Madam Speaker, in our increasingly complex global economy, a sound educational system is crucial. Knowledge is the key to self-sufficiency, quality of life and success of all Canadians. This is no less true for aboriginal people.
Three years ago I had a large group of young, aboriginal people from northwestern Ontario who went through the school system, left the reserves, came into the larger communities, completed their high school programs and then were so stimulated they went on to get college degrees, certificates in special activity areas, as well as university degrees.
We brought these people together, approximately 150 young people between the ages of 20 and 35. Every one of them were extremely successful individuals in the field of endeavour that they chose. Many of them became business people but they did not operate businesses on the reserves. They operated businesses throughout northwestern Ontario and Manitoba.
I was delighted to see these young people. It was too bad that story could not have been told to all Canadians, that these people are not lost. They will not be drifting up there forever. Where there is a will there is a way and if that will can be stimulated to the point where they can actually react to it, cross that threshold and carry on with their educational system and their pattern of programs, they will be successful.
Although much has been done in the past two decades to improve education outcomes for first nations young people in Canada, a significant gap in achievement still remains between aboriginal and non-aboriginal. However the gap is not only true for aboriginals and non-aboriginals. That gap is also true between those children who live in huge metropolitan areas with all kinds of facilities, services and programs built within the community, such as museums, parks and everything else, and the non-aboriginal people who live in small communities. They do not have all of these programs, facilities and enticements within the community to enrich the lives of our young people as they grow up in them.
Yes, the people in the bigger cities, even though they are crowded, have far more for the young children of today than many children have in the isolated small communities scattered throughout the country.
Due to their small size and geographical remoteness, many first nations schools are unable to deliver programs comparable to those offered in provincially run schools. Aboriginal students without access to on-reserve education often have to travel a great distance to attend schools. Historically, these factors have led to higher dropout rates and lower educational achievements among aboriginal youth.
We have a very large high school which was turned over by the Lincoln Board of Education to an aboriginal school authority. This school has several hundred students in it from all over northwestern Ontario. There is no residence for these children, but these young people, going from grade 9 to grade 12, are billeted in a multitude of homes throughout the community. I can tell hon. members that the relationship between the students in the school and the non-native students within the community, with whom they associate, is a very positive one. It is one of the best examples of helping these young people to make the adjustment.
Some of these young people come from areas of the country where they do not have the facilities and the services. Therefore we have to set up special programs for them to quickly acclimatize and adjust to the new environment which they find in the city.
Many people are not aware of the fact that many of our aboriginal people have only one place in their community to shop. It could be a Hudson Bay store and everything has to be in there. When they come into the city there are all kinds of stores: a store to buy clothes; a store to buy medicine; a store to buy hotdogs and hamburgers; a store three blocks away to buy doughnuts or whatever; a little further away a store to buy shoes; a store to buy cookies; and a store to buy vegetables or anything else. That is not like on the reserve. There has to be training and adjustment for many of these young people.
The agreement at the heart of the bill includes self-government for the Tlicho people, the transfer of a parcel of land and a payment of approximately $150 million over 14 years, not one or two years but the next 14 years. The Tlicho have chosen to use this money wisely to repay debts accumulated during negotiations and to invest in social, educational and economic development. Approximately $500,000 a year for the next 14 years will be set aside for scholarships, helping to ensure that aboriginal young people will have access to the same high quality, culturally relevant educational opportunities enjoyed by non-aboriginal Canadians. That to me is a significant part of the bill.
The Tlicho have a long history of commitment to education. When Chief Jimmy Bruneau shook hands 35 years ago with then Indian affairs minister, Jean Chrétien, he recognized that the Tlicho needed to make a concerted effort to prepare for the future and protect their way of life from rapidly spreading cultural and economic influences.
Chief Bruneau spoke of the need to blend northern and southern cultures, to “be strong like two people” and to learn from aboriginal and non-aboriginal traditions. The chief also realized that to achieve this goal, the Tlicho would need access to schools that delivered culturally based education to aboriginal children in their communities. That was a very wise move.
In 1971, Chief Bruneau's dream began to come true when a school bearing his name opened in the Tlicho community of Rae-Edzo. Today that school is one of five in the Tlicho community, all overseen by the Dogrib Community Services Board.
It is widely accepted that aboriginal communities know best how to meet the educational needs of their young people. This is why the Government of Canada encourages and facilitates co-operation between aboriginal communities, national and regional education organizations, provincial and territorial ministries of education, and other stakeholders to establish and support an effective first nations education system.
