Liberals need to revisit local education funding

News that the federal government had reduced funding to Kenjgewin Teg Educational Institute was received with some considerable shock, along with a somewhat reasonable sense of betrayal, by those who have placed great stock in the Liberal government’s promises to address the education gap being faced by First Nations.

A close examination of funding changes suggests that much of the missing funds have gone to Laurentain University, a laudable beneficiary it may be, but when measured against the success of a First Nations institution, located on reserve and with a committed mandate to provide education within a culturally infused milieu—clearly in keeping with the goals and aspirations of the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission—observers are left shaking their heads.

As has been often pointed out by First Nations leaders recently, although the party at the helm of the government may have changed, those bureaucrats doing the actual paddling remain the same as they were under the previous regime, with what appears to be much of the same agenda.

With less than a week until classes are set to begin in the new school year, there is still a deafening silence coming from the bureaucracy as to the fate of a large portion of the KTEI federal funding. If this is how a demonstrably successful approach to improving the educational attainment of indigenous people on the ground is treated by the government—the only reasonable conclusion an outside observer can come to is: plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose—the more things change, the more things stay the same.

If they are truly serious about changing the way that the government deals with First Nations and indigenous peoples across this nation Prime Minister Trudeau and Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett need to put a much stronger bite in their steering oars.

Local educational institutions like KTEI not only provide culturally appropriate approaches to learning, they also bring a significant economic benefit to the communities in which they are based. KTEI is not alone in facing the cuts that have impacted local education, there are a number of such institutions across Ontario that have also been hit with these cuts, delivered almost without warning, far too late in the day to allow effective planning and the consideration of other avenues to provide the training and education the federal government has historically failed in its obligation to provide.

Putting more money in the institutions that have historically, and somewhat spectacularly, failed to address the challenge at the expense of innovative approaches that incorporate local expertise that have a proven record of success is not following the path to a building a new relationship. It is a vindication of those who have painted the current government as presenting an old doll wearing new hair.  At the end of the day it will fall apart.