Why Aboriginal Awareness Training?

The factors at play in any relationship with Aboriginal communities are complex and challenging. Working with Aboriginal people and their communities has become a critical component of corporate operational planning, especially if you are working on the land or under it.

Getting onto the land is now a national issue impacting practically ever industry from coast to coast. Major court decisions support the claims that Aboriginal communities have a legal right to the use of natural resources and protections of the environment. Why is it that industries find this concept so unbelievable and often simply unacceptable?

This has been the case for many decades now. Put simply, the rules of engagement between Industry and Aboriginal communities have changed the “doing business” landscape forever. Many provincial governments have been of the same mindset and now find themselves dismayed, confused and giving out some really bad advice.

Aboriginal awareness training is only the beginning of what should become a long-term, committed relationship. You and your companies need to identify the business case and develop Aboriginal relations programs to ensure certainty, consent, Aboriginal participation, and access to land and resources.

Sometimes, this process is not successful and it’s never simple. There is no quick fix, one-size-fits-all solution.

Strategies, objectives, action matrix, assigning resources, ensuring clarity and senior executive support eventually evolve into your own corporate Aboriginal Relations Program.

Learning how to be good neighbours and business partners with Aboriginal peoples is essential if we wish to operate effectively and efficiently in a constantly changing regulatory environment.

Trying Hard To Be Equal

What is this First Nations compulsion to keep talking about agreements that are hundreds of years old? Why can’t they just forget all this treaty garbage and why do they continue to insist on being treated special, with special rights and benefits, and specific laws just for them?

Why don’t they just adjust, adapt, fit in, go to work and be like everybody else?

These are questions I hear from Canadians all across the country.

Well, I can tell you that most First Nations in this country are more than ready to forget the treaties, including all the unfulfilled promises. All Canadians have to do is give them their land back. They are ready when Canada is ready.

Sounds harsh, doesn’t it? We’ll get back to that later. First, let’s look at some history to put it all into context.

Sacred Contracts to some but not to others.

Over the past five centuries, hundreds of treaties and military pacts have been signed between the British and Canadian Crowns, with hundreds of First Nations signatories on these treaties meaning that all Canadians are if fact treaty people..

The treaties – contracts, really – are considered sacred by the First Nations that entered into them. Unfortunately, our federal government doesn’t feel the same way. All of these contracts, literally every one of them, have been dishonoured in a variety of forms. Our federal government is in “breach of contract” under every treaty they ever signed.

Treaty 11, signed in 1921 to cover the Northwest Territories, was never implemented. Our government decided which terms of every treaty were to be fulfilled and which parts would simply be ignored. Many discrepancies exist due to a misinterpretation of what the First Nations initially said and what actually found its way into the documents.

Many hundreds of First Nations lawsuits are before the courts in their efforts to have the government honour promises made when the treaties were signed.

As MacDonald J. stated in Pasco v. Canadian National Railway Co., [1986] 1 C.N.L.R. 35 (B.C.S.C.), at p. 37: “We cannot recount with much pride the treatment accorded to the native people of this country.”
The Crown did not enter into treaties in respect of most of the territory in what is now British Columbia, and, accordingly, Aboriginal title issues arise in this province in a very stark way.

Today, about 80 per cent of Canada’s land mass is covered by treaties, historically numbered treaties and the comprehensive land claims settlements sometimes referred to as modern treaties.

Other claims cover most of British Columbia, parts of Quebec, three unsettled tracts of land in the Yukon and, of course, the Deh Cho lands of the Northwest Territories. The B.C. Treaty Commission began it’s work 20 years ago, has cost $1 billion so far with very little measurable outcomes and most agree this system is a complete failure in making treaty with the 50 or so groups in various phases of negotiations. I suggest the hundreds of lawyers involved have no incentive to reach conclusion and closure.

Specific Land Claims are well over 800 today and when we calculate the total costs of resolving all the claims our governments are looking at a $15 Billion liability.

There are some significant and very specific reasons why there can be no equality between non-aboriginal Canadians and aboriginal Canadians.

Supreme Court Position

The Supreme Court of Canada has ruled that original Aboriginal title exists on land where no treaties have yet been made. These negotiations have been going on for many decades.

