Good afternoon, everyone. I call this meeting to order.
Welcome to meeting number 53 of the Standing Committee on Indigenous and Northern Affairs.
I would like to acknowledge that we are on the unceded territory of the Algonquin Anishinabe people.
Before we get started, is there unanimous consent for the clerk to prepare a press release outlining the committee's upcoming travel to Cambridge Bay, Kugluktuk and Yellowknife next week, to be shared with local news outlets?
(Motion agreed to)
The Chair: Thank you.
As with our previous meetings, today's meeting is taking place in a hybrid format.
For members participating virtually, you know the rules to follow.
For everyone, before speaking, please wait until I recognize you by name. When speaking, please address your comments to the chair and speak slowly and clearly. When you're not speaking, your microphone should be on mute.
Pursuant to Standing Order 108(2) and the motion adopted by the committee on November 21, 2022, the committee is resuming its study of improving the graduation rates of indigenous students.
Today, on our first panel, we welcome the Honourable Patty Hajdu, Minister of Indigenous Services Canada, who is here in person. As well, we have deputy minister Gina Wilson, also from Indigenous Services Canada and in person.
Of course, all of us may speak in the official language of our choice. Interpretation services are available for this meeting in French, English and Inuktitut. At the bottom of your screen, you have the choice of floor, English or French audio. I suggest you choose that language now, so you'll be ready when another language is spoken. With that, if interpretation is lost, please notify us and we'll interrupt briefly until we re-establish it.
As is the custom, Minister Hajdu, we open the floor to you for introductory remarks. I understand that you have a bit more than five minutes. I was told seven or eight minutes. In the interest of hearing your presentation, that will be fine.
After that, we'll proceed with questions.
It's over to you, Minister.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
Kwe kwe. Tansi. Unnusakkut. Good morning. Bonjour.
I'm very grateful to be here with you all today on the traditional and unceded territory of the Algonquin Anishinabe people.
Thank you for inviting me to discuss the work the federal government is doing to improve education for indigenous youth.
I know all of you have been working really diligently to understand the history of European settlement and the resulting policies that were meant to displace indigenous people from their lands, traditions and culture, which resulted in many indigenous children, for generations, being robbed of their right to thrive in communities with family and the right to access education comparable to non-indigenous children, often in the same region or territory.
In fact, in 2021, just over 53% of indigenous students graduated from secondary school, and 90% of non-indigenous students in the same year successfully completed their high school education. That gap of 37%, made up of young people with frustrated dreams and paths forward, is a tragedy we all have to work to end.
In 2021, post-secondary education attainment rates for first nations, Inuit and Métis were 45.3%, 33.6% and 56.3%, respectively, while for non-indigenous Canadians it's about 70%. What a waste of talent—talent that Canada needs now more than ever. It should be our collective commitment to make sure we can change these outcomes for this generation and for the next one.
To change those outcomes, we need not just financial investment but strong support for the leaders who are building and rebuilding education systems that are founded on and connected to language and culture from early learning to post-secondary. The mainstream schools have not served indigenous students well, and the effects of racism and a curriculum that whitewashes indigenous perspectives and history have compounded the problem.
Students on reserve must be funded comparably to students in provincial systems off reserve, and investments must be made in critical areas, such as language and culture, full-day kindergarten and before and after school programming.
In 2016, the federal Liberal government began the work of creating new partnerships with indigenous people to reform the way elementary and secondary school education was funded. The government set provincial education formulas as the new minimum base and agreed to modifications that addressed specific first nations' needs and priorities. To bring credibility to this work, the government has increased funding for elementary and secondary education for first nations students on reserve by 74% since 2015.
We see encouraging signs that the new approach is working. As of 2021, just over 53% of first nations youth between the ages of 18-24 had a secondary school diploma or equivalent. That is still too large a gap, but the gap is getting smaller. The deficit left by 10 years of sparse to no new money spent on indigenous youth also meant that infrastructure was often decrepit or unsafe.
Indigenous youth deserve and need safe places to learn. Indigenous Services Canada and the AFN have commissioned studies that demonstrate the unacceptable and shameful gap in infrastructure between indigenous and non-indigenous communities.
Since 2015, the federal government has committed $2.35 billion in targeted funding for school facilities, and $2.27 billion has been allocated, funding 250 projects, including 70 new schools. Of the 250 projects, 164 are now complete, and 86 projects are ongoing. These infrastructure investments serve 270 communities and about 313,000 students. These are very important steps towards closing the infrastructure gap by 2030.
The federal government uses provincial formulas as a minimum base to address the equity gap. Partners have expressed that each regional area is unique, with some communities requiring support for transportation, teacher residences, and/or healthy meals as part of their education systems.
