities. Such difficulties need to be resolved if this proposal is to result in better and timelier services to First Nations children.
I want to refer to fighting the good fight, Jordan's principle. This outlines the background and talks about what has happened so far.
Many first nations children are caught in payment disputes within or between the federal and provincial governments. This can have a significant impact on their access to essential medical and health services.
As a little aside, not only is it between federal and provincial governments, but we also understand it is between federal government departments. Health Canada will say that it is not its responsibility. Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada will say that it is not its responsibility. Those two departments of government point the finger at each other while children once again wait for care.
It is not just complex medical needs. That is why I am invoking Jordan's principle in the context of education. First nations children should not be treated differently in terms of access to quality education.
Back to fighting the good fight. Several organizations and individuals have fought the good fight to change this.
In December 2007, Jordan's principle was adopted in the House of Commons. This child-first principle says that when a dispute arises between the two government parties regarding payment for services for a status Indian child, the government of first contact must pay for services without delay or disruption.
This principle was named in honour of Jordan River Anderson, a child from Norway House Cree Nation in Manitoba, who was born with complex medical needs. He spent over two years unnecessarily in hospital because the federal and provincial governments could not agree on who should pay for his care in a specialized foster home in his community.
Jordan passed away having spent his whole life in hospital. That is a crime in this country. It is even worse. Jordan River Anderson's family had to surrender him to provincial care because the federal government would not pay for his care in his community.
First of all, Jordan spent two years in hospital being stabilized, getting to the level where he could go into a specialized foster home. At that age, when he could have gone into a family home and received the love and support of a family environment, the federal and provincial governments said, “It is not my job to pay for this. It is somebody else's responsibility.” Jordan spent the next two years in hospital. Then he passed away. All it would have taken was one level of government to step up to the plate and say “We will pay for this child's care, and we will fight about the money later.” That did not happen.
Canadians across this country should be outraged that we allow children, first nations, Métis and Inuit children, to be subject to that kind of care in this country in this day and age.
Sadly, since 2007, there has not been the kind of action that one would presume would happen when a unanimous motion is passed in this House of Commons. One would expect members from all parties to say, “We agree, first nations children should be put first in this country. We will pony up the money and fight about who pays later.”
That has not happened. Five years later, that has not happened. I urge all members in this House to stand up and support Shannen's dream as a statement that we believe in equality for first nations children, Métis children and Inuit children across this country.