Aboriginal rights short of title are the primary means by which the traditional cultures and activities of First Nations (and particularly those that are nomadic or semi-nomadic) are protected; it is essential that those rights be taken seriously. Any interference with those rights (apart from trivial ones) demands legal protection. Such infringements must be justified. (Honourable Mr. Justice Groberman)
There are no issues of inequality here.

Progress has been painstakingly slow and has cost taxpayers – you and me – hundreds of millions of dollars. This continues to bring great uncertainty about encumbrances on the Crown’s title and levels of Aboriginal jurisdictions. The only way to get rid of this original Aboriginal title is to make treaty, but there continues to be much disagreement about this point as well.

Of the 700,000-registered status Indians who are also registered “band” members, only 50 per cent are considered treaty Indians because of the geographic location of their home reserves. If your home reserve is located in an area of land that is part of a treaty, then you are considered treaty and are eligible to receive treaty benefits and have the treaty rights agreed to in the original treaty.

If, on the other hand, you are a registered member of a reserve that is not located on land covered by a treaty (the other 50 per cent), then you are a non-treaty registered Indian. You can still be a status Indian because you are on the Indian registry maintained by Aboriginal and Northern Development department.

How are we doing so far? I know – the terminology can get confusing and that is not your fault.

Now, if you happen to be a treaty Indian, you receive whatever treaty benefits the government chooses to give you. If you happen to be a non-treaty Indian, meaning your community did not make treaty with the federal Crown, the government has decided to give you the same benefits as those that did make treaties, but not the annual treaty cheque.

What huge amount of cash does that entitle you to as a treaty Indian? Twenty grand a year? Two thousand bucks? Not even close.

Treaty cheques come in at the paltry lump sum of $5 a year – sometimes just $2 or $3 – and this figure has not changed in a century or more since the treaties were signed. (By the way, the governments won’t send it in the mail, either – you have to go back to your home reserve and pick it up.)

Some people might wonder why non-treaty Indians receive treaty benefits (but not that $5 cheque). Well, apparently the government decided at some point to put selected treaty benefits under the Indian Act, which governs the lives of most First Nations people. Therefore, all registered Indians are eligible to receive these treaty benefits whether they are treaty or not. When I asked why, the federal government representatives told me to “expedite administration” and this decision only costs Canadians $3 billion a year.

To ensure equality I suppose every Canadian, seeing that we are all treaty people, should be getting the same benefits as First Nations people. Does the reader think that could ever happen or should all these beneifts be discontinue? Should all the treaty benefits our government committed to be under treaty/contract be denied to aboriginal peoples or should all Canadians be included?

Back to the Land

Now, let’s get back to how we started this – the part about giving the land back.

Wait a minute, you say. Canada can’t return the land to First Nations. It’s not practical and makes no sense. There was no “conquering” done in Canada On one hand Canadians are saying forget the treaties, then they say we want all the land and resources and forget our contract obligations. Does that mean Canadians want their cake and eat it too?

But this has nothing to do with equality, reason, logic or fairness.

It wouldn’t be so difficult to comprehend if the government actually honoured the contracts and fulfilled its treaty obligations. For many decades now, the Supreme Court of Canada has been insisting that our federal government live up to its promises and behave “honourably” and that it is liable for choices and actions, past and present. There has been much effort to restore the honour of the Crown. Apparently this hasn’t worked, as there seems to be great resistance to the concept. Does that mean when we say “Honourable Member of Parliament” that that is a true oxymoron.

Today in Canada, the ability to hunt, fish and gather are considered rights for Aboriginal people. We also know that 80 per cent of our country’s land allows for treaty rights, while the other 20 per cent is covered by original Aboriginal title.

But understanding what these rights are, whom they belong to and where these rights can be applied is a daunting and at times onerous task. Most provincial governments and corporate leaders in Canada are making an honest effort to learn about these rights, because they know infringement, without the full informed consent of these Aboriginal rights holders is now against the law and has been proven very costly indeed.

