House of Commons Hansard #82 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was children.

Topics

The House resumed consideration of the motion.

Opposition Motion—Education for First Nation Children
Business of Supply
Government Orders

3:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Andrew Scheer

The hon. member for Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel has seven minutes left.

Opposition Motion—Education for First Nation Children
Business of Supply
Government Orders

3:15 p.m.

NDP

Mylène Freeman Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, the motion before us today is urgently necessary. Children have a right to culturally appropriate education. Children have a right to the same level of education as every other child. Shannen's Dream should be obvious and yet it is shamefully unrealized.

The motion before us says that first nations children have a fundamental right to culturally-relevant education. Seeing oneself reflected in one's studies fosters pride and a deep sense of belonging inside a pluralistic society. The members of the House who belong to minority cultures will understand how crucial this pride and belonging is for healthy personal development. Aboriginal peoples have every right and reason to see themselves centrally located in the history, science, maths, arts and languages that are taught both in their schools on reserve and off reserve and in every school in Canada no matter where it is located and who the students are because it is the true story of our country.

The rest of the motion is about equality. The fact that we still need a motion to state that first nations children are deserving of the same level of education funding as average Canadian children is embarrassing. However, decades of talk and patchwork unevaluated initiatives attempting to bring the standard of education for first nations to the same level as provincial schools have not succeeded.

To quote the Auditor General's report from 2011, it stated, “Indian and Northern Affairs Canada has failed to maintain a consistent approach to education on reserves and failed to make progress in closing the educational gap”.

I will reiterate that this failure is due to a lack of political will. If the government wanted to, it could prioritize aboriginal education and commit its ministry to immediately create a first nations education act that would effectively coordinate a collaborative plan that would define the responsibility of each partner in the education system and would ensure that every aspect of the act would be accountable and consistent in its actualization.

In June 2008 the Prime Minister of Canada made a formal apology to the first peoples of Canada for the residential school system. In 2010 the Prime Minister signed on to the UN Declaration of Indigenous Peoples. Implicit in the apology was a promise to future generations of first nations children to succeed where we had failed in the past. Implicit in signing the UN declaration was an obligation to take action to make good on that promise.

Sadly, I believe that in the hands of the government the UN Declaration of Indigenous Peoples has no real weight in Canada. The fact that we are continuing to fail in redressing the damage done by the residential school system is a blight on the government and a source of shame for all Canadians. Unfortunately, it is absolutely relevant to speak of residential schools when we talk about the failings of first nations education today because aboriginal peoples are still experiencing the consequences.

It is shocking to learn that three times as many first nations children are in state care today than were ever sent to residential schools. The Indian Act of 1876 is an outdated and racist document which is a template for colonization, not for restitution and revitalization. We need to put it aside and give our first nations a collaborative and comprehensive education act.

Ellen Gabriel is an advocate for education in Kanesatake. She asked me to remind the House that Statistics Canada expects only three of Canada's 53 aboriginal languages to survive to the end of the century. These three languages will be Inuktitut, Cree and Anishnabe. Her own language, Mohawk, one of the aboriginal languages spoken in Quebec, will disappear if we do not do something.

Ellen asked me to read in the House a letter she wrote to me. She writes, in part:

Dear Ms. Freeman;

I am pleased to hear that the NDP will be introducing a motion to help First Nations children and their communities have the opportunity to have better quality education in their schools.

While Aboriginal children and youth are the fastest growing demographic in Canada, comments from the Prime Minister of Canada and certain Aboriginal leaders regarding Aboriginal youths' contribution to society have been somewhat disturbing. They seem to relegate Aboriginal youths' contribution to mere vocational level work to strengthen Canada's economy through resource extraction or the construction industry.... But Aboriginal youth should be provided with the options, to be provided with the tools to obtain their dreams. They should not be seen solely as labourers but we should help them exceed their own expectations.

Aboriginal youth must be given the opportunity to excel academically with a strong sense of their own identity, language and culture. To do so requires sincere political will in achieving reconciliation with Aboriginal peoples, including decolonizing methodologies, and concrete support in language and culture revitalization. To wait any longer will continue the cycle of colonization which has been the root cause of Aboriginal peoples' social, political, economical and cultural problems. It is time to nurture the richness of Aboriginal peoples' culture, language and identity with real action and sincere political will. It is time to respect Aboriginal peoples' right to self-determination as expressed in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples which states in article 13.1 that: “Indigenous peoples have the right to revitalize, use, develop and transmit to future generations their histories, languages, oral traditions, philosophies, writing systems and literatures, and to designate and retains their own names for communities, places and persons”.