Many indigenous partners are pursuing self-determined education. Nine regional education agreements have been signed to restore control to first nations on the design and delivery of education on reserve, ensuring that learning is grounded in culture and language, and that the funding formulas work best for each unique region.
In July 2022, I had the honour of joining grand chiefs and chiefs of the First Nations Education Council to sign a multi-million dollar regional education agreement with 22 first nations supporting the First Nations Education Council in Quebec.
At that event, I was moved by a young girl who opened the ceremony by speaking in her own indigenous language of Mohawk or Kanienkehaka. She learned her language through an immersion program that she joined in kindergarten.
It was incredibly moving. There are 50 agreements under development, and leaders are determined to provide education that results in confident and capable adults rooted in culture and language.
In January I visited with Dianne Roach, director of operations of the Shingwauk Kinoomaage Gamig, who toured us through the new Anishinabe post-secondary institute partially funded by FedNor. This institute works to preserve the integrity of the Anishinabe language and knowledge. I was greeted by students learning and teaching Ojibwa. The confidence, connection and strength these students are building in themselves is a gift to their communities and to the generations to come.
The promise of reconciliation is that every person in this country has the pride and confidence in themselves that they, too, can reach their full potential. Indeed, our country can thrive only if every first nations, Inuit and Métis child has hope for their future and the confidence that they can learn, grow and contribute to their family, their community, the nation and the world. They must know that they have the best possibility to learn and that they have equal opportunities for education and economic success. This will allow for the promise of a better future, success and prosperity for all of us.
We will get there by ensuring that first nations, Métis and Inuit educators have the tools and resources they need to design and deliver the education that will help their youth succeed.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
I'm going to run out of time, Minister. I want to move on.
In 2018, the Auditor General did a report. I'm going to paraphrase so I don't have to read all of it, but they were talking about recommendations to Indigenous Services Canada in connection with closing the socio-economic gaps, education being one of those. One of the things they said in the conclusions was that we have to find things that are actually improving the lives of indigenous people by using proper indicators rather than focusing on the amount of money spent. The ultimate goal is to improve lives and to close these gaps. The numbers I referred to are reported by Indigenous Services Canada, so we can move on from that and see where that goes.
There was also a discussion by the Auditor General back in 2018 that the graduation reports on reserves were being reported inaccurately. It was using a methodology that was measuring only kids who started in grade 12, not the cohort method, which goes from grades 9 to 12 or grades 10 to 12, like most provincial systems do. When we start comparing these rates.... You talked about the average being 85% or something like that. I'm talking about rates as low as 34%. The Auditor General talked about those rates being even lower than that, if we actually used the proper methodology.
It's my understanding that there is a new method that was agreed to by the ADM in August 2020, which would do the proper comparative rates. Are you aware of that? How has that impacted the rates you're measuring when you measure the success?
Thank you, Mr. Chair, and thank you, Minister, for joining us today.
My question is going to be around the regional educational agreements and some of the challenges and barriers we're seeing to moving in that direction.
Not everyone may be familiar with what regional education agreements are. To give some context, we have an amazing example of this in Nova Scotia, with Mi'kmaw Kina'matnewey. Twenty years ago in Nova Scotia, the first nations graduation rates were at 30%. Today they're at 90%, which are some of the highest graduation rates of first nations across the country. When I talk to the co-chair of the organization, Chief Leroy Denny and his staff, Blaire Gould, they all attribute it to the fact that now they are working together collectively as communities on education. Through that collaboration, they are able to focus on language, on culture and on really decolonizing education.
You said in your speech that we have nine regional education agreements from across the country. I'm wondering if you could tell us what you've seen as best practices.
Why is this the best practice? Why is this working? How can we create more communities that go down this route?
Thanks very much, Mr. Battiste.
I'll just say that self-determination is the key out of this mess, actually. It's when indigenous people have the tools and the control to be able to reassert their rights over the education of their children and their communities.
When we took office, the federal government under Stephen Harper had in fact eliminated federal funding for things that would have helped with Mr. Vidal's question. For example, the first nations statistical institute had been dismantled. It was a key institution that allowed first nations themselves to collect data that was crucial and required for self-governance.
We've refunded that institute and indeed have been spending significant resources on funding first nations' control over how data is collected and how it's used to improve outcomes.
I would also say that you hit on some really important aspects. It's about the curriculum, the language and the world view that goes along with how people are educated in community.