Some Aboriginal groups have Aboriginal rights, but don’t have treaty rights – such as the nation’s Métis citizens, who share a mixed-blood heritage with early European settlers, voyageurs and fur-traders and First Nations peoples. Their Aboriginal rights are on par with First Nation Aboriginal rights – and one does not want to ignore any potential Aboriginal rights holders.

First Nations people also have Treaty rights on top of their Aboriginal rights, and many have original Aboriginal title as well.

It’s a complicated scenario rooted in centuries of misunderstanding – misunderstanding that Canadians are only now beginning to grasp.

My Rights and Yours

I would like to clarify that I am an Aboriginal person, but not a First Nation person. Nor am I an Inuit person. All Canadian Aboriginal people are Canadian citizens, although I know of some who don’t want to be. They don’t actually have any place to ”go back home” to if they don’t like it.

First Nations people actually became Canadian citizens in 1960, but Métis have always been considered Canadian citizens.

Most Canadians tell me they believe we are all equal under the rule of law in Canada. Our federal Constitution, our Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and our laws protect my rights as a Canadian citizen, same as you.

However, since I am an Aboriginal, I do hold Aboriginal rights, while 95 per cent of other Canadians don’t.

Could this mean that I am a citizen-plus? Am I now more equal than other non-Aboriginal Canadians? How does that make Canadians feel about having fewer/less rights than Aboriginal people? A First Nations person with treaty rights would be even more equal than I am, and might therefore be considered a citizen-plus-plus.

It is important to me that non-Aboriginal Canadians see me as their equal under the law, not their “more equal.” I choose not to exercise any of my Aboriginal rights, so I can be as equal a Canadian as the rest of you.

Whenever many Aboriginal people say they want to be equal to all Canadians, they are not saying they are willing to forfeit any of their rights or benefits. But they do want to enjoy the same standards of living as the average Canadian.

Under “special” current laws, legislation and policy, this is all but impossible.
Aboriginal peoples in Canada are subject to all the same laws as every other Canadians; however there are all these other laws that apply to them that do not apply to non-Aboriginal Canadians. Some times it is difficult trying to be equal.
Full equality is simply not possible. That is how our laws are stated.

How does one go about getting equal?

When the Aboriginal demographics show that the Aboriginal peoples standard of living is the same as the average Canadian, then I predict most Aboriginal people will kiss their special laws – such as the widely loathed federal Indian Act – goodbye. It is interesting to note that as the numbers of registered status Indians leaving the reserves increases yearly, they are already forfeiting access and use of many of their rights.

Canadians have an international reputation as honest fair-minded people and expect our governments to treat Aboriginal people with kindness, compassion and fair play. Unfortunately that is simply not happening.

They can’t wait any longer for the demographics to change or catch up to them. They are seeking certain levels of equality right now in most urban centres; however, equality is an elusive dream for most.

My circumstances allow me to choose not to take advantage of my Aboriginal rights because I don’t need them. I choose not to participate in race-based laws because I have this choice. I want to be equal with my fellow citizens – not more equal – and it is vitally important to me that my fellow citizens know that.

But it’s just as important that we all understand the reasons why many Aboriginals have not done the same

Aboriginal Canadians: Collaboration or Confrontation?

In survey after survey, 76% of Canadians acknowledge they know next to nothing about the history, circumstances, issues and challenges facing Aboriginal peoples in Canada, and another 5% acknowledge they know absolutely nothing about Canada’s Aboriginal citizens. With over 250,000 new immigrants coming to Canada each year and 10’s of thousands of “visiting employees” being recruited each year due to a current labour crisis, I wonder how much information is being shared with these “new” newcomers to Canada about our Aboriginal people. I have asked and the answer is a polite shrug of the shoulders.

This lack of understanding between cultures and about diverse Aboriginal cultures — in a country that prides itself in the eyes of the world on being multicultural — has led to ignorance, stereotyping and full-blown racism. The isolation, separation, segregation and marginalization of Aboriginal peoples by geography, law, legislation and policy is an ongoing and ineffective process that must end. And end soon.

In Canada today there exists an environment of confrontation between our Federal government, some provincial governments and most Aboriginal people. For some unexplained reason this status quo has been maintained and allowed to continue by successive governments for the past 300 years. I can tell you that industry; individual citizens and international investors are finding this circumstance unacceptable and are insisting on a climate of collaboration, co-operation and community.