We can no longer allow politics to dispossess Aboriginal children and youth of their inherent rights as the Indian Residential School System did for over a century and which the Indian Act continues to do.

So thank you...for your passion and support in defending the rights of Aboriginal children and youth to a quality education based upon their right to their own culture and languages.

Skén:nen

Ellen Gabriel

I would like to thank my colleague for introducing this motion. I would remind all members that we must act, and not just to silence critics.

Opposition Motion—Education for First Nation Children
Business of Supply
Government Orders

3:25 p.m.

Conservative

Bev Shipley Lambton—Kent—Middlesex, ON

Mr. Speaker, my colleague across the way talked about building partnerships and, quite honestly, that is what gives strength across the country.

In 2010 we introduced about $15 million in a partnership that is ongoing among the first nations, the federal government and the Province of British Columbia. It is established through a steering committee. Could the member share her thoughts on that partnership approach?

Opposition Motion—Education for First Nation Children
Business of Supply
Government Orders

3:25 p.m.

NDP

Mylène Freeman Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, unfortunately we know the government has not been working in partnership with first nations. Think of the first nations summits that have been happening. We expected concrete recommendations to be put into place. My experience in dealing with the violence against aboriginal report that was done by the status of women standing committee was there was no commitment from the government to take any concrete measures toward bringing aboriginal peoples into Canada in an equal way. I cannot understand why this is the case and why this process of colonization and no restitution keeps happening.

Opposition Motion—Education for First Nation Children
Business of Supply
Government Orders

3:25 p.m.

NDP

Anne Minh-Thu Quach Beauharnois—Salaberry, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to congratulate my colleague from Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel for her compassionate remarks.

She reminded us that the residential schools, which caused such harm to first nations peoples, robbed many of the members of those nations of their culture and language. As a result, it is unlikely that more than three aboriginal languages will survive. The Akwesasne Mohawk reserve is in my riding, and many individuals there are working in the education system to help people rediscover their culture.

How can strong government leadership and partnership, inspired by a motion like the one before us today, help these people reclaim their culture and make economic and social progress within their communities?

Opposition Motion—Education for First Nation Children
Business of Supply
Government Orders

3:25 p.m.

NDP

Mylène Freeman Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, the NDP promises to invest in improvements to education and training for first nations in pursuit of the goal of educational attainment for aboriginal people comparable to that of others in Canada. An NDP government would also remove the punitive 2% funding cap and end current funding inequalities, beginning with education and child and family services. An NDP government would forge a nation-to-nation partnership, which is necessary, and build a relationship based on mutual respect that would recognize the rights of indigenous peoples, including the right to establish and control their educational systems in a manner appropriate to their cultural methods of teaching and learning and working with the Assembly of First Nations.

Opposition Motion—Education for First Nation Children
Business of Supply
Government Orders

3:30 p.m.

Newmarket—Aurora
Ontario

Conservative

Lois Brown Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of International Cooperation

Mr. Speaker, I know we are speaking about formal education here today, but we know that education takes place in many different venues. When I was in Wainwright two years ago, with the Canadian parliamentary military program, aboriginal students could participate in a program called Bold Eagle on base in Wainwright. It was put on by the Canadian Forces and 125 aboriginal young people from across the country participated. I attended the graduation ceremony, as did members from the opposite side of the House. We were very impressed with the quality of the young people who were there and the things that they learned.

I wonder if the member could comment on these kinds of partnerships that we are trying to generate throughout the country?

Opposition Motion—Education for First Nation Children
Business of Supply
Government Orders

3:30 p.m.

NDP

Mylène Freeman Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, the reality is that first nations education is the responsibility of the federal government. There is currently a significant gap in outcomes between first nations students and non-first nations students. Far fewer first nations students complete high school, and only 41% of first nations living on reserve, who are older than 15, have a high school diploma, compared to 77% of Canadians.

This is not a complicated thing that needs to be done. What is required is a political will, the will to really co-operate and consult with first nations and to follow that up with adequate investments. This is truly the greatest shortcoming of this government.