You also pointed out something that is really beneficial. That's when communities work together to have the capacity at a larger scale to be able to do regional education agreements that provide supports for some of the smaller communities that may not have the capacity to do it on their own. Communities work really hard on these regional education agreements. It's a process of negotiation with the federal government, so that everybody is comfortable, when the reins are transferred to indigenous communities, that they have the capacity to do exactly what they want to do, which is to improve education outcomes.
The success is people who graduate, who are proud of themselves and who have confidence in their own stories and their own capacity to develop to their full potential and to contribute back to their communities.
Let me just reflect, first of all, on the long-term and predictable.... As those of you who have run organizations will know, when you have short-term funding—a year or two years—it's very hard to do a whole bunch of things, including plan for the future, but also to recruit and retain really qualified educators.
With 10-year agreements, you can actually stabilize the education system that you're running, including ensuring the stability of educators. Some of you—Madame Gill, for example, and others—have been teachers and know that the relationship between students and teachers is an important part of outcomes. When people don't have the confidence or the control.... We see this frequently, especially in remote communities. Teachers go in for a couple of years and then fly out for greener pastures in teaching that maybe will be closer to their own families or their own cultures.
In terms of culture and language—and, again, this is coming from the chiefs, from the students and from the families I've had an opportunity to speak with—everybody, without a doubt, says that when students feel safe, respected, and understood and are learning a curriculum that is relevant to their lives and to their own world view, having an opportunity to learn it in languages that oftentimes they've heard at home—whether it's through grandparents or other relatives—provides a better sense of grounding for that student. The student is then more connected to the school.
When we talk about the failure of education systems to graduate first nations students from mainstream secondary schools, oftentimes it's because those students have left school. It's not because they've reached grade 12 and failed. It's because they've often left class, left schools, because they don't feel welcome in those systems, or they've experienced disproportionate racism, either at the hands of the educators—which is extremely sad—or from their peers.
Quite frankly, the curriculum is in some cases offensive, because it whitewashes their experiences as indigenous people. This turns the page.
I have a real, high degree of hope that we'll see more and more of these agreements come online in the next number of years.
Thank you to the minister and deputy minister, Ms. Wilson, for being here.
What you just said, Ms. Hajdu, really struck a chord with me. We are on the same page when it comes to students' language, culture and, of course, academic success, not to mention all the associated benefits. This is about their very identity.
That said, I want to spend the next few minutes discussing the Auditor General's 2018 report, which Mr. Vidal brought up earlier. I want to talk about what it says in that report. I heard things that surprised me, so I want to follow up on what the Auditor General found in 2018.
For example, according to the report on socio-economic gaps on first nations reserves, the department did not collect relevant data or adequately use data to inform decision-making.
I don't have the exact numbers in front of me, but I'd like to know whether you changed your approach to data collection, to make sure the data you collected going forward were relevant and adequate in order to inform funding decisions, as recommended by the Office of the Auditor General.
Thank you very much, Madame Gill.
Yes, in fact, the elementary and secondary programs are now using a new cohort-based high school graduation rate methodology that's going to align better with the current pan-Canadian high school graduation rate. This is going to improve the department's ability to understand and measure the difference in high school graduation rates between first nations students on reserve and the non-indigenous population across Canada.
We anticipate that the new cohort-based graduation rate methodology data will be published in the departmental report for 2022-23, which either is coming out or should be out now. I remember editing the minister's message, so it must be coming soon.
I will also point to the fact that the work we're doing to reinvest in the data sovereignty of indigenous people—the ability to collect, analyze and use that data through indigenous-led data institutes—is another really key piece of this, because, of course, the way we assess the data and the way indigenous partners do may be different.
Yes, everything is relative. Nothing is black and white. I completely agree with you on that. Nevertheless, asking these questions is our job.
You talked about methodology, and of course, methodology can change. A change in methodology can help produce more accurate data, but there's no guarantee. That's why I asked the question again.
The Office of the Auditor General may not have done another audit, but I imagine it will at some point. Then we'll be able to see whether the methodology and other changes have led to more accurate data.
The use of the data, however, is an altogether different matter. We aren't talking about a study methodology. It's really about the use. What's being done with the data that are collected when they are relevant?
We weren't able to get into the second half of the question, but that may be something an audit would have to examine as well.
I think I've used up all my time, Mr. Chair.
I found a data point for you in my notes on your previous question, Ms. Idlout.
Ninety-two per cent of students attending first nations-administered schools are taught at least one subject in a first nations language. However, I will say from my own experience with French immersion or French class, there's probably a long way to go, because we know that sometimes it's hard to learn a language when it's only one course or one opportunity per semester or per day.
