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Justice and Dignity – a snapshot on TRC Calls to Action 7-10

Lead Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) Commissioner Murray Sinclair has the wonderful ability to speak important truths in great one liners.  Two of those one-liners have stuck with me for  the 7 years since the release of the final report of the TRC:  education got us into this mess and education will get us out and reconciliation is a generational project.  Both of these short-zingers have inspired our long-term work in the CRC in Canada to advocate for the implementation of TRC Calls to Action 7-10 that focus on justice and equity in First Nation K-12 education.

In the notes that follow there are some details about data and accountability -so, dear reader, should you decide to dig through this stuff with me, first I’ll say thanks… but I also hope that we can remember a point here that our dear colleague Adrian Jacobs (Cayuga, Six Nations of the Grand River) reminded me of: Education is about dignity and that isn’t usually captured in a policy wonks dive into reports on data and funding.  Education, such as it was in the residential schools, was a tool for oppression that denied the dignity of Indigenous children and their families and resulted in intergenerational trauma. Justice, equity and Indigenous leadership in education has been proven to build resilience, healing and dignity in children, families and communities – which is the treasure behind the data dig that follows here.

Time and time again, Indigenous leadership for Indigenous education delivers excellent results

As Parliament comes back from its winter break (on January 31), we’ll be communicating with legislators about the progress and challenges around these critical matters of reconciliation, healing and justice  in TRC 7-10.  Here are some things we’re thinking about and acting on:

For generations now, Indigenous communities have argued that educational success in their communities depends on Indigenous leadership and community participation, provisions for culture and language learning, and stable and predictable funding.  All of these basics for justice are echoed in Calls to Action 7-10.  And the results today in Federal Government action are decidedly mixed.

On the good news front, in 2022 there was good progress in the development of agreements that support education for-and-by Indigenous communities.  Time and time again, Indigenous leadership for Indigenous education delivers excellent results in communities and regions where these agreements are operating (see for example Mi'kmaw Kina'matnewey and the First Nation Education Steering Committee in BC). So it has been good to see new agreements announced around the country (Yukon, B.C., Alberta and Ontario).  One promising sign in 2022 was the forming of the Yukon First Nations School Board. This new board is a collaboration of First Nations and the Government of Yukon.  This system includes 8 schools across Yukon and incorporates First Nation leadership in cultural knowledge, land based learning and the participation of Elders and community knowledge holders.  A core part of the success of agreements like this is stable and equitable funding as noted in Call to Action 8. 

It is disappointing that the low-hanging fruit of basic data reporting is not yet accomplished.

So when it comes to funding, in 2016 the government set a wonderful sounding aspiration of transformation in Indigenous Education that came with a significant new funding envelope ($2.6 billion).  However the adequacy of this funding is not yet clear.  In 2016 and 2018 the Parliamentary Budget Officer and the Auditor General reported significant weaknesses in government information on the actual costs of First Nation education delivery and assessments of the adequacy of funding for the fulfillment of Calls to Action 7 and 8.

As 2023 begins the aspiration for transformation in education is incomplete and even floundering.  A key benchmark for Call to Action 7 is grade 12 graduation rates on reserve. The last three annual results reports from Indigenous Services Canada (ISC), show that graduation rates are slipping -  from 40.5% in 2018-19 to 36.8% in 2020-21 (the last available report).  This compares to a national average of 84% in 2019-20 (Statistics Canada). 

Leaders in Indigenous education policy reform also report that there is a data gap on deeper details that would allow First Nations and the ISC to fulfill the annual progress report requirements of Call to Action 9 and to assess the adequacy of education funding (as related to call to action 8).  Good information that is accessible builds trust, accountability and the opportunity to focus resources for educational success. Therefore, it is disappointing that the low-hanging fruit of basic data reporting (Call to Action 9) is not yet accomplished.

Justice and equity in First Nations education is critical for reconciliation and we recognize that it is a long-term journey. For this reason the Centre for Public Dialogue has been bearing witness to Indigenous perspectives on transformation in Education for the last decade and we will continue to do so in this coming session of Parliament. It’s about justice and dignity.

Take action for reconciliation.

Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash


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