On September 15 1874, Treaty 4 was signed at Fort Qu’Appelle between the Canadian government and Cree and Saulteaux First Nations. Additional signings occurred in 1875, 1876, and 1877.
Treaty 4 was negotiated by the Canadian government in order to gain land for European settlement, agriculture, and industry, as well as for the transcontinental railway that would run through southern Saskatchewan.
A key demand of the Cree and Saulteaux First Nations was for education. Since the buffalo had nearly vanished from the prairies, they wanted to acquire new tools that would ensure a strong and prosperous future.
Under Treaty 4, the Cree and Salteaux First Nations relinquished most of current day southern Saskatchewan. In return, they received small parcels of land, as well as long-term government commitments in a number of areas, including education.
The Treaty Commissioner, Alexander Morris, promised the Treaty would last “as long as the sun shines and the water flows.”
WE ARE ALL TREATY PEOPLE
All southern Saskatchewan residents, whether Aboriginal or non-Aboriginal, benefit from Treaty 4. Mosaic Stadium, for example, is situated on Treaty 4 land. So too are Wascana Park, the Cornwall Centre, and all the rest of Regina.
For the past 136 years, the Cree and Salteaux First Nations have kept their side of the Treaty 4 agreement. The Canadian government, on the other hand, has frequently failed to recognize its treaty commitments. Education, “the new buffalo,” as Blair Stonechild terms it, is one of the areas in which the government has broken its treaty promises.
BROKEN PROMISES: EDUCATION
RESIDENTIAL SCHOOLS: 1884–1996
Under Treaty 4, the government promised “to maintain a school on the reserve, allotted to each band, as soon as they settle on said reserve.” Instead, the government implemented the genocidal residential school system, with the aim of assimilating First Nations into European-Canadian society–of “killing the Indian in the child.”
Attendance at the schools was compulsory for all children aged 6-15. Parents who failed to send their children willingly had their children taken from them forcibly.
Students were required to live on school premises and most had no contact with their families for up to 10 months at a time and sometimes for years. The attempt to force assimilation also involved punishing the children for speaking their own languages or practising their cultures.
All students at residential schools experienced cultural abuse. As is now well known, many students were also subjected to physical and sexual abuse. A lesser known fact is that the mortality rate at some schools reached 69%–caused by overcrowding, poor food and sanitation, and a lack of medical care.
In 2008, Prime Minister Stephen Harper apologized to First Nations for the residential school system.
RESERVE SCHOOLS: 2010
Today, children who attend school on reserves receive 30% less funding for education than other Canadian children. That’s $3,000 less per child per annum. Only 20 of Saskatchewan’s 142 on-reserve schools are in good condition.
Is it any wonder that the high school graduation rate for on-reserve schools in Saskatchewan is just 38%, as compared to 90.5% for schools in the provincial education system?
FIRST NATIONS UNIVERSITY: 1976–2010
First Nations University incorporates First Nations values and perspectives into its programs. Given the residential school legacy, it is essential that Aboriginal students have the opportunity to learn in an environment that is self affirming.
Since its inception in 1976, First Nations University has experienced budget deficits. Currently it is trying to stabilize its finances by selling off its Saskatoon campus and terminating 46 positions. The University’s financial problems were no doubt exacerbated by 5 years of institutional mismanagement. However, the underlying reason for the University’s financial difficulties is a lack of proper funding.
- From the beginning, funding per student at First Nations University has been less than at the University of Regina.
- Unlike the U of R, First Nations University did not have its own facilities for the first 27 years of its existence. Administrative and faculty offices, along with classrooms, were scattered throughout the U of R campus, with some even being located in quonset huts. When, in 2003, First Nations did finally acquire its own structure, it had to rent the top two floors to Indian and Northern Affairs in order to pay off the loan on the building. When the U of R puts up a new building, it occupies the whole structure and does not have to locate its faculty offices in the basement–as is the case at First Nations.
- Currently the federal government is refusing to commit to any sustainable ongoing funding for First Nations University.
- Ask Federal Minister of Indian and Northern Affairs, John Duncan, why children who attend school on reserves receive 30% less funding for education than other Canadian children.
- Tell Stephen Harper you want the federal government to commit to sustainable ongoing funding for First Nations University.
- Let federal and provincial government leaders know you want the funding per student at First Nations University to be at the same level as that at the University of Regina.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper: firstname.lastname@example.org or 613-992-4211.
Federal Minister of Indian and Northern Affairs, John Duncan: Duncan.J@parl.gc.ca or 613-992-2503.
Premier Brad Wall: email@example.com or 787-9433.
Provincial Minister of First Nations and Métis Relations, Ken Cheveldayoff: firstname.lastname@example.org or 787-0605.
“Today, elders say that education, rather than the bison, needs to be relied upon for survival.”
Blair Stonechild The New Buffalo