In terms of the language schools for Inuit, what I would say is that the Government of Canada established what is called—and you know about this—the permanent bilateral mechanisms in 2016, to talk about the very thing you're mentioning. That is what the joint priorities are, what the policies are that Inuit want us to proceed with and to pursue and in what order, and how we can monitor progress on those priorities.
I will also say, as you know, that education is delivered through the territories. In Nunavut, the agreement is with the territory of Nunavut. I met with the education minister and deputy premier, Pamela Gross in February, to talk about her priorities, particularly the funding and support available under the Inuit child first initiative.
We agreed that we would work towards a tripartite table, because of the discord that's happening between.... There are people who feel that the territory is not doing a good job of preserving language and culture. They're not feeling the outcomes of the education investments by the territory through the federal government.
That work of setting up the tripartite table will hopefully begin soon. I'm looking forward to the first meeting, because what Minister Gross and I agreed on was that regardless of how we get there, we have to do a better job. Inuit children have to have the equal opportunity to learning that I spoke about in my opening remarks.
I think this is a positive development.
I'm going to follow up on the conversation we've been having and suggest that you don't need to get back to me on those statistics, because when I go back to both the 2020-21 and 2021-22.... That's where those numbers come from. Those graduation rates are on page 25 of the 2021 report. In fact, they're on the line below the data point you were just talking about in response to Ms. Idlout. Your own departmental results reports, two years in a row—which you signed off on, Minister—identify that the percentage of first nation on-reserve students who graduate has declined from 40.5% to 34.2%.
Let me put this into perspective for you, Minister. You want to go back and blame the 10 years prior, but after eight years of being in government, the graduation rate of on-reserve first nations students has declined by 6.5%. That means, for every 100 kids who enter the system.... We don't even know whether we're measuring these results right, because that's part of the process still to come. For every 100 kids, we lost over six in the process. That's terrifying. It's tragic. The rates are less than half of those in the provincial systems in the first place, and they're declining.
Do you have a response to that, further to what you gave me before?
Thanks, Mrs. Atwin, for your service as an educator.
You're absolutely right, and I fully believe that education is the key that unlocks generational poverty. As someone who was first in my family to graduate with a post-secondary education, it's near and dear to my heart.
I hear two things from communities. One, there is a recognition that there is improved funding for students by 70% since 2015. Let's be clear that we're not talking about 10% or 20% more, but 70% more, on average. We are now at provincial comparability.
However, I also hear that there are still gaps in learning because of the gap having been so neglected for so long. I was talking about a decade of darkness. That was a decade of lost multiple generations of students, who were not funded comparably to their provincial systems and who fell behind. In fact, not only were those school systems not funded; institutes who helped first nations do things like gather data were also defunded. They were starved of the resources they needed so that first nations themselves could make good decisions about how to move forward on education.
What I'm hearing is, “Please, let's not go back there.” We need long-term agreements that are going to solidify this funding so that we never again see a government cut funding for indigenous education or cut funding for indigenous infrastructure or cut funding for indigenous water or all the things that we saw in complete, decrepit decay when we took office in 2015. It's a lot of work and a lot of financial commitment, but first nations communities are doing that work with us. I can tell you that there is a groundswell of change happening. What people fear the most is a return to the past. They fear that if our government isn't around and a Conservative government is elected, they're going to lose those gains.
Quite frankly, Mrs. Atwin, that's why we're working on long-term agreements with first nations, so that they have the runway, the autonomy and the sufficiency of funding to make sure we don't end up in that place again.
Thank you very much. That's a really great segue.
I will also say—and I didn't want to lose sight of this—that our commitment to funding Jordan's principle and making sure that every child gets the support through Jordan's principle, ending generations of neglect on behalf of governments at all levels towards first nations children, is also helping with education and retention in school systems and with supports for families who want to make sure their kids can succeed.
In terms of post-secondary education, this is something that, as I mentioned, is near and dear to my heart. In communities that have the capacity—for example, with own-source revenue to augment the supports from the federal government—to ensure that every student who has the ability to go to post-secondary training or education can actually get there and can stay enrolled in those schools, you can see that what actually happens is that people graduate with the skills that are needed to run communities. People come back as nurses, accountants, lawyers, doctors, civil engineers and construction workers, and communities begin to thrive because residents themselves are taking control over their communities and are able to run them in a way that is indigenous-centred and trusted by the communities.
I look at the community of Biigtigong in my own riding, which made a commitment 40 to 50 years ago to ensure that every child who wanted to access post-secondary could. They have a wraparound program whereby they make sure that children are attached to community members, so that if they're struggling while they're away for school, they can connect with community and remind themselves again about why they're doing this and who they are, in a culturally appropriate way. Those students are coming back. Fifty years later, that community has teachers from Biigtigong, nurses from Biigtigong, water operators from Biigtigong and construction workers from Biigtigong. They have a number of economic development opportunities, including the approval of a mine in a joint project with the nearby Town of Marathon.
