Chapter 5: First Nation Representation

In Ontario, First Nation students who live in First Nation communities attend schools in their own communities or the province’s publicly funded schools. In 2011-12 approximately 14,000 First Nation students attended schools in their own communities and approximately 6,100 attended elementary and secondary schools in Ontario’s publicly funded school system. Financial responsibility for the education of First Nation students resident in First Nation communities, whether they attend publicly funded schools or schools in First Nation communities, falls under the jurisdiction of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada (AANDC).

First Nation students who live in First Nation communities and attend schools operated by a district school board or school authority do so under an education services (tuition) agreement. These agreements are legal and binding. They outline programs and services for the First Nation students, fees that will be paid to the school board for these services, and reporting requirements. They provide a basis for the relationship between the First Nation community and the board.

Forty-one public and Catholic school boards in Ontario have education services agreements with First Nation communities. The appointment of First Nation Trustees to a school board is related to education services agreements and is outlined in Ontario Regulation 462/97. (First Nations Representation on Boards) First Nation representation on a school board is determined first by the existence of one or more education services agreements and then by the number of First Nation students attending the board’s schools.

Historical Context

The following key events in the history of First Nation education in the post-contact era are included in a historical timeline in “Education Services (Tuition) Agreement Guide – A Resource for Ontario School Boards and First Nations, 2012.”

1763: Royal Proclamation of October 1763 is signed. This document explicitly recognizes aboriginal title; aboriginal land ownership and authority are recognized by the Crown as continuing under British sovereignty. It states that only the Crown could acquire lands from First Nations and only by treaty. By the 1850s major treaties are signed with First Nations east of the Rocky Mountains.

1867: Canada is created under the terms of the British North America Act

1876: The Indian Act is established.

1867 to 1950: The Indian Residential School system was funded by the federal government.

1950s - 1960s: With the federal policy for cultural integration, First Nation students began to attend publicly-funded schools.

1969: The release of the White Paper, the federal position “Statement of the Government of Canada on Indian Policy” was met with opposition by First Nations. This paper proposed the transfer of federal responsibility for education to the provinces and territories.

1972: The First Nation response to the White Paper was the release of “Indian Control of Indian Education” by the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) predecessor, the National Indian Brotherhood, ultimately calling for Indian jurisdiction over their own education and direction of reforms in this area.

1970s: The beginning of the Tuition Agreement process, to which the federal government and school board were the only negotiating parties, also meant the beginning of integration of on-reserve First Nation students into publicly-funded provincial schools.

1982: Canada’s Constitution Act, Section 35, recognizes and affirms existing Aboriginal and treaty rights.

1991: The federal government document, The MacPherson Reporton Tradition and Education: Towards a Vision of Our Future, expressed support for the recommendations made in the AFN’s paper “Traditionand Education” regarding a complete transfer of authority of First Nation education to First Nations through constitutional reform and the development of a national First Nation education law.

1994: First Nations fully participate in development and negotiation of tuition agreements with district school boards. The federal government removes itself from the process in all but a small number of situations. However, the federal government remains responsible for funding the cost of education for students living in First Nation communities.

June 11, 2008: Federal Statement of Apology regarding Residential Schools.

July, 2010: “First Nation Control of First Nation Education” released by the Assembly of First Nations. Emphasis is on Reconciliation of First Nation rights within education acts across Canada; Education Guarantee; Sustainability; Systems and Support; and Partnerships.

November, 2010: Canada endorses the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People (UNDRIP).

Secondary school textbooks produced by the Ministry of Education for use in Native Studies courses provide a comprehensive list of resources that offer the historical overview of First Nations education in Canada. These textbooks are: Aboriginal Peoples in Canada and Aboriginal Beliefs, Values and Aspirations in Contemporary Society.

Education in First Nation Communities

Ontario has 133 First Nations. Education for First Nation students who reside in a First Nation community is funded federally by Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada (AANDC). Most First Nation communities have schools that operate under the authority of the community’s Chief and Council. They are referred to as Band-operated schools. A few First Nations have opted to retain federally-operated schools. First Nation communities with schools generally offer only elementary school to a specific grade and most do not have secondary schools.

The First Nation communities that have schools, set local education policy and manage their own operations. Responsibilities include:

  • staffing (hiring teachers, including Native-language teachers; administrators; and support staff);
  • managing budgets;
  • determining the curriculum;
  • evaluating educational programs;
  • setting up and administering cultural, early childhood education, and adult education programs;
  • setting up and administering counselling services;
  • providing secondary support services and support budgets;
  • distributing financial assistance for postsecondary education; and
  • operating and maintaining school buildings.

Upon completion of the schooling offered in the community, students transfer into public or private schools to further their education. The communities that do not have a school enroll their students into public or private schools for the entire duration of their education.

