Ottawa not currently contemplating First Nation education legislation to fix on-reserve system: Bennett

Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett said the need and type of potential legislation will become clearer through discussions with educators.

APTN National News
Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett said Thursday legislation on First Nation education is not a top priority in plans to improve schooling on reserves.

Bennett said her department would be focusing on increasing funding for education—which was announced in the federal budget—and on improving educational outcomes.

“I think the Auditor General said it was a lack of money. We are very keen to be accountable for the results as we go forward. We have to have these kids doing better. We are interested in how we ensure that,” said Bennett, during an appearance before the Commons Aboriginal affairs committee. “As we move to getting people out from under the Indian Act and move to self-government and school systems that are accountable to themselves, then we can figure out what does that look like and be able to shape it if there is a need for legislation around that kind of flexibility.”

Bennett said the need and type of potential legislation will become clearer through discussions with educators. While legislation could create standards, the same task could also be done at the local level.

“It may be schools themselves that codify standards,” said Bennett.

Bennett was pressed on the education issue by NDP MP Charlie Angus who wanted the minister to reveal a position on whether a gap existed between funding of provincial schools and on-reserve schools.

A senior Indigenous Affairs officials recently stated in sworn testimony during an inquiry in Thunder Bay into the deaths of 7 high school students that it was impossible to measure whether a gap exists.

Bennett said, in her opinion, there is a gap in education funding. She said the department averaged how much it paid provincial schools for teaching First Nation students bussed in from reserves into their overall total, making it appear there was no real funding gap.

“What I am interested in is what is the per-child investment on reserve and off-reserve and how do we get that equal without adding in what my department is sending to provincial schools,” said Bennett.

Angus said, during questioning, that legislation was needed for both standards and to protect funding for education, so it couldn’t be shifted by the department to cover off other needs.

“Without legislation we don’t have any way of establishing those markers,” said Angus. “How are we going to get it in a timely way so we don’t lose another generation?”

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