That's the kind of potential that communities have when we see post-secondary students succeed. It has been a priority for me as the minister to make sure that I impress this on my colleagues: that we need to continue our journey to ensure that the supports are there.
Students are entitled to Canada student loans and grants, which, by the way, we doubled. Children, young people and adults who are in poverty and are first-time applicants for Canada student loans and grants are going to get more money for the tuition aspect and some of the living expenses, but there is often a need for additional supports. That's to make sure we can retain people in environments that oftentimes are very new and different, and are difficult for people to stay in.
Earlier, we talked about the Auditor General's audit of the elementary and secondary education program—specifically, the relevance and accuracy of the data and the sharing of those data with indigenous communities. We also talked about the methodology, which doesn't guarantee that the data will be relevant or accurate, but at least the department confirmed that changes are being made to improve things.
I'd like to hear your views on something else that was raised, and it isn't necessarily tied to methodology. The audit revealed that the department did not report results for many measures. We are talking about a lot—17 out of 23.
Why were there no results for those measures?
Since then, have you managed to report results for all the measures?
That's where I think this new cohort-based high school graduation rate methodology is going to improve the department's ability to both gather data and measure the difference in high school graduation rates, for example. That is part of the departmental report for 2022-23 and the targets we were talking about earlier that will be available this fall.
This is really about working with first nations in a respectful way, by the way, to leverage data and support discussions with them about how to collect those data in a way that's logical and respectful.
I would assume, when you see the kind of underfunding that existed prior to 2015, that educators' days—and those of you who have been educators in the room know this—are busy enough without spending another couple of hours collecting and organizing data. Now, with comparable funding, there is more capacity for education systems to be able to do that collection of data.
With things like the first nations statistical institute—I may have the name wrong but it's the institute we're funding around statistics and data—I think there's going to be an ability for first nations to leverage some of those investments in the pan-Canadian institutions that serve first nations.
[Member spoke in Inuktitut, interpreted as follows:
I have many questions, but I will have to stick to one question. In Nunavut, the schools and the people have the hardest time with resources. Many people are truants and not attending, because they live in overcrowded housing. They live in very old, decrepit, and mould-infested homes. Even if they wanted to go to school, there are things that prevent them from going to school regularly.
Once they get to school, the schools are also very old institutions and need repairs. Resources prevent us from attending. Infrastructure needs repairs. Residential school survivors have a lot of pain. There's a lot of intergenerational trauma that's been passed on from residential schools. I believe it is very important that we keep that in mind and concentrate on the trauma from residential schools and intergenerational trauma.
I will ask you about the learning institutions. In Nunavut, our institutions are overcrowded, with very old buildings. We know that the Nunavut government should be managing and operating those, but if it's not going to get enough money through bilateral agreements from the federal government, those issues will never be addressed. It is critically important that we increase government funding to the territorial government institutions. Bilateral funding to territorial governments has to be increased drastically. People who graduate will increase in number once the infrastructure is okay.
I have many questions about schools in Nunavut, but I have to limit it to this one.
I don't know how much time I have, Mr. Chair, but I'll take a stab at first of all answering the meat of the question. There is so much trauma, and this is true of Inuit children, but not only Inuit children. There is residential school trauma. The infliction of trauma, as a result of the experience of colonization, is in the DNA of indigenous people in this country. It for sure impacts the capacity of people to learn, and it for sure impacts their capacity to stay and focus in school.
You're absolutely right. It intersects with the shortage of housing and with the many other ways indigenous people experience poverty in communities all across this country. That's why the work we're doing to close the infrastructure gap by 2030, which is an ambitious goal, is so critically important.
You're right: If you're living in a household of 14 people, what that means in practice, as some elders and parents have told me, is that people sleep in shifts. You take turns sleeping, because there isn't space for everyone to have a normal night. That is obviously not compatible with learning or education.
I really hope, when we see budget 2023, we don't see a repeat of what we saw in budgets 2021 and 2022, which was the Conservative Party, in particular, voting against the investments in indigenous peoples and voting against the investments in education. The sum of $1.2 billion in 2021 was invested in education. It was voted against. There was $6 billion for infrastructure, including shovel-ready infrastructure projects that were ready to go. Operation and maintenance costs were voted against by Conservatives. There was $107.9 million for elementary and secondary education—
We would like to welcome our second panel. We have with us from Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs, Ms. Angela Bate, who is director general, and Dionne Savill, director general, implementation branch, both by video conference today.
