With the quick signing of their names, Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations (FSIN) Vice Chief Bobby Cameron and Education Minister Don Morgan made Canadian history with an agreement around First Nations’ education.
“The signing of this document represents a mutual respect and confirms that both organizations will strive to work together to make a better future for First Nations students in Saskatchewan,” Morgan said.
The memorandum agreement states that both the FSIN and the Ministry of Education respect and recognize each other’s contributions and responsibilities. It also identifies that each Chief and Council exercises control and jurisdiction when it comes to education of First Nations youth in Treaty territories. It is the first of it’s kind in Canada and is critical in the wake of the First Nations Control of First Nations Education Act (Bill C-33) proposed by the federal government and rejected by First Nations leadership in May 2014, according to Vice-Chief Cameron.
“We at the FSIN have been having various meetings the past three years regarding Bill C-33 … The Conservative government has been on record saying that until the First Nation communities support Bill C-33, only then will funding flow,” Cameron said.
“We cannot afford to give up the control and jurisdiction, that has to remain within each chief and council and their membership.”
Funding for on-reserve education is the responsibility of the federal government, but Morgan said the government of Saskatchewan is dedicated to supporting programs which help close the graduation gap between First Nations and non-First Nations students in the province. The First Nations graduation rate was as low as 32 per cent while the provincial average is just over 70 per cent. Morgan added that it’s important to have something in place where they can “work with First Nations without them thinking we are trying to take away their jurisdiction or infringe upon what are their rights to do.”
“The premier made a commitment that by the year 2020 we would want to close that gap by at least half and I think we are on the way to do that,” Morgan said. “There’s a lot of history that has taken place in the past and what we are attempting to do is work with FSIN, work with our partners across the province, to identify the things we can do to improve those outcomes.”
Through the Joint Task Force, the province and First Nations have teamed up to create specialized programming as well as shared service agreements for things like speech language pathologists and educational assistants.
Vice-Chief Cameron said they are already seeing positive outcomes.
“Over the last three years we have had a growing number of graduation rates. In 2012 we had just over 600 grade 12 graduates, 2013 we had just about 650, 2014 we were right around 700 mark, and this year we were around 750,” he said.
“Anything and everything that we can do to enhance that, and give our Treaty Indian students that opportunity is what we want as leaders, as educators, and as people of Saskatchewan.”
The FSIN represents 74 First Nations in Saskatchewan.