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

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

3:55 p.m.

Conservative

Kelly Block Saskatoon—Rosetown—Biggar, SK

Mr. Speaker, those are the very things I highlighted in my remarks. I spoke to a number of initiatives on which our government has worked in partnership with first nations to bring forward.

When it comes to building relationships, we saw tremendous events happen on January 24 with the Crown and first nations gathering. I believe our government has shown tremendous leadership. The many initiatives I have spoken to today demonstrate that.

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

3:55 p.m.

NDP

Mathieu Ravignat Pontiac, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to share my time with the member for Abitibi—Témiscamingue.

I rise in the House today to defend a fundamental right of every human being to education as declared in article 26 of the UN declaration on human rights and of every indigenous people as found in article 14.1 of the UN Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous People.

Education is like no other thing and the long road for recognition of this right has been difficult. It has long been the habit of despots in history to deny the education of others. Keeping them without an education has been a way of trying to control them.

Therefore, there has always been a direct relationship between education and true democracy. An educated society is a society in which people are armed with the tool of understanding. This understanding translates into criticism of how the world is run. This criticism allows our society to advance and progress. Education also increases participation and helps defeat the forces of exclusion and marginalization.

Having been raised in working class family, I am well positioned to judge the effects of education on a young person. Had I not had access to free education as a child and a teenager, as well as reasonably accessible post-secondary education as an adult, I am not sure what my life might have been like. The tools I gained through my education have been the main factors in my career.

Equal conditions for all based on merits, not ability to pay, is the only way forward for any country that dares to call itself civilized.

However, the fundamental lesson I learned, with regards to education, from the Liberal government of Paul Martin is that if this right is not constantly defended, it is not a given. It was when that government was trying to devolve itself of its responsibilities with regards to post-secondary education in the 1990s that many of us on this side of the benches, including myself, had their first taste of political battle. Many of us forged our political wills in the fires of the student movement at that time.

However, as an elected official, I am learning this important lesson once again in a different way, in a new and deeper way, from the people of the Algonquin First Nation in my riding by attending their demonstrations and listening to their voices. Here is what I have learned from them about education. These are lessons that all of us in this supposedly august chamber should heed very carefully, because the first nations in my riding understand better than us the real power of education.

They have taught me that education is a means to give hope and encouragement to each person to reach his or her full potential intellectually, emotionally, socially, physically and spiritually, that it is a lifelong journey, that it is not only for this generation, but for the future, and that learning is a gift from the Creator.

They have also told me that education should not be taken out of its social context. While it is an opportunity for an individual to achieve his or her fullest potential, that potential is also important as a member of a community and as a member of a nation.

I have also learned from them that education is: a preparation for holistic living; a means of allowing free choice in where to live and work; a means of enabling their people to participate fully in their own spiritual and educational advancement; a means of enabling individuals in their communities to learn to live good, meaningful lives and become self-reliant; a means of having respect for themselves, one another and for their elders; and a means of enabling Algonquin students to learn to make a good living within their traditional values.

Truly, education is about the hopes and dreams of children and their families. As parents, we all want the best for our children and we want them to succeed and have good lives. Education is an important road to that success.

However, the sad reality is that even today in Canada, in 2012, one of the most advanced countries in the world, this beautiful vision of education is not a right for an important part of our own population.

The situation in which first nations students find themselves in this country is deplorable. On average, first nations students receive $2,000 to $3,000 less than non-aboriginal students. Moreover, increases in education funding for the first nations have been capped 2% per year since 1996. This does not take into account inflation and demographic growth, which, together, have consistently been in excess of 2% per year. Funding should have increased at a rate of 6.2% from 1996 to 2006 in order to keep pace with inflation and demographic growth. And yet, what did this government and previous governments do to meet this need? Absolutely nothing. What is the government doing now? Very little.

First nations students are the only Canadian students without no guarantee concerning the future funding of their education. Federal funding for first nations education does not cover libraries, technical equipment, sports and recreation facilities, language programs, students' performance, curriculum development, student transport, employee benefits and student data processing systems. Is this possible?

This limited funding makes it difficult for the first nations to recruit and maintain skilled teachers, because they are unable to offer salaries and benefits comparable to those offered in neighbouring public schools.