With us in the room we have, from the Department of Indigenous Services, Rory O'Connor, director general, regional infrastructure delivery branch, and Jonathan Allen, who is a director with the department.
Welcome to all of you. I understand there are no opening statements, but that you are here to answer our questions. We'll launch into that right away.
We'll start with six minutes with Mr. Zimmer.
Okay. Thanks for clarifying, Mr. Chair.
I'll start off with, I have some questions, as a former teacher myself. I taught high school for seven years. I was a bit unique, I guess, in my education. I became a tradesman. I was a Red Seal carpenter; I am a Red Seal carpenter. Then I went and got two degrees after that. I have seen both sides of the fence, with a trades education and also university. I have a heart for trades training—let me put it that way.
I'll dig into this article from Nunavut News. It was dated June 26, 2021.
Statistics Canada reported as of 2016 that 41 per cent of Inuit had attained their high school diploma. Among Inuit living within Inuit Nunangat, 28.2 per cent reported a post-secondary qualification compared with Inuit living outside Inuit Nunangat at 53.3 per cent.
“It is working, but not to its fullest capacity,” says Peesee Pitsiulak, Nunavut Arctic College's Nunatta Campus dean and a member of the Arctic and Northern Policy Framework's Task Force on Northern Post-Secondary Education.
I'll start off with that. It's not a great stat. One thing I always found as a bit of joy in being a teacher and a coach was seeing kids in my class succeed and go off. They'd come to me later on and say, “Mr. Zimmer, I'm a welder now,” or, “I have my degree.” I couldn't be happier for students who have achieved more success after they've been in my class.
There are still problems. I'll quote an article. The article is “The Insufficiency of High School Completion Rates to Redress Educational Inequities among Indigenous Students”, and I'll quote a paragraph in it that I think is telling.
Notably absent from these plans is consultation with First Nations communities regarding their perspectives on potential improvements and the accessibility of the system. Since we understand that on-reserve First Nations students have the lowest graduation rates, perhaps engaging with these communities on collaborative strategies through the Accountability Framework could drastically increase learners' success in the education system and reduce pervasive disparity.
For example, the increases in the graduation rates to near parity for Indigenous learners in the northern British Columbia school district previously referenced was built upon strong relationships and collaboration with First Nations....
I had this question for the minister, but I understand that she could only be here for an hour. We can talk about this all day long. We could have meetings for 10 years and 20 years and still have more meetings and more meetings. We could throw funding at the problem, but unless we're consulting with first nations communities to ask what we need to do to fix this, then we're going nowhere. We're spinning in circles and just spending a lot more money, not getting anywhere.
The sad part of it is that the kids are the ones who lose. They're the ones who end up at a lower graduation rate and with less of an opportunity going forward.
What I want to do is ask whoever is part of the department this: What are you doing to consult with first nations about how to increase these rates—graduation rates and success rates—among indigenous students in indigenous communities?
I'm a guest on this committee. I appreciate the opportunity to participate.
This is an important study. Thanks to the committee members for putting this study forward.
My interest in first nation education and graduation rates began in my days as Yukon's chief medical officer of health, when I recognized and wrote about the relationship between first nations graduation rates and future opportunities in health and well-being.
In the Yukon, there was a critical—you might even say scathing—2019 Auditor General's report that I'm sure you're familiar with, which showed little progress in graduation rates amongst Yukon first nations. That gap was not only between first nations and non-first nations; there was also an urban-rural gap. I think one of the most significant developments we've seen since that report was the creation, with a real sense of urgency, of the Yukon First Nation Education Directorate, and then, just a year ago, in February 2022, a First Nation School Board with elected trustees.
To maybe answer some of Mr. Zimmer's questions, I think there is an example here of some real partnerships with first nation governments and first nation people in the Yukon that really take things in a different direction. Hopefully these augment and accelerate progress towards better outcomes.
With that overall context, I think my first question is for Ms. Savill.
I know you're based in the Yukon. I wonder if you can just briefly tell me your role vis-à-vis first nation education writ large and perhaps specifically as it relates to what's going on in the Yukon.
I recently changed roles. I'm now the director general of the implementation sector, but I have worked with Yukon first nations on developing their own vision for education in the Yukon for their children. That has meant, as you say, the First Nation School Board and the Yukon First Nation Education Directorate.
In their self-government agreements and their modern treaties, Yukon first nations have jurisdiction over the provision of education programs and services for citizens choosing to participate. Self-governing Yukon first nations also have the ability to assume responsibility for the territorial programs and services. That being said, to date they have chosen to focus on a First Nation School Board and also the Yukon First Nation Education Directorate, which is funded through Indigenous Services Canada's education partnerships program to the tune of about $2.8 million annually.