I guess we are just going to have to learn more about whom we wish to partner with so lets begin. Industry expects their service providers to be bringing added value to the table regarding advice on how to work with their new Aboriginal community partners.

The terms Aboriginal, Native and Indigenous refer to the same group of people, but all of these diverse groups are most often referred to as ‘Indians’. I, for example, am an Aboriginal person born here and living in Canada – but I am not an Indian. Just as some of you may be of European heritage but are not Austrian.

This mistake in terminology is only one example of a strong need for much more Aboriginal awareness education. It should be understood that the term ‘Indian’ is not politically correct and with many down right offensive as it refers to people from India rather than Canada’s founding peoples. Many other cultures have varied language to refer to their first citizens; such as Aborigines in Australia and the Maori of New Zealand.

Imagine what the Indigenous people of the Americas would be called if Christopher Columbus would have been looking for Turkey rather than India! Why we would have a “Turkey Act” and a “Minister of Turkey Affairs”.

There are three groups of Aboriginal people in Canada: First Nations(Indians),Métis and Inuit. The majority of the 50,000 Inuit lives north of the tree line in Canada’s Arctic, and make up the majority of residents in Inuvialuit, Nunavut, Nunavik and Labrador.

Of the 400,000 Métis in Canada, most are located in the four western provinces and have representation in every part of Canada. They are of mixed heritage, usually descendents from First Nations who intermarried with early European settlers. Their homeland consists of traditional territories stretching from Ontario to B.C., north over the 60th parallel and south into the states of Montana and North Dakota. They have the same Aboriginal rights on the land in these areas as the First Nations and must not be ignored.

They are indeed a bona fide stakeholder in rights on the land and must be consulted as well, not just First Nations of which the Métis and Inuit are not a part of.

The three categories of ‘Indians’ are broke into three divisions – status, Bill C-31 and non-status. Status ‘Indians’ are registered in the Indian Registry, which is maintained by the federal government’s Indian and Northern Affairs department (INAC). These status ‘Indians’ are the only Aboriginal group that are members of an ‘Indian band’ or tribe, and are the only Aboriginal group of people in Canada that are referred to as First Nations. These people are governed by the antiquated, race-based legislation called the Indian Act.

The 640 separate Aboriginal governments in Canada are governed by elected chiefs and councilors, most are represented nationally by the Assembly of First Nations, an umbrella group whose present political leader is Grand Chief Phil Fontaine.

There are about 690,000-registered status Indians in Canada, although since 1985 an additional 117,000 names have been added to this number as a result of Bill C-31. This federal statute allowed those Aboriginal people who had lost their status, Aboriginal and treaty rights and benefits to make application to become ‘Indian’ again.

These new ‘registered Indians’ received a reduced bundle of benefits than their existing “status” relatives, and since their creation by the federal government they are quickly becoming an endangered species. Most of them will all disappear in a short time frame of two generations, due to the limits imposed by Ottawa. For a current up-date you might want to Google ‘The McIvor Decision” of the B.C. Supreme Court (June 2007).

Of these First Nations (registered status Indians) people, 60 per cent live off reserve and the migration to urban centres continues at a torrid pace. Many First Nation people are simply trying to get out from under the yoke of the repressive and controlling Indian Act. Just 60 per cent of the First Nation (registered status Indians) populations are actually treaty ‘Indians’. The other 40 percent are registered status Indians but are not treaty. Those band members off reserve can still vote for Chief and Council.

The Indian Act is blatantly out of step with the modern realities of the Canadian legal system just as many claim the Mining Act is also seriously flawed for today’s realities. This degrading Indian Act singles out First Nations people and gives control of their lives and communities to the Minister of Indian and Northern Affairs, and other government officials. First Nations women on reserve do not have even basic property rights, because of the Indian Act imposed upon them. These same people are not afforded access and protection under the Canadian Human Rights Act either. Does the “rule of law” apply equally to all Canadian citizens?