Given that obstacles to learning are more numerous among first nations communities, it is to be expected that aboriginal education requires more action and funding, and we have to accept this.

First nations education must also be seen from a socio-economic perspective. The socio-economic plight of the first nations often forces band councils to redirect funding allocated to education to other more pressing priorities, such as drinking water and housing. Given the precarious situation that many first nations find themselves in, something must be done to ensure that grants for education are used only for educational programs.

In my riding, the first nations of Kitigan Zibi and Barriere Lake are no exception. In Kitigan Zibi, 60% of people do not have access to clean tap water. There has been no investment in the elementary school and no high school has been built since the government put the Algonquins of Barriere Lake under trusteeship. It is shameful. Moreover, no new housing units have been built in Barriere Lake since 1986.

How can we expect to make education a priority when people do not even have a place to live or clean water to drink? We are all responsible. Canada must respond to its greatest challenge of the 21st century: it must ensure a strong presence in the society of its founding peoples, the first nations.

We must and we can do more. As a country, we owe very much to our first nations.

In his statement on National Aboriginal Day, the Prime Minister said that his government was “committed to working with aboriginal communities, as well as provinces and territories, to provide aboriginal people with the education and tools they need to reach their full potential”. However, the government has yet to live up to that promise. It has raised hopes time and time again but has yet to walk the talk of real investment in education for first nations. The first nations summit of national chiefs has done nothing more. Nothing has been delivered.

We need bold and visionary actions. The NDP wants to forge a nation to nation partnership with first nations, building a relationship based on mutual respect that recognizes the rights of indigenous peoples to control their own education. We want to do this based on concrete actions, not on empty words. That is why we would immediately remove the punitive 2% funding cap and end current funding inequalities, beginning with education and child and family services.

The issue of first nations education is not a difficult problem to solve. It just requires political will. As Sitting Bull once said, “Let us put our minds together and see what kind of life we can make for our children”.

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

4:05 p.m.

Conservative

Kelly Block Saskatoon—Rosetown—Biggar, SK

Mr. Speaker, I could not help but notice that my colleague across the way was talking about comparable education. We know there are significant variations in per student funding depending on where a school is located, as well as the relative size of the school.

I wonder if the member would be willing to comment on that or share a little more about comparable education.

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

4:05 p.m.

NDP

Mathieu Ravignat Pontiac, QC

Mr. Speaker, I guess the comparison that most concerns me is when we compare aboriginal students to non-aboriginal students. When we look at the disparity, both in funding and in the level of education, it really makes a mockery of our country, unfortunately. We need to address that clear and difficult question. That demands different types of actions within certain schools and within certain districts, particularly within first nations.

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

February 16th, 2012 / 4:05 p.m.

NDP

Kennedy Stewart Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Mr. Speaker, every time my colleague gets up to speak, I enjoy it very much.

We have been talking a lot in this House about first nations reserves. I have no reserves in my riding but I do have a large urban aboriginal population. In Canada, half of first nations people live off reserve. Part of the reason they are living off reserve is because the conditions on reserves are so horrible that they have to move away from their traditional lands.

I was just wondering if my colleague could perhaps comment on aboriginal education off reserve. I am thinking about how we might be able to improve education among this now urban community?

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

4:05 p.m.

NDP

Mathieu Ravignat Pontiac, QC

Mr. Speaker, many Algonquin people in my riding, who would have normally stayed on their reserves, have gravitated toward Ottawa-Gatineau, in particular, for their education. It just points to how difficult the conditions are on some first nations reserves to get access to quality education.

There are a number of organizations and programs in urban settings that are growing. Aboriginal people in urban settings are organizing themselves in order to ensure their education, both traditional and non-traditional. I am thinking of certain organizations like the Aboriginal Friendship Centres and others that offer these types of programs. They are to be congratulated for them.

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

4:05 p.m.

Simcoe—Grey
Ontario

Conservative

Kellie Leitch Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development and to the Minister of Labour

Mr. Speaker, coming from a rural riding myself, Simcoe—Grey, I can appreciate the intent of this motion.

Our government has moved forward with seven tripartite educational partnerships across Canada, whether that be in New Brunswick, Manitoba, Alberta or Prince Edward Island, as well as many subagreements, even in Saskatoon. It really is about partnerships in order to aid these younger people to fully reach their potential.

