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DIAND addresses education shortcomings

Cheryl Petten, Windspeaker Contributor, OTTAWA

Page 14

A recent report of the Auditor General of Canada took a hard look at provision of education for First Nations children in Canada.

In the report, tabled in April, Auditor General of Canada Denis Desautels stated that, although some progress has been made in improving education for First Nations students, "more and faster progress is urgently needed."

Among the findings in the report were a lack of clarity regarding DIAND's role in education, and a lack of accountability regarding the way funds are spent on education and monitoring of the success of education provision.

Bob Coulter is Director of Learning, Employment and Human Development, Indian and Northern Affairs Canada.

"The department acknowledges the issues identified in this report with respect to education. I think there's much in there that we certainly agree with," Coulter said.

"I think what's important is that, in recognizing the issues, is that we work with all of our First Nations partners - parents, First Nations communities, schools, school associations and provincial-wide organizations - to really address the issues. I think a lot of the issues manifest themselves different locally, and I think it's important that we work closely as a department with local and regional First Nations organizations," Coulter said.

"On the national level, in 1998 we agreed on some priorities for education reform under Gathering Strength, and then working with the [Assembly of First Nation's] Chief's Committee on Education, we've put in place some, or First Nations have put in place, initiatives under Gathering Strength, to address local priorities. These include strengthening education management and governance, improving the effectiveness of classroom instruction, supporting community and parental involvement, and aiding the school-to-work transition. There have been several hundred initiatives put in place across the country, and I think that Gathering Strength, although it's too early to measure results, is certainly having an impact on the overall scheme of things with respect to First Nations education," Coulter said.

Coulter said discussions with the AFN Chiefs Committee of Education explored how the department would deal in the future with First Nations education, together with the Chiefs Committee and the National Indian Education Council of the Assembly of First Nations.

"To that end we've agreed to hold a visioning session between the senior management of the department and the Chiefs Committee on Education and others, including the AFN . . . to really look at what's the First Nations vision of First Nations education, and how we might work together to bring that about, really at a regional level" Coulter said.

He said the department does not see this as a national initiative, but is looking at it regionally. The shift of control of First Nations education from DIAND to the First Nations themselves has been ongoing for two decades, Coulter explained.

"I guess it really began in the early 1970s, at which point the National Indian Brotherhood, which is the predecessor of the Assembly of First Nations, put forward a policy of Indian control of Indian education, which is really a blueprint for the future, and the federal government and the National Indian Brotherhood at that time, agreed to embark on that policy," said Coulter. "I think that we've moved from a situation where the department and others were operating a lot of First Nations schools, to now, where most First Nations, indeed, operate their own schools, or enter into direct agreements with provinces or private schools for the education for their children," Coulter said.

"I think there's still some challenges in terms of building an education system and ensuring that there is adequate second and third level services in support of education, and I'm heartened to see that there are a number of self-government negotiations with respect to education going on across Canada which will really addrss those issues. Some of them have concluded, including the Mi'kmaq Education Authority in Nova Scotia. And the self-government negotiations are really occurring right across the country. There's four or five sets going on in Ontario, including Fort Francis and Kenora. The Manitoba Framework Agreement has been going along for a number of years, and at the same time, Manitoba resource centre, of First Nations resource centre, has come into being, largely using Gathering Strength resources to provide services to First Nations schools, which I think is a very, very positive development. Similar negotiations are ongoing in Saskatchewan, and the treaty process is happening in British Columbia," Coulter said.

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