I find I must disagree with many deluded and misguided judges rendering decisions today based on this supposedly “fair” concept. This is putting many mining companies and some provincial governments in very precarious situations. Efforts to build positive respectful relationships with those very Aboriginal communities who are about to become their new corporate partners are being put in jeopardy.

Many First Nations people wish the Indian Act would be abolished, because it violates normal standards of equality and freedom. It has been referred to as an “apartheid law” that has led us to nothing less than a national social disaster – and encouraged the “us verses them” mentality.

About 50 per cent of First Nations people are under 23 years of age and many young people leave the reserve looking for better living conditions, better health services, educational facilities and employment opportunities. They want to leave behind the destitution, crime, poverty and despair that fill so many lives on the reserve. Unfortunately, they are also leaving their family members, elders, their languages and their cultures.

In urban centres such as Edmonton, Winnipeg and Calgary, about 20 per cent of the homeless population are Aboriginal people. They have chosen to live a hand-to-mouth existence on the streets – homeless – instead of on reserves due to the physical isolation and lack of opportunities in their remote and impoverished communities.

Since 1995, the federal government has spent $100 billion of Canadian taxpayer’s money on roughly half of the Aboriginal population. This money comes from 33 federal departments, plus INAC, and there are very few measurable indicators that circumstances and the quality of life of Aboriginals has improved.

Many First Nations leaders tell me they only receive 20 per cent of this money, yet an INAC official wrote to me and confirmed that Ottawa gives 82 per cent of its allotted funding to First Nation government’s with another nine per cent going to provincial governments. The Congress of Aboriginal People, in a recent report I received, shows 6,199 grants and contributions to 2,054 recipients from 30 federal governments departments for a total value of $5,606,665,491.00 Billion dollars. I have not been able to determine if this funding is calculated into funds allocated to First Nations governments. I also received a listing of 293 pages of recipients. The fact that accounting for “grants” is not required seems rather strange if not down right ludicrous.

Contributions on the other hand do require accounting but how do we know if anything is being achieved? What, if any, are the measurable outcomes and benefits of all this spending? Is anyone asking any questions about this? Will any funding recipient step forward and reassure Canadians that we the taxpayers are getting a reasonable return on our investments?

Why as Canadians can we not get a satisfactory explanation of these disturbing numbers, especially when so many billions of dollars are being spent each year? Could it be that we just don’t know enough about the subject to be able to even formulate a reasonable question?

One must remember that every time someone leaves the reserve, the cost and obligation of the federal government for each of those individual is reduced by about 80%. What would motivate the federal government to make things better on reserves? Aboriginal leaders tell me the on-reserve population is continuing to grow despite the number of people leaving. We know that from the Department of Indian Affairs spending reports that for every $8.00 spent on reserves only $1.00 is spent on services to those 60% of the band membership that lives off reserve. Seems a little backward to me.

The deteriorating circumstances include grinding poverty, tainted water not suitable for drinking or bathing in more than 100 communities at any given time, major housing crisis, loss of language, extreme crime rates, rampant health epidemics, youth suicide rates eight times the national average. For Inuit youth, living in the remote and rugged Arctic, the suicide rate is 40 times the national average.

It’s incomprehensible that are we not demanding that our governments deliver action rather than words. For those mining companies with assets on or under the land and are embarking on a journey of consultation and relationship building you really must understand the environment you are going into. As well, learn who these Aboriginal people are. Why they are where they are and how did they get to where they are socially and economically. You should know them as well as they know you. Being able to show your new partner that you have actually taken some time and made an honest effort to know a little about them is a clear demonstration of respect on your part and an excellent way to start your long term relationship…just like any other serious courtship, remember!

Ultimately, Canadians must realize that the Aboriginal community is a major stakeholder (rights holders) in the social and economic wellbeing of our nation’s future. We must work together to create a country that respects and cares for all of its citizens, no matter what culture, race or heritage and I believe the whole business community has a very important role to play in ensuring we maintain peace in valley.

Working with Aboriginal Communities Critical to Business Success

Landmark court decisions from the Supreme Court of Canada over the past 35 years are having a significant impact on the relationship between business and the Aboriginal community.

