"The problem is the gross underfunding by the federal government."
"I don't think you could deny that our country has an issue with racism."
A small First Nations community called Whitecap Dakota, located just outside of Saskatoon, has a lot to celebrate on National Aboriginal Day. When Chief Darcy Bear took office the unemployment rate on reserve was 70 per cent, with the support of his council and community, Chief Bear has brought the unemployment rate down to five per cent.
Others have already debated some assumptions in the Truth and Reconciliation Committee report -- healthy, given that history should never be left to past or present politics. I will deal with popular beliefs about funding for First Nations people in Canada -- something I have some familiarity with having traced such numbers back to the mid-20th century.
In the small First Nations community of Moricetown, in central B.C., teens haunt the convenience stores and gas bars, their lives adrift. Locals call them "phantoms." Cain Michell, then 14, was one of them. His life changed when Moricetown teachers Tom and Lorna Butz came knocking in 2012,
On February 7, the government announced it would give almost $2 billion in new funding for aboriginal education. But it will take years to build all the new schools required, let alone create new community-run school systems. The real impact on aboriginal communities will take at least a generation to manifest. When next year's federal election rolls around, this agreement will provide few tangible, here-and-now marshmallows for Prime Minister Stephen Harper to offer voters.
When 78-year-old Aboriginal education activist Verna Kirkness heard Harper promise legislation giving aboriginal communities full control of on-reserve education, backed with $1.9 billion in new stable funding, she choked up. "I thought I would never hear such words. That feeling that, after all these years, something could finally happen."
First Nations are looking for an educational system adapted to their realities and their culture. Unfortunately, the federal government's new approach seems to be based on the view that band councils are the problem and provincial school boards (or bodies like them) are the solution. But the evidence shows the government will not be able to solve the problems experienced by schools on-reserve simply by handing responsibility for them over to new or different institutions. The students will remain in the same communities with the same challenges.