Phil Fontaine (left) and Bob Rae take part in a question-and-answer session with the audience at Confederation College during the Wiicitaakewin Speaker Series on Friday. Both agree more must be done to improve First Nations education, and say the recently introduced proposed legislation by the federal government is not the best solution.
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The state of First Nations education is “disgraceful” and a “national scandal.”
That’s according to former Ontario premier and Liberal Party of Canada interim leader Bob Rae, who shared his perspective at the Wiicitaakewin Speaker Series at Confederation College on Friday.
“We still have inadequate resources and we still have a huge challenge getting the kind of quality of education we need for younger people on reserve and off reserve,” Rae told reporters afterwards.
Rae was joined by Phil Fontaine, former national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, at the forum where educational issues facing First Nations was a focal point.
Earlier this week the federal government introduced a proposed bill targeting First Nations education reform, where the First Nations can select school boards but the curriculum and standards are set by the government.
Rae said First Nations education needs to be improved and it won’t be easy, but said the federal government is doing it wrong.
Fontaine echoed that sentiment, and said during the forum that there should be more self-government and less of a top-down exercise.
“I think the proposed legislation is short-sighted,” Fontaine said when asked about his thoughts on the legislation during an interview.
“There are some major gaps and one of the most significant gaps is funding. There are too many First Nations with schools, there are too many communities with schools in a terrible state of disrepair and that issue has to be addressed.”
Fontaine explained a gap has been widening since 1996, when the federal government introduced a two per cent cap increase on core programs and services.
He said over the past 17 years the gap, which was previously closing, has grown larger than ever.
“There is a huge disparity, in many cases 20 to 30 per cent difference between what public schools receive on a per student basis and what First Nations schools receive from the federal government,” Fontaine said.
“It’s just unfair.”
Rae said that during his schooling there was no element of First Nations education. He said history courses focused exclusively on European explorers such as Christopher Columbus, John Cabot and Samuel de Champlain but ignored the First Nations presence.
He added that while there is progress being made within the curriculum, there still is a great need to open the conversation.
“We have to talk to kids about it, and not just about the past but about the present,” Rae said. “We have to talk to kids about where we’ve all come from and how in a sense Canada has always been an Aboriginal country. “
Fontaine told the assembled crowd he believes there should be a mandatory First Nations history or similar course at the high school level, as well as a compulsory university credit.
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