Opposition Motion—Education for First Nation Children
Business of Supply
Government Orders

February 16th, 2012 / 3:30 p.m.

Conservative

Kelly Block Saskatoon—Rosetown—Biggar, SK

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to have the opportunity to express my support for the motion tabled by the hon. member for Manicouagan.

Our government recognizes the importance of education. Our government works with students, families, first nations and other partners to improve educational outcomes for first nations students. This government's overall goal is to ensure that first nations students realize their potential and develop the skills they need to enter and succeed in the labour market and be part of strong communities.

There is no doubt that education contributes to an individual's ability to share equally in, and contribute fully to, Canada's ongoing prosperity. That is why our government collaborates closely with first nations partners across Canada to deliver tangible and lasting results, and to ensure that first nations students are well positioned for success.

The relationship between first nations and our government is based on a spirit of collaboration. This past summer, the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development announced a joint action plan with the Assembly of First Nations that outlined education as a shared priority. Building on the joint action plan just last month, at the crown-first nations gathering, all parties agreed to work together and improve the quality of life experienced by first nations people. I would like to echo what the Prime Minister said during the gathering:

...there has never been a better moment to build on what we have achieved, to move forward, to reset the relationship, to learn from the past, but to focus on the future. The Joint Action Plan points the way ahead, through specific joint commitments, commitments that will effectively change the rules in education, accountability, economic development and treaty relationships.

The Prime Minister's words underscore the fact that our government continues to take action on a variety of fronts to effect improvements to on-reserve education. I will begin my remarks today by providing some important context around first nations education before explaining recent initiatives. Educational outcomes of any school result from many factors: the abilities and training of individual teachers, for instance, and the availability of support materials such as textbooks.

Some first nations schools, particularly those in small isolated communities, face other challenges. Many first nations schools, for example, lack supports such as student and parent councils and boards of education. It is important to note that several reports, including one by the Auditor General, conclude that structural impediments hinder progress for on-reserve education.

Responsibility for educational outcomes for first nations students is shared among several parties including the Government of Canada. Individual first nations and in some cases, regional organizations are responsible for managing and delivering education programs and services in band-operated schools on reserve.

The Government of Canada, through AANDC, supports first nations and their regional organizations by funding programs and services for the elementary and secondary education of first nations students who live on reserve. The primary funding vehicle is the elementary and secondary program. The program provides funding for students who attend band-operated schools and tuition for first nations students who live on reserve and attend provincial, federal or private schools.

The total budget for the program in 2010-11 was $1.5 billion. This supported approximately 117,500 first nations students who lived on reserve and attended either band-operated schools or federal, provincial or private schools. The breakdown was as follows: 61% attended band-operated schools, 36% attended provincial schools and 3% attended federal or private schools.

Investments from this program target a variety of purposes including teachers' salaries, instructional services and student support services such as transportation, counselling, accommodation and financial assistance.

Funding is also used for the management of programs and services, the development of curriculum and language programs, the recruitment and retention of teachers, the engagement of parents and the community in education, technological and other resources, and school supplies, including computers.

In all, there are approximately 520 band schools across Canada. This number hints at a key factor, particularly in small communities: the inability to realize the advantages generated by economies of scale. In general, the smaller the school population, the larger the per student cost for items such as administration, building maintenance and support services.

Our government also invests significant amounts in the construction and renovation of first nations schools. In 2010-11, AANDC's annual total investment in the building and renovation of schools was $304 million. Between 2006-07 and 2009-10, the federal government invested approximately $924 million on school infrastructure projects. This includes the completion of 248 school projects, ongoing construction of 22 schools, 22 major renovations and additions to schools in communities across the country, and 184 other projects. These other projects include renovations and/or additions, purchase of portable classrooms, repairs to teacher housing and construction or design projects.

For the current fiscal year, AANDC expects to invest approximately $200 million in school-related infrastructure. The funds and investments I have described suggest two conclusions. One, this government continues to make targeted investments toward improving first nations educational outcomes. Two, money alone will not solve the problem. Additional actions are also needed. Given these realities, it becomes clear that the complex problems associated with on-reserve education require a multi-faceted approach that addresses specific factors in a holistic way to inspire overall progress. This is an apt description of our government's strategy to improve educational outcomes for first nations students.