Such systems are positive and important steps toward aboriginal control of their children's education, not like the educational systems we have in every single province where we have special egg crate kinds of structures and a group of children are put in tiny cubicles.
From some centre, like Toronto, Ontario, the fee that we have to pay for those little chicken coops is decided by a group of people sitting in Toronto 2,000 miles away from the school who have no clue about the needs of that community or of the people and children who live in that community. That has to be force-fed to those children in there.
Today it is even worse in Ontario. Programs are fed to kids all over the province and then they are tested on whether or not they digested them properly. Why not use a computer instead of trying to make a computer out of the child? Let the child live wholesomely in his or her own environment.
These aboriginal people have the answer. Parents work with the teachers within the educational system and they decide how to enrich the lives of their children within that community.
I did my PhD in this area in other parts of the world. Wherever that is taking place, success is astounding, especially in the areas of education, people's attitude toward others in that environment, their attitude toward people in their communities and the world at large, but above all, their attitude toward themselves. I really have to give these people way up north in this isolated community a fantastic amount of credit.
I hope they will provide leadership in curriculum development and parental involvement in developing their educational lifestyle and programs for these children for years to come, throughout the entire country, and get rid of this nonsense that is taking place in a province like Ontario at the present time.
Bill C-31 will give the Tlicho formal control over education and social services, a control that the Tlicho people, through the Dogrib Community Services Board, have already demonstrated they can exercise with care and compassion.
Much like the man after whom it was named, the Chief Jimmy Bruneau School is innovative and offers culturally based education to young people. The school is proud to bear more than the chief's name: it also lives up to the spirit of the chief's dream. The school strives to meet the challenge of educating these young men and women to be “strong like two people”, and it is succeeding in teaching Tlicho culture and language, along with science, technology and other skills young aboriginals need to succeed in today's workforce.
The school provides these young people with a broader range of career and lifestyle options than those enjoyed by previous generations. These increased opportunities are encouraging many more students to remain in school and graduate. Indeed, dropout rates have plummeted. More young people than ever now go on to post-secondary education, and in this community in June 2006 the school will graduate its first university-bound students.
As the economic prosperity of this community increases dramatically over the years in the future, a higher quality of life will be added to the lifestyle of all the people within that area, because many of these young people will continue with their education. Job opportunities will be generated and will increase in number in a very sophisticated manner, and in very professional areas too. They will come back to work with their people, serve their people and live with their people.
Helping young Canadians, including aboriginal youth, to stay in school is of paramount importance not only to the Government of Canada but also to the Canadian economy. A high school diploma is essential to a bright future. The alternatives can be devastating. Many high school dropouts end with a string of dead end jobs, chronically unemployed, unable to fit into the new economy and meet their full potential.
I do not have to belabour those points. We have had so much information--statistics galore by the bushelful--brought into this chamber to tell us time and time again that we have to do everything in our power to help the provinces to get those children who are dropped by the wayside. They fall between the cracks and miss this golden opportunity in this wonderful country of ours to really pull themselves up by the bootstraps and become very happy and productive individuals in our society. If that does not happen, if they do not go through the educational system, the chances of them ruining their lives and maybe even ruining the lives of others are enhanced dramatically.
That is why the Government of Canada continues to make significant investments in education and training for aboriginal secondary and post-secondary students. These investments are designed to encourage these young people to remain in school, graduate and reap the lifelong benefits.
It is not just the young who will benefit from this agreement and the money that Tlicho people are setting aside for post-secondary scholarships. Tlicho men and women who have graduated from the Chief Jimmy Bruneau School and have gone on to further education are already returning to the community, bringing with them the benefits of the education they received outside. They are showing the community's youth what can be achieved through education.
They are also proving the wisdom of Chief Bruneau's original strategy. Men and women who graduated from the school that bears his name now own and operate dozens of successful business in the north. Others are part of the Dogrib Power Corporation, which operates a hydroelectric facility on Snare River. One young graduate who went on to earn two degrees has now returned to Rae-Edzo as the community regional post-secondary support coordinator. Accomplishments like this could be read out in the House for many years to come.
I will not be able to complete my lengthy presentation, but I would like to say congratulations to all those leaders of the community and to Chief Bruneau who had the foresight, the intelligence and integrity to stick to and hang onto his dreams and to make sure they are carried out. Congratulations, I say.