The court rulings – in such areas as the definition of infringement of rights; the duty to consult on the part of the federal and provincial governments; the existence of aboriginal title; treaty rights; Aboriginal rights; the inclusion and participation of Aboriginal stakeholders; and the necessity for business to receive full and informed consent from Aboriginal rights-holders – are forcing business to conclude that working with Aboriginal people and their communities has become a critical component of corporate operational planning.

The more, or less, a company articulates a desire to build ties with Aboriginal people is a critical component of a economically successful relationship. Which position it decides to pursue is crucial to conducting activities on the traditional territories of Aboriginal peoples.

Aboriginal Awareness Training and Aboriginal Consultation Training is only the beginning of establishing long-term committed relationships.

Unfortunately, while the Supreme Court directed the federal and provincial governments to pursue a full and complete reconciliation with Aboriginal people, most governments’ responses have been slow in coming. In fact, it has been 25 years for the federal government.

Both the federal and provincial governments, however, are aggressively developing their own individual “Aboriginal Consultation Guidelines” for their respective employee base. And industry has been developing its own unique methods and processes of consultation for more than 35 years.

Some provinces have learned and have created theirs as well, with much improved, acceptable and doable policies and processes. Saskatchewan, for example, under its new government, has begun province wide roundtable discussions to build its own homegrown consultation guidelines with input from the Aboriginal communities across the province.

The various corporate communities, whether construction, oil sands, forestry, pipelines or mining, have also developed their own unique ‘consultation’ guidelines – by cherry-picking from all the choices available – to meet their needs and because the provincial guidelines simply won’t work for them.

As soon as land is leased or a claim filed, it is imperative for business to identify and, if necessary, develop its business case that it will present to the Aboriginal community. It is from the business case that the development of the Aboriginal Relations Program arises.

A combination of the business case and a well-thought out Aboriginal Relations Program will ensure that all employees and management are all rowing in the same direction for all the same reasons. Certainty and confidence brings comfort and positive participation from all stakeholders.

Investors, customers and employees will come to understand how important these genuine, sincere committed partnerships are to the long-term well being of the project. Your Aboriginal partners must be involved, equally committed and fully engaged to ensure fulfillment of the mutual benefit philosophy and common goals.

Don’t underrate the ‘getting to know you’ time in the relationship. It will provide you with the opportunity to ask the question: “Would you (Aboriginal leaders) help us develop a consultation plan we can both agree to so we can begin our formal consultation process.”

And remember, broken promises ultimately lead to broken projects. That’s the bottom line.

Other things to consider: what is the Aboriginal community’s capacity to consult and/or negotiate?; have you assisted in the preparation of traditional land use studies?; have you assisted in the mapping of traditional lands and/or associated claims, human resource inventories and identified economic development opportunities including business start-ups and associated contracting.?

Currently there are hundreds of Impact Benefit Agreements all across Canada, with dozens more in various stages of consultation. More are occurring every day in every industry. All are different, with many unique and tailored provisions. While industry has pretty much accepted the why and what of this process, it is time to answer the questions of who and how, especially for those trying to catch up. It is being done, there are many proven best practices and business is taking place.

Get to know the difference between stakeholders and rights-holders: who they are and how they differ.

Look on the relationship as a courtship: as the relationship evolves and grows, so does respect and trust. Working productively through the consultation with the Aboriginal community requires a lot of work, many specialized skills, sincerity, genuine long-term commitments and a full and complete understanding of your new partners.

Canada’s Aboriginal Education Crisis

With a national labor shortage upon us across Canada, some employers are expecting the availability of qualified Aboriginal employees to be part of the solution.
Aboriginal people want to be included. From industry’s perspective, they must be included.

National Inuit Leader Mary Simon, president of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, joined forces with Canada’s four other Aboriginal leaders and provincial and territorial premiers on Aug. 4 this year to ask Prime Minister Stephen Harper to convene a First Ministers’ Meeting on Aboriginal education within a year.

Today there are 518 schools on First Nations reserves in Canada. First Nation schools on reserves are the responsibility of the federal government. So, it is reasonable to think that education is critical to improving the social and economic strength of Aboriginal people and their communities to a level enjoyed by other Canadians.

So, why is this not happening?

