Monday, February 10, 2014

First Nations Education - Money for Native Languages - You had me at "Tansi"

It looked shady. From a communications and media perspective it looked like someone wanted to bury the story. That was my immediate reaction to the news that Prime Minister Stephen Harper would be announcing the most significant changes to First Nations Education in almost 20 years.

The media would not say which school the announcement was going to be held. I was not sure how to interpret that as it concerns the Canadian media who take great pride in their inability to pronounce the names of First Nations. I was not sure if the whole operation was that clandestine if it was good old borderline racist Canadian broadcasting standards.

It was also likely that Prime Minister Harper and Assembly of First Nations National Chief Shawn Atleo wanted to avoid the possibility that the whole thing turned into another Idle No More spectacle as had befell former National Chief Phil Fontaine recently when he was out stumping for TransCanada and the Keystone Pipeline.

This story was buried of that there was no doubt. The announcement and press conference was on the same day as the opening ceremonies of the Olympics.

The Olympics is one of those media black holes that can be predicted well in advance. Most media black holes require a star big enough to explode to swallow up all the eyes and ears, but that is impossible to predict. The opening of the Olympics is the one of those events guaranteed to swallow up all the light.

No one books a press conference on that day unless the least amount of media attention is their intention.


I am suspicious and I am a critic. I have written some very critical comments about Stephen Harper and his conservative government and I will again. But I must commend this contribution to education.

It is important for people to remember that the most devastating wound to First Nations education came at the hands of Paul Martin, who as Finance Minister imposed a 2% cap on all funding including education in 1996. Over the decades since that policy; First Nations schools have fallen off the cliff in comparison to the funding of their provincial counterparts.

The cumulative effect of falling behind year after year in the nearly 20 years since created unconscionable gaps between funding per child in a First Nations school and the the rest of Canada's children. Lifting the cap to 4.5% is righting a historical wrong.

Once again, the conservative government actually provides some action when it comes to Native people; be it Mulroney's Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples and The Aboriginal Healing Foundation to Harper's Residential School Settlement, The Apology and now The First Nations Education Act.

One can argue the sincerity or intent of any of these but I know they are greater than anything I can think of from when the Liberals were in power. All I know is that they put the 2% cap on First Nations Education in 1996. Next to residential schools that has been the most damaging thing done to the education of Native children in modern history. Now it's gone.


There is funding for culture and languages and that is a beautiful thing.

What can I say? There is money for languages, you had me at "Tansi".


I know educators in communities and in urban centres. My brother works with Native children in urban education systems, my cousin is principal of our community school and has been building language curriculum along with local Cree speaking educators. Our neighbour across the snow field is a retired teacher and the first principal of our First Nations School. And on and on and on.

I heard stories from the pathfinders and leaders of First Nations education in Manitoba during a brief stint at the Manitoba First Nations Education Resource Centre. If was without question the most impressive organization I had ever seen from the inside. I did interviews with many staff inspired me and awed me with their commitment and their love and their passion for education and most importantly for our children.

The challenge for our educators is to ensure that as much of the money makes it to the student level. The government has already built in their costs right off the top for the necessary level of bureaucracy they require which you can picture as Lego blocks swallowing up office space at the twin towers in Hull, PQ.

Then there is the shadowy netherworld of the consultants, advisers and experts that turn to money like sharks smelling blood in the water. You have to be mindful of them lest you fall victim to the same fate of the Old Man and the Sea.

Finally their is our own bureaucracies which is to each its own but is likely eating much more than it's share.

Just get as much of that dollar into the hands of our educators and watch amazing things happen.

Give them the resources and they will show you what a teacher can do.