Hon. Lillian Eva Dyck:
Honourable senators, I rise today to speak to the report
on education of the Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal
Peoples entitled Reforming First Nations Education: From
Crisis to Hope.
First, I would like to acknowledge all the hard work of
the members of the committee on both sides of the house. We
started this study in April 2010, and through the witnesses
and hard work of the members of the committee and all the
questions and comments that they had, we were able to
produce a report that I think is quite outstanding. I thank
all members of the committee for that.
I would also like to thank the clerk of the committee,
the analysts, the communications person, the translators and
all the staff involved. As you know, when we travel we have
to take a lot of staff with us. They all enabled us to do
our work exceptionally well, and I thank them for that.
I especially want to thank the chair of the committee,
the Honourable Senator St. Germain. He chaired the committee
very well. He made sure that we worked together
exceptionally well, and consequently we produced a report
that, as I said, is quite exceptional.
We had numerous witnesses appear before the committee. We
had site visits. We went to the Prairies and to Atlantic
Canada. We had actually planned to go to some of the
communities in Northern Ontario, close to some of the
communities like Attawapiskat. Unfortunately, this fall
those plans did not materialize, but that is what we had
intended to do. We held public hearings.
We had a round table with experts in October, which was
exceptional. We had Marlene Atleo, Bruce Stonefish, Colin
Kelly, James Wilson and Harvey McCue. We had a focused
discussion that informed the committee exceptionally well.
It was that round table that convinced me that legislation
was the way we should go.
As I mentioned earlier in my speech with regard to Bill
C-10, funding of Aboriginal education is an important issue,
but all reports up until now have focused on the inequities
of funding and the cap that was put on at 2 per cent in
1996. All the reports up to now have said we should remove
the cap and equalize funding. That is what they focused on.
Our committee went much further than that. We saw — and
our chair had this lovely analogy — that we needed to devise
a new vehicle. In fact, in my mind, the vehicle was not even
gas-powered. The vehicle on reserve is like a
horse-and-buggy model of education.
Senator Munson: Your Honour, I cannot hear the
The Hon. the Speaker: Order. Honourable senators,
discussions and other expressions should be taken outside
The Honourable Senator Dyck has the floor.
Senator Dyck: Thank you, Your Honour.
As I was saying, on-reserve education is like the
horse-and-buggy vehicle. What we, as a committee, have come
up with is the space-age vehicle. It is a rocket ship. We
are going to Mars and are heading for the moon.
It turns out there is inequitable funding, but there is
no school board on reserve. There are no educational
authorities. There is nothing that does all that wonderful
strategic planning, nor the structures needed to support a
good educational system. The money that is given to reserves
is unequal, but it does not even fund the essentials like
computer labs, libraries, First Nation language instruction,
curriculum development and all those things that make for a
As you all know, the national expert panel is up and
running, and they hope to have their report by the end of
the year. I am glad our committee was able to release our
report before the national expert panel, because they have
been on the road for far less time and would have had far
less opportunity to hear all the witnesses that we, as a
committee, have heard. However, it sounds as though they
will come up with similar recommendations.
Our report contains four main recommendations. First, as
I said, we are recommending a federal education act that
will be jointly developed with First Nations and First
Nation educational authorities. It will be an education act
that is not imposed. It will be opt-in legislation. When you
opt in, you will be able to repeal the sections related to
education within the Indian Act that are that
horse-and-buggy model. Those sections were the ones that
allowed the residential school system to be imposed upon
First Nations people.
The education act will recognize First Nation authority
for on-reserve elementary and secondary education and will
establish second- and third-level education structures. It
will establish First Nation school boards and First Nation
When we traveled across the country, we saw developments
along those lines, with agreements and tripartite
agreements, but no one has come to the level that other
provincial or territorial off-reserve schools have. This
will be the way to go. This will create a system that is
equivalent to what provincial schools have. I firmly believe
this will make a tremendous difference.
Second, the committee recommended statutory-based funding
rather than the contribution agreements that came to
Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development on a yearly
basis. With contribution agreements, the money is not just
earmarked for education. The individual First Nations do not
necessarily even know how much money they will get. It
creates an unstable situation, which does not allow for
long-term planning. As all honourable senators know, in
order to educate, you need to be able to have security of
funding and long-term planning.
The legislation will allow the inclusion of a
comprehensive formula that will address the funding
inequities. The formula will allow the individual First
Nations to apply for funding for such things as computer
labs and libraries, and apply for extra funds if they live
in a remote area such as in Attawapiskat. It will allow a
formula to be developed to cover the cost of First Nation
language instruction and the costs of things like
incorporating, within the curriculum, First Nation content.
This will allow on-reserve schools to have a system that
is comparable to schools located off-reserve.