We have seen successes in first nation programming on the land and through language and culture, which has been introduced into the school system.
During our first hour with the minister, Ms. Hajdu, we talked about the Office of the Auditor General's 2018 report on elementary and secondary education on reserves. We discussed a number of issues, especially how hard it was to obtain data to get an accurate reading of the situation. That's what was discussed.
At the very end of the discussion, I brought up indicators. Of the 23 measures used, the department did not report on 17 of them. I would think the departments are the ones that select the measures.
On one hand, there are no data, and on the other, measures can't be reported on because of the lack of data. We were told that a transformation would be taking place, and I hope that's the case.
I have other questions along the same lines.
Of course, you set targets with the best of intentions. In June and December of 2015, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada released reports containing recommendations. One of those recommendations calls on the federal government to work with indigenous communities to develop a strategy to reduce—in an ideal world, eliminate—the gap in education and academic success between non-indigenous communities and indigenous communities. The government later said that it had implemented measures to close the gap.
In short, the government said in 2015 that it had implemented measures to close the gap, but a few years later, the Office of the Auditor General put out a report stating that what the government was doing wasn't working. The department wasn't collecting the necessary data. The report even said that the funding system wasn't working and that the whole strategy should be reviewed.
Have you introduced a new strategy since?
According to the government's website, new measures were put in place to close the gap. What are those measures? I'm not talking about the measures that were implemented previously. I'm talking about new measures.
Feel free to tie in other issues as well. We are talking about funding, yes, but the problem goes beyond education funding. My fellow member Mr. Hanley brought up language. The last study dealt with that. The issues don't exist in silos; they are interconnected.
You have free rein to go outside the scope of the question.
Education transformation and first nations control of first nations education on reserve for elementary and secondary are our driving mandate and our driving purpose. That transformation is attached to funding, the program structure, outcomes, reporting and data.
The Auditor General's report really drove a lot of that. The minister spoke about the change to the graduation rate, which was criticized in the Auditor General's report because it focused only on students who had entered grade 12 and graduated. We've moved and will be reporting in the next cycles of plans and reports a cohort base, which matches more what the census in Canada does, as well as what provinces do and what our partners do as they support students throughout their high school career toward attainment, not just those at the end. That is a concrete change that is driven by that Auditor General report.
We also looked at the type of data, the amount of data and the reporting burden, and we have reduced that. A part of the program structure of transformation was eliminating proposal-based programs, which were very cumbersome and resulted in funding and activities that weren't evenly or fairly distributed across the country or within regions. The elimination of those and the move to a formula basis greatly reduced the number of proposals and reports that partners would need to go through.
The changing performance measurement framework that the department works on is really targeted at what drives the funding out in a transparent, predictable way, and we are creating that space to co-develop indicators with our partners, as well as through regional education agreements, which are the most powerful part of our mandate to have first nations define their vision, their voice and their outcomes.
The CEPN in Quebec, the First Nations Education Council, is about exactly that. I understand a witness will be appearing here in the future. It's about letting first nations have those three parts—the transformed funding, the structure and the outcomes—to define how they will see their students, under their control, advance.
I think I still have some time to ask questions.
Aside from the problems and administrative chaos associated with some programs, you made changes to data collection and performance measures. First nations, themselves, now have control over those data, at least some as of now. That is, of course, a big change.
Have you taken other steps to bridge the gap?
At the same time, have you evaluated the current impact of those measures, as compared with 2015? Apparently, not much has changed. My fellow members, Mr. Vidal, for instance, said that it was hard to tell much of a difference. Perhaps you've changed how you calculate things, but graduation rates aren't going up.
Since the report came out, the government seems to be full of goodwill, working on various fronts. However, what do you have to show for it, in concrete terms? Do you have any numbers to share? This may tie in with what Mr. Zimmer said. Are the data accurate? I realize that they are just numbers, but population-wise, where do graduation rates for first nations youth stand? I said “youth”, but adult education is obviously something we could talk about as well.
The main data we look at for attainment is the census data from StatsCan, which is what the spoke to in part. Some of the earlier questions dealt with the department's reporting. Again, those are very different facets of the population. The census is 18 to 24; there's voluntary identification, and its attainment level...with secondary being the highest level of education attainment.
The graduation rates that have been published in departmental reports have decreased over time, but within that is part of the issue pointed out by the Auditor General, and the reason the methodology has changed. That is informed by engaging with our partners as well, through co-development and transformation, to get to a more representative cohort graduation. That's what our partners are telling us. Many of them agreed with the Auditor General, as well, that it was too focused on the graduation rate in the past.