There is evidence of progress. For instance, the percentage of students enrolled in first nations schools who graduate from high school continues to increase. Our approach to working in partnership has produced results. I am convinced that we will continue to make progress by working collaboratively. In 2008, we began to lay the foundation for structural reform in first nations education by focusing on practical initiatives. These included the launch of two new programs as the building blocks of school-based initiatives common to top performing schools.

The first nations student success program helps first nations educators on reserve plan and make improvements in the three priority areas of literacy, numeracy and student retention. Participating schools develop success plans tailored to increase efforts in these three priority areas.

To monitor progress, the schools implement a student learning assessment process based on provincial jurisdictions. They establish performance measurement systems, also known as school information systems. These processes monitor success and inform instruction, help in priority setting and assist in planning to increase student success over the long term. The program is now available to more than 90% of first nations students attending band-operated schools in Canada, or approximately 66,000 students. Since 2008, this government has invested approximately $141 million in the first nations student success program.

The second program is the education partnerships program. This program promotes collaboration between first nations, provinces, AANDC and other partners toward improving educational outcomes of first nations children studying in schools.

The program supports the use of shared action plans where first nations and provincial officials exchange expertise and services. Since 2008, we have invested more than $17 million in the program.

Another significant development is the signing of tripartite agreements on first nations education. Each agreement involves a province or provincial education authority, the Government of Canada and a group of first nations. The partners agree to collaborate in tangible ways to improve educational outcomes for first nations students.There are now seven tripartite education partnerships across Canada.

Since 2008 we have concluded memorandums of understanding in New Brunswick, Manitoba, Alberta and Prince Edward Island, along with a sub-regional agreement with the Saskatoon Tribal Council. There are existing tripartite partnerships in British Columbia and Nova Scotia.

Earlier this year, our government, the Province of British Columbia and the first nations education steering committee concluded a new tripartite education framework agreement. This is another example of our commitment to working with first nations and provinces so that first nations students have the necessary tools to succeed.

This tripartite education framework agreement is focused on strengthening education programs, services and standards between on-reserve and provincial education systems so students can transfer between the two systems easily. It provides first nations students in British Columbia with access to an education comparable to that provided by the provincial system whether they attend school on or off reserve.

To inspire further progress, the Government of Canada and the Assembly of First Nations established a national panel on first nation elementary and secondary education last year. Panellists were chosen based on their knowledge of education issues, demonstrated interest in aboriginal issues, innovative approaches and their ability to be solutions oriented.

The panel led a national engagement process on ways to improve first nations elementary and secondary education, including options for legislation. The panel travelled across Canada and led discussions with first nations leaders, parents, elders, students, teachers and provincial officials.

The process represented a valuable opportunity to share perspectives and proposed ways to improve first nations education for children living on reserve. Many interested parties chose to participate via online. Submissions that were reviewed and discussed during the engagement sessions were also heard.

The panel published its final report earlier this month entitled, “Nurturing the Learning Spirit of First Nation Students”. The report outlines key principles for reform and recommends a series of key actions. The Government of Canada is taking the time needed to review the report and will determine a course of action in due course.

The panel's work is tremendously important. The engagement sessions, along with the studies completed by the Auditor General and the standing committee of the other place, improve our understanding of the factors that contribute to first nations educational outcomes. This research will also inform the development and implementation of effective solutions.

Given that responsibility for educating first nations students is shared among many groups, it is imperative that all groups work together on solutions. This government, first nations, educators, families and students all play important roles.

The challenges associated with education in most first nations communities are unique. It is a serious mistake to assume that the approaches used for off-reserve schools would necessarily lead to similar results on reserve.

Comparisons between federal and provincial or territorial funding do not tell the whole story. There are significant variations in per student funding, depending on where a school is located, for instance. Funding comparisons need to take into account important differences between schools, such as geographic location and relative size of the school. These are both key factors which Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada and the provinces use to calculate school funding.

Investments are an important part of improving the educational outcomes of first nations students. However, investments need to be accompanied by systemic changes, including structural reforms. I believe that emphasis should be placed on comparable education outcomes.

Comparable education outcomes are about supporting the delivery of quality education programs and services, meeting standards that enable first nations students to transfer from first nations schools to provincial schools without academic penalties and at similar levels of achievement. This can be achieved through standardized assessments, comparable curricula, teacher accreditation and academic evaluation.