The funding methodology will be developed in consultation
with First Nations so that the formula then will be adapted
for specific needs. As I said before, it will provide stable
funding to allow long-term planning.
The third recommendation is the joint development of a
Canada-First Nation action plan for educational reform,
which will include a timeline, agreed upon by both parties,
and will allow for the opting in.
Some of the First Nations that we visited were in good
shape. In Nova Scotia we visited several Mi'kmaq schools,
and their graduation rates were the opposite to the rest of
Canada. They were graduating about 70 per cent of their
Aboriginal students from high school, where the rest of
Canada was failing about 70 per cent. They were coming along
nicely, but they were having difficulty because the
mechanism of funding did not allow them to develop First
Nation curriculum or language instruction.
The fourth recommendation is developing a joint task
force to oversee development of educational reform and to
monitor progress. It calls for an annual review for five
years, reporting to Aboriginal Affairs and Northern
Development and to the National Chief of the Assembly of
This joint task force is a critical component because it
means that we are keeping tabs on what is happening. It will
allow this process to proceed; it will be monitored, so,
hopefully, the report will not sit on the shelf because they
will have to report back to say what is happening, and let
us move this thing along.
I would like to put our report into a bit of context. I
know many other honourable senators are engaged in the
concept of equality of education. In my office, I have
stacks and stacks of reports on Aboriginal education, most
of which talk about the gaps in educational attainment. They
have studied to death what the problem is, but few have come
up with any solutions. I think our committee, working
together as well as we have, has come up with a solution
that, as I said, is in the space-age era.
Some Hon. Senators: Hear, hear!
Senator Dyck: When the Auditor General was at the
committee the other night, he also indicated that we need
the structures in place. We need statutory-based funding for
education, for drinking water and so on. Stable funding must
be there. That echoes what the Auditor General said.
As I mentioned, the high school graduation rates within
the Aboriginal communities across the country, for the most
part, are bad. It is critical that we address this issue
because, as we know, we have a rapidly growing Aboriginal
population. I call it the "brown baby boom." With the "brown
baby boom," we have this young group that is going to school
now. If we do not give them a decent education, they are
doomed to failure. They will end up in the prison systems.
They will be working the streets. It is imperative that we
start now because 50 per cent of the Aboriginal population
is under the age of 25. There is also a big bubble coming
now that is under the age of five. The time to act is now. I
am very glad to have been on this committee because I
believe this committee's work will transform the lives of
those Aboriginal children.
Some Hon. Senators: Hear, hear!
Senator Dyck: There is a need not only for
mainstream skills within the Aboriginal community. We also
have to have the same education that other Canadians have in
order to understand what is going on around us. For
instance, we must be able to understand the complex
documents that Aboriginal and Northern Affairs sends to
on-reserve schools or to bands asking for audits and
reports. You need a high level of literacy and numeracy in
order to function in this modern world. This will allow that
to happen. However, I think the critical thing is it will
also allow the development of a complementary stream that
will teach First Nation languages and culture. The content
will be there, so that these kids can grow up with knowledge
in both worlds, an understanding of their own culture, and a
feeling, a great sense of pride and self-esteem in who they
are. That has not happened in most of Canada. So many
children now — and it breaks my heart to see them — are
ashamed of who they are because they are not represented
positively within the mainstream educational system.
Once we get these kids learning about their own history,
they will be so proud. We saw that on our trip. We went to
the Onion Lake Cree immersion school in Saskatchewan. We saw
those little kids in assembly, listening to their teachers
in Cree. It was so inspiring. They were happy and feeling
good about themselves. We saw that in Nova Scotia when we
went to Eskasoni Elementary & Middle School. We saw those
little kids singing in their own language, and we saw their
language on the wall in syllabics. We saw all of this, and
it was terrifically inspiring. We must keep that up. We must
go past those early years so they grow up to be competent,
capable and happy adults.
Hon. Senators: Hear, hear!
Senator Dyck: On a personal note, I have spent
more than 20 years in my volunteer life speaking about the
importance of education. I firmly believe I got to the
Senate because I went around to various schools talking to
kids, little kids and big kids, talking about how they
needed to stay in school. I was kind of like their role
model. I had been an advocate for them. I feel tremendously
honoured to be part of this report. I feel tremendously
Hon. Senators: Hear, hear!
Senator Dyck: As I said, it is very different from
the myriad of other reports. We are so lucky to have such
talented people on the committee working for us, and we came
up with this vision. This vision will change the face of
Aboriginal Canadians. It gives hope and inspiration to the
adults, and it gives the children the passport to being
productive, happy, contributing members of Canadian society.
Hon. Senators: Hear, hear!