OTTAWA (CityNews) — One of Canada’s most prominent voices for First Nations children and youth says the country must deal with both the legacy of residential schools and the present reality of Indigenous education.
The comments made by Cindy Blackstock came in the aftermath of the discovery of 215 student remains on the grounds of Kamloops Indian Residential School in British Columbia.
Blackstock is the executive director of First Nations Child and Family Caring Society.
“The federal government funds these and what we’ve known is that many of the schools, the parliamentary budget officer says, are in very poor condition,” Blackstock said. “In fact, we’ve had some schools that don’t even have a reliable source of water. Only 35 per cent of First Nations homes have broadband access, in the middle of a pandemic.
“Many of the schools have black mold problems, they have rodent issues and they need to be replaced. On top of that, there’s inequalities in terms of the education funding itself, funding for libraries, equipment, teacher salaries, those kinds of things.”
Blackstock says the Indian Act puts responsibility for funding Indigenous education firmly in federal hands.
A 2013 Queen’s University paper reported federally funded schools on reserves and in remote communities often received less money than provincially funded schools.
In 2016, the parliamentary budget officer estimated the funding gap at $336 million to $665 million.
“Because of the funding gap, because they’re funding at lower levels than the rest of the country, the opportunity, or at least the prospect for them to enter into post-secondary education is considerably lowered,” said Veldon Coburn from the Institute of Indigenous Research and Studies at the University of Ottawa.
Coburn says Canada has been here before. In 1996, the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples had a funding plan to close the educational gap for First Nations within 20 years.
But then-finance minister Paul Martin instead cut funding for the department of Indian and Northern Affairs.
“Demographically, we should have seen almost equal footing, at least for opportunities for Indigenous students by the time they were 20 at this point. So, infants born in ‘96. However, the gap still remains,” said Coburn.
“A non-Indigenous child once told me, ‘You know what discrimination is? Discrimination is when the government doesn’t think you’re worth the money,’” said Blackstock. “So, what would it feel like, if you were one of those kids who wasn’t worth the money? Or the parent of a child who wasn’t worth the money?”
– with files from Xiao Li, CityNews