Friday , 25 June 2021
Confederacy of Treaty Six First Nations new Grand Chief, Okimaw Vernon Watchmaker, who has been chief of Kehewin Cree Nation since 2018. Image submitted.

Grand Chief says education funding consultation was inadequate

Local First Nations are rejecting the proposed education funding regime for K-12 education in 2021-2022, according to Confederacy of Treaty Six First Nations Grand Chief Okimaw Vernon Watchmaker.

In a news release Jan. 21, the Confederacy, which is open to all First Nations on Treaty Six territory, said the proposal is “inconsistent with the Treaty Right to Education,” and that they were not consulted about it.

Education is typically governed by the provinces, however because of the unique relationship between First Nations and the federal government First Nations education remains a federal responsibility.

One of the ongoing challenges First Nations want addressed is the difference in funding levels for students who attend schools on-reserve versus off-reserve.

The challenge there, according to St. Paul Education Superintendent Glen Brodziak is that it’s not an apples to apples funding situation. According to Brodziak, each school division in Alberta has its own agreement with Indigenous Services Canada and receives funding on a per student basis for indigenous students.

“So then Alberta Education also pays us per student, but has special envelopes of funding we can access as well, like grants for nutrition etc.,” said Brodziak.

According to Watchmaker, unlike the provincial school divisions which are able to set aside money in reserves to cover variable enrollment from year to year, First Nations Education authorities aren’t able to do the same thing and are forced to make more drastic adjustments as student populations go up and down.

“We need to be seeking is adequate funding to deliver education, instructional, and support services to our members and to effectively upgrade our schools rather than receive externally determined funding, which is less than understandable, appropriate, or predictable,” said Watchmaker.

According to Watchmaker, First Nations are concerned because it appears ISC is trying to streamline funding based on Alberta’s Education formula, but the Alberta formula is currently being reformed.

“They’re [Indigenous Services Canada] trying to increase our funding at the federal level and that was their mandate to try and bring our education levels up. And when they streamline it to provincial education tuition formulas, they’re actually going in the opposite direction,” said Watchmaker, noting the provincial formula is undergoing changes and could continue to be changed in the future.

According to Watchmaker, while the Government of Canada did reach out for more information from the Nations, they did so in the latter part of December and expected a response by Dec. 31.

“So it was obviously an inadequate time period for conducting the required analysis and detailed response on targeted allocations and then the final decision was going to be made, or presented to the Treasury Board on Jan. 15,” said Watchmaker.

He said an appropriate consultation would have included more of the town hall meetings and seen all the questions asked at those meetings answered, as well as been more accommodating of the timeline of First Nations.

Lakeland Connect reached out to Indigenous Services Canada for a followup on funding models and comments.

About Meredith Kerr

Meredith Kerr moved to St. Paul for a career in journalism and morning radio in 2014 expecting to stay for six months to a year. Since then, she has put down roots in the form of a husband, a mortgage, two babies, and a poorly behaved dog. She continues to work as a reporter until such time as she finishes her book and becomes fabulously wealthy from the royalties. Meredith also serves as a member at large on the St. Paul Library Board and volunteers as a Beaver leader for the 1st St. Paul Scout Group.