Making Peace Vigil

Standing up for peace

NATIONAL ABORIGINAL DAY

Posted by strattof on June 18, 2011

Wednesday June 21st is National Aboriginal Day. First celebrated in 1996, it is a day for all Canadians to recognize the cultures of First Nations, Métis, and Inuit peoples and their contributions to Canadian society.

National Aboriginal Day is also a good time to think about the dismal and ongoing legacy of colonialism and racism here in Saskatchewan and across Canada, as well as to remember all the treaty promises that were made and have been broken.

All Canadians benefit from the treaties signed between First Nations and the Canadian government. Regina, for example, is situated on land ceded under Treaty 4 in 1874. Under Treaty 4, the Cree and Salteux 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.

First Nations have kept their side of the treaty agreements. 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: 2011

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.

2% CAP

In 1996, the federal government imposed a 2% growth cap on all Indian and Northern Affairs funding. The cap has had a particularly harmful effect on education programs.

  • The 2% cap is the reason that children who attend school on reserves receive 30% less funding for education than other Canadian children.
  • The 2% cap is the reason that 13,447 First Nations students were denied access to Post-Secondary Education funding between 2001 and 2008. (More students have been denied access every subsequent year.)

THE EDUCATION GAP

  • The high school dropout rate for on-reserve schools across Canada is 50.9%, as compared to an 8.5% dropout rate for all other schools in Canada.
  • The high school graduation rate for on-reserve schools in Saskatchewan is 38%, as compared to 90.5% for schools in the provincial education system.
  • 17% of First Nations have a post-secondary education, as compared to 40% or non-Aboriginal Canadians.

LIFT THE CAP, ELIMINATE THE GAP

Call on the Canadian government 1) to lift the cap on funding for First Nations education and 2) to index increases for First Nations education programs to inflation and population growth, retroactive to 1996, the year the cap was introduced.

“Today, elders say that education, rather than the bison, needs to be relied upon for survival.” —Blair Stonechild, The New Buffalo

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