Canada's Original Think Tank

Second reading of Bill C-61, An Act to give effect to the Anishinabek Nation Education Agreement and to make consequential amendments to other Acts

Second reading of Bill C-61, An Act to give effect to the Anishinabek Nation Education Agreement and to make consequential amendments to other Acts

Second reading of Bill C-61, An Act to give effect to the Anishinabek Nation Education Agreement and to make consequential amendments to other Acts

Hon. Lillian Eva Dyck: 

Honourable senators, I rise today to speak at second reading of Bill C-61, the proposed “Anishinabek Nation Education Agreement Act.” I would like to thank my colleagues Senator Christmas and Senator Patterson and fellow members of the Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples for their work in this area.

As many senators here know, we have talked about Aboriginal education in this chamber for at least the last 10 to12 years. There have been many questions, and Senator Patterson talked about Bill C-33 that was presented by the previous government.

I rise today to indicate my support for Bill C-61, and I am in support of referring it to committee for study. It is clearly a big step forward, and I congratulate the participating First Nations in having come to this point in time. As the Honourable Senator Christmas has indicated, this is only the second such agreement that has resulted in federal legislation.

As we all know, education is an important aspect of every individual’s ability to realize their potential, whether they are a First Nation person or any other person in Canada. In Saskatchewan, for example, our elders there, about 15 or so years ago, had said that education is our buffalo —paskwa moostoswa kakikinawa magehk — because in the past, the traditional Plains Cree relied upon the buffalo for everything, but now that we’re in modern society we replace our reliance on the buffalo with our reliance on education. It is seen as a critically important area for full development.

Bill C-61 gives effect to the Anishinabek Nation Education Agreement. This agreement, as has been stated, is the first of its kind in Ontario. The Anishinabek Nation Education Agreement is a self-government agreement between Canada and 23 Anishinabek First Nations in Ontario that recognizes First Nation control over junior kindergarten to Grade 12 education on and off reserve.

As Senator Patterson indicated, since the 1970s, in Indian country, Indian control over Indian education has been a rallying cry. So it is wonderful to see, at much later date of course, to see that this is occurring.

Senator Christmas, in his remarks, also quoted from Henry Ford. I recall that when we were debating the report from our committee on education, our friend and colleague the Honourable Gerry St. Germain also talked about the horse and buggy era, and moving to gas-powered vehicles. I took that even further and said I think it’s time we enter the space age.

As indicated previously, in 2011 the Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples released its report entitled Reforming First Nations Education: From Crisis to Hope. After a year and a half of studying the issue of K-12 First Nation education systems on reserve, the committee made four very strong recommendations. I would like to highlight two of them today and how they relate to the bill before us. Some of these were covered moments ago by my colleague Senator Patterson.

The first recommendation from our 2011 report was that the Government of Canada, in consultation with First Nations and First Nations educational authorities, develop a First Nations education act; that this act explicitly recognize the authority of First Nations for on-reserve elementary and secondary education; that it enable the establishment of First-Nations-controlled second- and third-level education structures; and that the application of this act to individual First Nations communities be optional and provide for the repeal of the education sections of the Indian Act for those First Nations that opt into the new act.

Colleagues, it is good to note that the Anishinabek Nation Education Agreement clearly recognizes the Anishinabek jurisdiction and lawmaking powers and authority over K to12 education on reserve for participating First Nations. The education system will be designed by the Anishinabek First Nations to serve Anishinabek students. The establishment of the Kinoomaadziwin education body will serve as a school-board-type entity, and it will also create the necessary First-Nations-controlled education structures. This agreement also allows other First Nations to be added to the agreement, so we may find that the other remaining First Nations may sign on to it in the future.

I believe this legislation achieves the intent of the recommendation that we made in our 2011 education report. I congratulate, once again, the communities that have brought this forward.

The second recommendation from our 2011 Senate report is regarding funding. Of course, you can’t do anything unless you have the funding and the resources that will support what you are planning to do.

Our recommendation reads:

That the proposed First Nations Education Act provide statutory authority to the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada to make payments from the Consolidated Revenue Fund to First Nations educational authorities, with the objective of providing educational services on reserves; that the methodology for establishing the amount of these payments be enshrined in regulations authorized under the Act, and developed in consultation with First Nations; that these regulations would consider key cost drivers such as demographics and remoteness; and that the formula for establishing payments include, among other things, First Nations language preservation and revitalization programs.

That fits in well with what Senator Christmas was describing with truth and reconciliation and the revitalization of languages.

I recall, as I am sure the other members of the committee also vividly recall, visiting Membertou First Nation and Eskasoni First Nation and going to the schools there and listening to the students sing in their own language. That was wonderful to witness and to hear.

Also one of the outstanding memories for me was visiting the school at Onion Lake Cree Nation in Saskatchewan. On the walls in their gymnasium were posters of the universe and other science things that were in English, French and Cree. I thought that was quite astounding.

We also found out from Onion Lake Cree Nation that though they have these wonderful curriculum resources, that funding was through what is called “proposal funding,” so it wasn’t long term. It was only as long as there were proposals given by the government so that you could apply and then get money to develop your curriculum.

I would think that within this agreement, the funding would be such that those types of culture and language components that celebrate your own culture would not have to rely upon this short-term funding, which you may or may not get, depending on how well your application was received.

This agreement covers First Nations in northern Ontario, and we must be mindful of the key cost drivers in northern and remote communities. During our study, this was a key point for witnesses who appeared from northern First Nations, because we heard all across the country that the costs for education in the North are significantly higher than they are for southern communities. That was one of the reasons why the graduation rates in those schools were not as good as they could be, because simply, you have to have the resources there in order to put on a good program and for your students to be successful and to graduate.

Honourable senators, outlined in the Anishinabek Nation Education Fiscal Transfer Agreement, the funding transfers from the Government of Canada will be for five-year terms. The funding for infrastructure in the construction and maintenance of schools will continue to be funded through the department as it currently operates. Senator Patterson spoke to that.

I look forward to hearing from witnesses at committee to learn more about how the funding agreement will relate to this very important recommendation and how it achieves a stable, predictable and flexible fiscal agreement that really will allow the Anishinabek education system to achieve the best possible outcomes for their students. From our study on First Nations education and the well-known gaps in funding for on-reserve education, the issue of equitable funding is an extremely important area for the committee to study when this bill goes before it.

Honourable senators, the process to get to an agreement started back in 1995. I would like to end my remarks by congratulating the Anishinabek First Nations that have stayed the course and endured for this very long journey. Their steadfast dedication over these years to achieve the best possible education system for their students is an inspiration to us all, and I look forward to hearing from the witnesses when it is referred to committee.