Those are the concrete measures we've taken. The results are not up for publishing yet. They will be included in the next round of reports and will create the baseline for going forward, to capture what changed in 2015, as you asked, and the transformation in 2019.
I also have to flag that co-development is a key part of this. We learn from setting top-down expectations. We work to co-develop at the venues that I discussed a bit earlier, with partners. It takes time for that.
Also, COVID has been hugely disruptive. Not only did the transformation in 2019 change the program structure, the reporting and the funding, but right after that was COVID, which disrupted the launch of the implementation of the new program.
Again, the highest-level indicator that we discuss is the graduation rate, which will be in departmental reports. It will make more sense with the census approach. It's a very different cohort and a very different age grouping, but we hope those two facets, based on what we've discussed with partners, will show that movement over time of the impact of the changes.
That's great. Thank you very much.
In that same vein, speaking to how important schools are in that they become the heart of the community, the centre of activity, in my experience on the east coast most band-operated or community schools are K to 8, and there aren't very many that go to secondary level. What we've seen statistically is that the highest dropout rates happen in grade 9, the first time you're entering the high school stage, because it doesn't have that same feeling. There isn't that representation. Perhaps it's located outside your community, and there's a transportation piece as well.
I'm just wondering a bit more about those tripartite tables for discussions with provinces and territories, which are then responsible for the delivery of education, and where they might be falling short on reaching these outcomes. How can we better support changes there as well that are slightly outside our jurisdiction?
Perhaps Crown-Indigenous Relations would be the better place to have the answer.
Yes. As departmental employees there is cultural awareness training and there are different kinds of activities that we do to understand our colleagues and the best way to work together with first nations partners.
Also, we've established in the education branch an education data unit that includes a training stream. That is as much training for our own staff about the data-in, data-out points on education, given that its student data is some of the most sensitive. The nominal roll, which you referred to, is the registry of eligible students. Those activities take place at the front lines, with school administrators in communities.
We have a system that gives communities access to all their own data, with all the principles of ownership and control, so the communities can use that data to drive some of their own strategies and work and school lists in the same way as it is also used to drive funding.
Overall, that's where the relationship really happens on the front lines, and we've worked to try to anchor it in data that is owned by our partners. The use of it by the department and its purpose are very clear. Again, that links back to what we learned from the Auditor General's report as well.
[Member spoke in Inuktitut, interpreted as follows:
Thank you, Marilène.
I have many questions. I'm trying to determine which is the most pertinent question, and if they will have the answer. Has any work been done on it regarding schools and education?
Education is delivered in the white man's way of teaching. We indigenous people have a low graduation rate because it's not in our culture, nor our language. It's a foreign way of thinking. We know that way too many do not graduate and way too many drop out.
If those who are not completing their education are hunters or sewers or artists, can we look at those applications and educate them in a way to make their own living? As they grow older, they don't plan to go back to school. They don't plan to graduate. The education system is behind them.
Many do not practise traditional skills like hunting or sewing, because they're not given the opportunity to learn that. They are not even taught that. Education is very important. Learning in a white person's language is not the only way to obtain a good education. We indigenous people have our own culture, our own language. Our lives and our beings have to be present in the school system in our homeland.
You have to ask yourself—because you're not indigenous and you do not look indigenous; you look like others—where in your workplace you encourage your superiors and your co-workers to include more of the indigenous language and culture in the school system. How would you encourage that? How can you encourage that to happen more?
I ask those questions to Jonathan and Rory.
I can add that we have similar objectives in terms of hiring indigenous staff. We probably lag a bit behind Indigenous Services in terms of our results at this point in time, but one of the things we're working on is simply to create a healthy, safe workspace where all of our employees, including our indigenous employees, are free to express their thoughts, contradict us if needed and share their experiences.
We also put a significant emphasis on indigenous learning. There's a mandatory 15 hours-per-year requirement for all our employees.
I want to comment on one of the things you said earlier around the importance of indigenous people being in charge of their own learning and their ways. The work I came here to talk about is still pretty early in terms of its implementation. We signed the first agreements in 2021 and implemented them with the first four nations in 2022.
We hear back from some of those communities about the importance of this work. One of the comments is that there's a momentum of hopefulness and community pride as they move towards control of their education model, based on their own principles, such as “nt'ákmen”, or how their ancestors did things. That's an example of what we're hearing back from the communities.
We don't have results or reports at this stage in terms of graduation rates, but the feeling of ownership and responsibility as they take on jurisdiction, I think, is remarkable.