Parents of First Nations students on reserves express the fear that their children are failing to develop a positive sense of their identity and that curricula rarely reflects their children’s true history, diverse cultures and languages and their contributions to Canada.

It is conceivable that there may be court challenges regarding curricula that exclude the experience and histories of Aboriginal people. The federal government claims that the Human Rights Act applies only to the delivery of government services, and not to the funding decisions that ultimately determine the kind and quality of services that can be provided.

Nationally, however, the education system as a whole is failing Aboriginal students.

The Canadian Centre for the Study of Living Standards calculates that $71.1 billion will be added to Canada’s economy if Aboriginal people attain the same educational levels as other Canadians. We cannot afford to lose another generation, so why all the vigorous opposition and underfunding of Aboriginal education, especially when one considers the tremendous population growth in Aboriginal communities.

Provincial schools are paid more than double that of on reserve schools for student tuition. Over the past 10 years these on-reserve schools: education funding increased 19 per cent, while in the same period provincial systems funding increased 45 per cent.

In 2006-07, the Elementary/Secondary Education Program supported 120,000 students, 518 schools and 45 post-secondary institutions with a budget of $1.2 billion, which is on average $2,000 less per student than provincial student funding.

Indian and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) underfunds the education of children in kindergarten to Grade 12 who attend schools on reserves or who attend provincially-run schools off reserve. The department of Indian Affairs claims they do not know whether the current spending of $1.2 billion has been used for the purpose intended.

As well, INAC underfunds First Nations post-secondary education. This year’s budget is $400 million for about 27,000 First Nations post-secondary students. The number of eligible Aboriginal post-secondary students exceeds the budget, so applicants are turned away. In 2009, more than 5,000 eligible First Nations students were denied post-secondary funding.

So here is how it works: First you create a funding gap, and then you end up with a real readiness gap. This, in turn, gives the government, our country and Aboriginal people an achievement gap and then, of course, we end up with the terrible socio-economic gap.

Ninety per cent of preschool Aboriginal children have no access to appropriate early childhood education.

Today, 54 per cent of all Aboriginal children are in the care of government agencies.

Over the past 15 years there has been no measurable improvement for on-reserve high school completion rates.

Statistics Canada reports that in 2006 there was 78,325 First Nations children aged six to 14 living off reserve in Canada and this represents two per cent of all Canadian children in this age group. These age groups of off-reserve students are as likely as all Canadian children to be doing well in school.

Research reports indicate that the parents of 90 per cent of off-reserve First Nations children agreed or strongly agreed that their child’s school provided enough information on their child’s academic progress, attendance and behavior. The parents were satisfied with levels of discipline, the quality of teaching and availability of extracurricular activities. Keep in mind that all this is at off-reserve schools, publicly funded and managed. Also, by living off reserve the household incomes are higher and students in homes with higher incomes simply out-perform those living in poverty.

However, 41 per cent of First Nations youth living off reserves do not complete their secondary education. Interestingly, 41 per cent of First Nations children living off reserves live in single parent families.

Another 58 per cent of First Nations youth living on reserve have not completed their secondary education. There is no funding for on reserve school libraries or books. Schools are unable to provide competitive salaries to teachers on reserves. There is no funding for vocational training in secondary schools on reserves. There is no funding for extracurricular sports and recreation activities on reserves.

The Aboriginal student dropout rate, nationally, before Grade 12 is currently at 51 per cent.

Students who have the most difficulty in schools are those who have experienced a long history of discrimination, subjugation and prejudice.

It is a disturbing fact that the majority of teachers cannot pass even the most elementary 20-question quiz about Aboriginal terminology, history, cultural concepts, geography or regional Aboriginal diversities. If you would like a copy of the “quiz” let me know and I will send it to you. So many teachers know so little about the concepts and community values supported by the traditional Aboriginal peoples reliance on their strong and dedicated attachment to their own spirituality.

First Nations are asking no more and no less than being allowed to benefit from a quality education that is comparable to that of all other Canadian children.

Despite the importance of education in improving prospects and reducing poverty among the nations, hundreds of marginalized Aboriginal communities, federal, provincial and Aboriginal governments have all failed to address these most serious difficulties.