Our government remains committed to working with first nations and the provinces to ensure that first nations children, whether they go to school on reserve or a provincial school, receive the education they require for success.

This government is determined to take effective action on a number of fronts to improve first nations educational outcomes. We all recognize that education is a building block and the best way to foster success. Improving educational outcomes would open doors to a wealth of opportunities for economic and social development.

Given Canada's current demographic trends, we must ensure that first nations people have every opportunity to participate fully in the economy and to meet the needs of their communities. It is in the interests of everyone to see first nations educated, skilled and employed.

In recent years our government and first nations groups have forged a new spirit of collaboration and have delivered tangible, lasting improvements for first nations education. Tripartite agreements have changed the way education is delivered and administered in first nations communities across Canada. Hundreds of projects to build and renovate schools have been completed. New programs that address the specific challenges of on-reserve education are in place.

These accomplishments make me confident that progress will continue. I encourage my hon. colleagues to endorse the motion before us and to support this government's efforts to improve educational outcomes for first nations students. While we have made progress, there is still work to be done. Let us work together to realize Shannen's dream and ensure all first nations students are part of a strong economic future for first nations communities and Canada.

Opposition Motion—Education for First Nation Children
Business of Supply
Government Orders

3:45 p.m.

NDP

Tyrone Benskin Jeanne-Le Ber, QC

Mr. Speaker, the member's speech was very well thought out and clear. I would like to touch on the word “holistic” which the member used at one point.

In coming from a community that is still battling many of the same issues which the first nations people do, I wonder if the member could talk about the personal struggle. We hear constantly about young people who are doing self-destructive things such as sniffing bags filled with paint or glue. From my experience working with youth, it comes from disillusionment, from a sense of lack of relevance.

In the very pragmatic plan which the member laid out, I am wondering if there is anything that touches on helping young people find a sense of relevance. The member talked about retention in schools. I found that relevance is one of the key things that makes kids stay in school, what it means to them.

What kind of programs are in place to help young people get over their sense of lack of relevance so that going to school becomes relevant?

Opposition Motion—Education for First Nation Children
Business of Supply
Government Orders

3:50 p.m.

Conservative

Kelly Block Saskatoon—Rosetown—Biggar, SK

Mr. Speaker, certainly it has been the goal of this government to work collaboratively with first nations and other service providers when it comes to providing education on first nations reserves. We understand that education itself contributes to an individual's ability to share equally in and contribute to Canada's ongoing prosperity. It is in education itself that one could find some identity and a sense of self-worth.

That is truly why in 2008 we launched the first nations student success program. I spoke to that program during my opening remarks.

Opposition Motion—Education for First Nation Children
Business of Supply
Government Orders

3:50 p.m.

Conservative

Merv Tweed Brandon—Souris, MB

Mr. Speaker, I know my colleague has been very active and interested in the first nations students success program. I am wondering if she could elaborate on that for me and other MPs.

Opposition Motion—Education for First Nation Children
Business of Supply
Government Orders

3:50 p.m.

Conservative

Kelly Block Saskatoon—Rosetown—Biggar, SK

Mr. Speaker, I come from Saskatchewan. There are 74 first nations in our province. I have two first nations in my riding, although they are businesses. One of the reserves in one of my colleague's ridings does send its children to schools in my riding.

The hon. member is correct that I am very interested in this program. It was designed to help first nations educators on reserve plan for and make improvements in the three priority areas that I mentioned in my remarks: literacy, numeracy and student retention. It is a results -based accountability component and is supporting schools in the development and implementation of school success plans, a student learning assessment process and performance measurement systems.

To date, with $141 million in new investments, as I said earlier, over 90% of first nations students attending band operated schools are benefiting from this project.

Opposition Motion—Education for First Nation Children
Business of Supply
Government Orders

3:50 p.m.

NDP

François Choquette Drummond, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for his speech. I would respond to him by saying that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. A lot of money can be saved if there is appropriate investment in education. I have figures at hand from 2006. The social and economic costs associated with first nations students who do not reach high school level are estimated at $3.2 billion over 10 years. Investing in and having a good relationship with the first nations is good for both our economy and theirs. What does my hon. colleague think?