September 12, 2008 10:25 ET

Federal Election: The First Nations call for a debate on the under-funding of their education

GATINEAU, QC, Sept. 12 - Near 300 parents, children and Chiefs from the First Nations communities in Quebec are going to the office Indian and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) to denounce the dramatic situation caused by the chronic under-funding of First Nations education. They want funding for First Nations education to become a priority of the federal elections.

First Nations education is funded according to an old federal formula which dates back to 1988 and has not been indexed to the cost of living since 1996. Consequently, the schools in the First Nations are not able to offer services and salary conditions comparable to those offered by other Canadian schools. Furthermore, this formula has not been revised to take account of new developments and costs in education, while it was done in provincial schools networks. There are important costs to be met, in such areas as operating school libraries, offering sports and recreation activities, and keeping up to date with new technological development. The funding formula does not take account of any of these costs.

Five years ago, under increasing pressure from the First Nations, INAC made the commitment to revise this outdated funding formula. But it has still not been revised. This is the background which explains why our parents and children, accompanied by the Chiefs of their communities, are here today at the INAC Headquarters to stress that the situation has gone on far too long. It is even more severe when we note that there are studies indicating a lack of funding not just for the schools but also for supporting young people who want to go on to post-secondary studies.

Gilbert Whiteduck, Chief of the Algonquin community of Kitigan Zibi, is categorical in his remarks: "We no longer have to demonstrate the under-funding of First Nations education. The First Nations have participated in a large number of studies and consultations, all of which have confirmed this under-funding and the importance of investing in education. But the federal government, which is responsible for First Nations education, has steadfastly refused to increase funding on the basis of these studies and consultations." Chief Whiteduck feels that now is the time for the federal government to finally respect its commitments and responsibilities.

Lise Bastien, Director of the First Nations Education Council (FNEC), points out another important aspect: "Twice, the Minister for Indian Affairs has threatened to attack the funding of First Nations organizations which hold demonstrations to denounce the situation. The Chiefs of the FNEC member communities do not take such a threat lightly. They refuse to be silent and to accept conditions that compromise our right to receive an education of comparable quality to the education received by other citizens."

Just over a year ago, the FNEC launched a campaign ( to build public awareness about the chronic under-funding of First Nations education. Since then, others have joined us in denouncing this situation, including Ontario's Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and the Premier of Quebec.

Ref.: McGuinty gets credit for making native people a priority - Nov 30, 2007 04:30 AM - Ian Urquhart (excerpt from an article about Michael Bryant, Ontario's Minister of Aboriginal Affairs)

"The province could, for example, take over responsibility for on-reserve

schools from Ottawa, which does an abysmal job in this area. But reserve

schools now receive substantially less cash per student than schools in

the rest of the province, so the province would want Ottawa to top up the

funding before the transfer of responsibility took place."

Ref.: The provinces call on Ottawa to meet with the First Nations - Canadian Press Edition of Thursday, July 17, 2008

Mr. Charest affirmed that funding of education in the First Nations would

be among the priority issues to be discussed at a future meeting. He

noted that in Canada, spending on the education of First Nations children

comes to less than half of the amount spent for the education of children

in the non-Aboriginal communities: "In itself, this number tells us a

great deal. There are several priorities, and we don't want to close the

door on this issue."

Free translation

Éva Ottawa, Grand Chief of the Atikamekw Nation, terms the chronic under-funding of First Nations education as appalling: "This unacceptable situation is simply a disgrace and a scandal. It is all the more inexcusable when we note that Prime Minister Harper recently offered an apology on behalf of Canada for the tragedy caused by the residential schools. The Chiefs will assuredly use the calling of a federal election as an opportunity to demand that all the political parties clearly indicate whether they intend to continue this policy of keeping First Nations education in a state of chronic under-funding or whether they intend to put an immediate end to that policy."

The FNEC is an association representing 22 communities of Quebec for more than 20 years. Its main mission is to advocate the interests of First Nations communities to offer better educational services to all First Nations learners.

For more information on the FNEC or on our educational awareness campaign, please visit our website at

Contact Information

  • Thanissa Lainé, Communication Officer, FNEC, Cell.: (418) 932-4351; Raymond Sioui, Assistant Director, FNEC, Cell.: (418) 932-4328