I would like to ask the member opposite for his thoughts with regard to those partnerships and how those partnerships will benefit aboriginal Canadian children.

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

4:05 p.m.

NDP

Mathieu Ravignat Pontiac, QC

Mr. Speaker, clearly, any partnership that is done in mutual co-operation is to be both awarded and congratulated.

Having built some of those partnerships in my past career, particularly in the research field, it has, unfortunately, been the case in the past, particularly with aboriginal peoples, that those partnerships have not been equal. In fact, they have been exploited.

The only thing I would add is that I would hope that, on the seven new initiatives, the government will actually take the principle of reciprocity seriously.

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

4:10 p.m.

NDP

Christine Moore Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Mr. Speaker, when we are dealing with a motion like this one, it is important to link the data to real situations, to what communities actually experience. This is why I will begin by painting a picture of what is going on in aboriginal communities located in my riding.

I want to apologize in advance if my pronunciation of the names of aboriginal schools and communities in Algonquin is not perfect. My objective is to improve my Algonquin language skills during my term, but I am still a beginner.

The first community I want to talk about is Winneway, in eastern Témiscamingue. This is a fairly remote community, where the Amo Ososwan school provides kindergarten to grade 11 education. The teaching is in English and Algonquin. This is the only school in my riding that provides a complete education program, from grade 1 to the end of high school, in the community. At one point, the facility was deemed inadequate, thus posing a health risk to students. Therefore, the decision was made to rebuild the school, but the reconstruction is still not complete.

At the Timiskaming First Nation, the Kiwetin school provides an education up to grade 8. This means that students who want to continue on after grade 8 must either change province to study in English in New Liskeard, located 30 km away, or go to Notre-Dame-du-Nord and complete their education in French.

Further north, in Abitibi, at Pikogan—a reserve close to Amos—the Migwan school is an elementary school where the curriculum is in French, but they also teach Algonquin. After students finish elementary school, they have to go to a provincial high school in Amos. I should point out that Pikogan is really a model that should be followed and promoted for elementary education.

In Wolf Lake, which is another community, very few people live on the reserve. The majority of them live off the reserve. Therefore, children have only one school on the reserve and they must travel to Témiscaming, to another provincial school that provides an education in English and in French.

There is also the Eagle Village—Kipawa community, which has a rather large population of 825. In my riding that is a significant number. At least two-thirds of that population live off the reserve. There is no school there either. Children attend the same school, in Témiscaming, where the teaching is in French and in English. Even though it does not have a school, this community would like to have one.

The main purpose of this motion is to ensure that children have the right to a good-quality education that takes into account their culture. The real problem in the communities in my riding, except in the Longue-Pointe First Nation's Winneway school, is that the children are unable to go to the end of high school without transferring to a provincial school that does not teach the Algonquin culture and does not take into account their reality.

They all have to transfer to another school. In the case of the first nation community in Timiskaming, where the second language is English, the children who want to continue their education are torn. They have to choose between travelling a long way to go to school in English in Ontario—this is an anglophone community—and trying to get by in a French school. This is not an easy choice.

I would like to quote Marguerite Mowatt-Gaudreau, a teacher at the Migwan school in Pikogan, and Gisèle Maheux:

Understanding the language of instruction has been identified as an obvious problem. Many of the students surveyed—29.4% at the elementary school level and 38.8% at the secondary school level—indicated that they understand very few of the teacher's instructions and very little of the information given by the teacher in class, if any at all.

We therefore find ourselves in a situation where, in order to pursue their education, our aboriginal children must transfer to a regular school with all the other children that does not teach the Algonquin culture. They also often face a situation where they do not even understand the teacher's instructions or the work they are given to do, which is an extremely difficult situation to adapt to.

Obviously, this type of situation can lead to a high dropout rate. Mr. Lepage, an education and co-operation officer with Quebec's Commission des droits de la personne et des droits de la jeunesse, stated:

Far fewer aboriginal people reach secondary and post-secondary levels of education. Over 40% of aboriginal people did not reach secondary III, as compared to 20% for the rest of Quebeckers. Although the data in this regard are incomplete, we can see that dropping out is a major concern in most aboriginal communities, even at the elementary school level. For example, in some of these communities, the dropout rate is 10% among elementary school students and 50% among secondary III students.

