REGINA—First Nations people in Saskatchewan are demanding that education should be a right, not a privilege.
“Help us to be productive. Help us to be employed. Help us to get that education that we need. Fund our education systems properly, and bring new things into our schools to have different (options) open up for our kids,” said Chief Larry Cachene to a cheering crowd of supporters in Regina on September 26.
More than 900 people gathered for the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations (FSIN) day of action, where concerns about First Nations and Metis treaty rights were voiced publicly. High on the list of issues – aboriginal education. First Nations leaders called on the Saskatchewan government to help reserve schools foster strong young minds.
“First Nations education inSaskatchewanis not up to where we should be,” said Cachene, Chief of the Yellowquill First Nation. “First of all, our funding levels are not enough to get the teachers that we want. We’re providing general maths and sciences but we should be offering more.”
“We want to open the doors for our kids. And to do that, we need to develop at the band level and change our system to improve the graduation rates and keep kids in school.”
Cachene says First Nations schools need the dollars and cents to make the necessary changes.
“We need the proper funding,” he said. “We are already trying to deliver an education when we are behind in funding levels already, and it’s probably a third or two-thirds of what provincial schools get. So right away, we’re set back already.”
Approximately $107 million is directed to funding the education of the 16,500 students that attend First Nations schools on reserves inSaskatchewan– or $6,500 per student. In comparison, francophone schools in the province receive $18,800 per student.
Data compiled by the FSIN Education Secretariat suggests that if First Nations language and culture were valued in a similar fashion to the Francophone school division, there would be a total of $310 million for education on reserve schools versus the current $107 million.
Deele Charette, a Metis graduate of the University of Regina, has seen first-hand how the lack of funding for First Nations and Metis students can affect the process of education.
“I know a lot of First Nations students who can’t get things paid for because reserves are only given a certain amount of money (for education). And so the funding is really important. My cousin just graduated from law school, but wasn’t funded and covered the costs himself . . . so people like that are lucky that they have the means to do it, but other students can’t do that,” she says.
Five months ago, the province signed an agreement with FSIN to establish a task force to link education and employment for First Nations and Metis people inSaskatchewan. The cost of the task force is $2 million and will focus on increasing high school and post-secondary graduation rates. It will address the current gaps in education and employment outcomes for First Nations and Metis people.
Public consultations on the issues are scheduled to begin this fall, but Cachene says changes need to be made sooner rather than later.
“(The initiative) will help eventually. But not until 15 or 20 years from now, and a lot of that stuff we need to do today,” said Cachene.