Thirty-nine Ontario First Nation communities are voting on putting their own education system in place. The vote, which ends Dec. 2, is the final step in a lengthy process.
Negotiations with the federal government began in 1995 and a deal was reached in July, 2015. Since the creation of the Indian Act in 1887, the government has controlled the education of Indigenous students and Grand Council Chief Patrick Madahbee said in a public statement that the Union of Ontario Indians (UOI), which governs the 39 First Nations in Ontario, couldn’t allow the Indian Act to determine the success of children any longer.
“Right now as it stands, our First Nation children are not very successful in the provincial school system and we have a plan to fix that and give our children the same advantage as other students in Ontario,” said Madahbee.
‘Say Yes to AES’ (Anishnabek Education System) is the slogan supporters are using to get the message out to the voting communities. Kinoomaadzwin Education Body (KEB) will be the governing board to which the federal government will distribute $110 million. The KEB will then distribute funds to each First Nation community which ratifies the vote, according to the UOI.
Madahbee says the new system is for the future success of Ontario First Nation students from junior kindergarten to Grade 12 and onto post-secondary education.
The UOI agrees there will be learning curves and it will take time for the new education system to take full setting in Ontario, but according to the Grand Chief the children will be better off and will get top notch education in traditional learning such as language and cultural teachings.
Currently there are about 27,000 students under the UOI umbrella – roughly 22,000 of these live in urban areas. Another 2,400 live on the reserve, but attend schools off reserve and 2,100 attend schools on the reserve.
Each of the 39 First Nations are holding a vote which started Nov. 28 and ends Dec. 2, with results to be announced early in 2017. Twelve First Nations must ratify in order for the new education system to be implemented. The UOI says they want the new education system implemented by April, 2018.
In a live stream of the fall assembly in Rama First Nation, Chief Mahadbee announced that 30 communities have indicated an interest in the new education system. He also stated that any First Nation which is not ready can come on board at a later date.
“This is a no-brainer people,” said Mahadbee. “We cannot fear change, remember our people are resilient and smart.”
Dave Shawana, who is part of the education working group at the UOI, said the new education system was a collaborative effort.
“We are moving in the right direction with this and our children are worth it,” said Shawana.
Mahadbee added, “let’s be champions in our children’s educational future, this is one of the most important things we will ever do for our children.”
Julie Pigeon, aboriginal student advisor at Durham College, respects the enormous amount of time and effort to develop such a system, but says the AES will only help those who are under the UOI umbrella.
“My band Cape Croker is not part of the UOI, and I’ve only read parts of the new system and therefore I cannot comment on what the new system is about,” said Pigeon.