It is extremely disconcerting to think that our young children, who are not even 12, who are 10 or 9, who are already dropping out of school.

The third year of secondary school in communities like mine is often the time when students are forced to leave their school in their aboriginal community to attend provincial public schools. I think this is something we could address. Young people are dropping out just when they have to leave their community school, which teaches the Algonquin culture and language, in order to go into the regular school system. I think this is significant.

As a nurse by profession, I would like to underscore one last thing. The WHO talks about health determinants. One of the major health determinants is poverty and level of education. We all agree that there is a link. People with a very low level of education have a much harder time getting a better-paying job and therefore, unfortunately, they are more likely to live in poverty.

It is imperative to provide aboriginal students with a high-quality education in order for those communities to be viable in the long term. It is essential that our children be able to aspire to have a good job later on. We must not forget that those children are going to share their talents with the community. Aboriginal communities are very close-knit. If a member of the community does well, they will help everyone around them. They will help their family and everyone break the cycle of poverty. I believe it is essential for us to do more in terms of education.

I would like to make a suggestion. If it is not possible to provide an education from grade 1 through to the end of secondary school in aboriginal communities, can we fund the provincial schools so that they can teach Algonquin and aboriginal culture in their provincial programs?

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

4:20 p.m.

Liberal

Lise St-Denis Saint-Maurice—Champlain, QC

Mr. Speaker, I was very interested in my colleague's remarks as I am quite familiar with the world she described. I lived and breathed it for five or six years.

Why, in her opinion, do students drop out of school in these communities? How does she explain why almost every school and every Algonquin is anglophone in a completely francophone environment?

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

4:20 p.m.

NDP

Christine Moore Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Mr. Speaker, I tried to demonstrate in my speech the link between dropping out of school and being forced to attend a school located outside one's community, a link that is self-evident to me.

Aboriginal students can support and help each other when they are together. They are all in a similar situation. They have grown up in the same culture and are therefore able to help each other. All of a sudden, they go from a small school with approximately 100 to 200 students to, for example, a big high school with 2,000 students, where they are thrown in with a mass of students who do not understand their culture and experiences and do not support them when they face problems that are specific to aboriginal communities. Unfortunately, the easy solution for these students is often to drop out of school.

As far as aboriginals’ use of English is concerned, it is important to understand that it is not their first language and that these children learn a second language. Unfortunately, the French language has a number of subtleties that are difficult to learn. Communities therefore often opt for English given that it is the second language and has fewer subtleties, which makes it a little easier to learn.

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

4:20 p.m.

Conservative

Bob Zimmer Prince George—Peace River, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to know if the hon. member knows about the program the federal government has, the education partnership program. It involves first nations schooling and partnerships with provincial schools. To date, more than $17.5 million has been invested to develop and enhance these partnerships.

Can the member explain if she has heard about the program and what she thinks of it?

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

4:20 p.m.

NDP

Christine Moore Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Mr. Speaker, of course I have heard about this partnership. In my speech, I really sought to focus on the concrete results we are currently seeing in communities. I provided an overview of what is currently occurring in my communities and what the problems are. Currently, elementary and secondary school students are not able to go to schools located in their own communities, and I think that this is a major problem that needs to be addressed.

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

4:20 p.m.

NDP

Francine Raynault Joliette, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for her excellent speech. I have a question for her. The Attikamek live in Manawan in my riding. It is quite far north of Joliette. Apparently, they have no specific budget for language and culture. As a result, all their activities to promote and safeguard their Attikamek identity are funded out of their teaching envelope, which is not very large, and this leads to a direct reduction in teaching services for young Attikamek. What does my colleague think about that?

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

4:20 p.m.

NDP

Christine Moore Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Mr. Speaker, in my opinion, when funding stops, when it is difficult to obtain funding so that the aboriginal culture can continue to be valued and when students are left to their own devices, there is a risk that they will drop out of school, which I emphasized in my speech.

It is important to support schools so that they can provide basic education, but also education about culture that takes into account the cultural specificity of aboriginal communities. This is a major point for consideration if we wish to reduce school dropout rates and increase the standard of living in our aboriginal communities.