Education Services (Tuition) Agreements

Section 188 of the Education Act permits school boards to enter into agreements with a band council, a First Nation education authority, or AANDC. The fees calculated for students under an education services agreement are similar to the amounts provided to boards for their resident pupils. The calculation of fees is set out in an Ontario regulation which is filed annually to maintain consistency with the provincial funding formula. The regulation sets out a formula that generates a per-pupil dollar amount associated with a First Nation student who is attending a school in a provincial school board. The fees regulation addresses the base tuition fee, additional costs and a pupil accommodation charge. This latter charge is a modest, standard charge that reflects building costs, since these costs are not included in the base tuition fee. The pupil accommodation charge has remained constant since the introduction of the 1998 funding formula.

The base tuition fee includes most allocations of the Grants for Student Needs (GSN), but it does not include transportation, capital costs, and certain components of the Special Education Grant that are claims-based to provide for the profound needs of an individual child.

Additional fees may be charged in exceptional circumstances where the base fee does not totally or only partly covers certain costs associated with the provision of an educational program, a service, or equipment that the First Nation has requested or that the board has recommended and the First Nation has agreed to. Examples might include a Special Incidence Portion (SIP) to address a student'shealth and/or safety needs, provision of a specific cultural program, provision of First Nation student advisers in schools; hiring of additional staff funded through a First Nation job creation program.

Education services agreements will vary, depending on the types of services and programs that the First Nation community and the board agree should be provided. Once the education services agreement is in place, the board is committed to providing the programs and services in the agreement.

The agreement between the board and the First Nation contains the details of the standard services that are provided to all students, other specific services to be provided to the First Nation students covered by the agreement, communication and reporting requirements, and fees that are payable to the school board for the education services provided.

Beyond the contractual obligations, however, the board has a general obligation to provide:

  • educational services on par with the general provincial standards;
  • an educational environment and teaching staff that respects First Nation, Métis, and Inuit cultures;
  • First Nation, Métis, and Inuit cultural-specific programs;
  • consistent and timely reporting to the First Nation education authority; and
  • First Nation involvement in schools attended by First Nation students.

Section 185 of the Education Act permits school boards to enter into agreements with a band councilor First Nation education authority regarding the admission of board pupils to an elementary First Nation school. These arrangements are commonly known as reverse or reciprocal tuition fee agreements.

More information on Education Service (tuition) Agreements can be found in the “Education Services (Tuition) Agreement Guide – A Resource for Ontario Schools Boards and First Nations, 2012.”

The Role of School Boards

Beyond the contractual obligations school boards have under educationservices agreements, the opportunity is available to them to play a significant role in developing education programs that meet the unique needs of First Nation, Métis, and Inuit students at both the elementary and secondary levels. There are, according to the Statistics Canada 2011 National Household Survey approximately 78,000 First Nation, Métis, and Inuit school-age children living within the jurisdiction of school boards across Ontario. School boards also recognize the need for education programs for all students that include perspectives on the role of First Peoples in Canada’s history, the importance of treaties and the value of learning experiences that draw on the rich cultures, perspectives, world views and contributions of First Nation, Métis, and Inuit peoples.

First Nations, Métis and Inuit communities are interested in finding ways to promote and support the success and well-being of their children.The role of all trustees, not just First Nation trustees, is to help create the vision and set the strategic direction that will guide the board and its schools. They have a responsibility to represent First Nations, Métis and Inuit students and their families at the board table and beyond to ensure their voices are heard and to promote student success and well-being.

Ontario’s First Nation, Métis, and Inuit Education Policy Framework

Ontario’s First Nation, Métis, and Inuit Education Policy Framework sets out objectives and strategies designed to meet two primary challenges by the year 2016 – to improve achievement among First Nation, Métis, and Inuit students and to close the gap between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal students in literacy and numeracy, student retention, graduation rates, and advancement to post-secondary studies. The framework clarifies the roles and relationshipsamong the ministry, school boards,and provincially funded elementaryand secondary schools in supportingFirst Nation, Métis and Inuit students to achieve their educational goals and in closing the gap in academic achievement with their non-Aboriginal counterparts by 2016.

The introduction to the framework describes its directions as follows:

“The strategies outlined in the framework are based on a holistic and integrated approach to improving Aboriginal student outcomes. The overriding issues affecting Aboriginal student achievement are a lack of awareness among teachers of the particular learning styles of Aboriginal students, and a lack of understanding within schools and school boards of First Nation, Métis, and Inuit cultures, histories, and perspectives. Factors that contribute to student success include teaching strategies that are appropriate to Aboriginal learner needs, curriculum that reflects First Nation, Métis, and Inuit cultures and perspectives, effective counselling and outreach, and a school environment that encourages Aboriginal student and parent engagement. It is also important for educators to understand the First Nations perspective on the school system, which has been strongly affected by residential school experiences and has resulted in intergenerational mistrust of the education system. It is essential that First Nation, Métis, and Inuit students are engaged and feel welcome in school, and that they see themselves and their cultures in the curriculum and the school community.”

Since it was released in 2007, intensive and successful efforts, supported by Ministry funding, have been made in school boards across the province to move towards realization of the objectives of the policy framework. A holistic and integrated approach is required in order to improve Aboriginal student outcomes. Factors that contribute to student success include teaching strategies that are appropriate to Aboriginal learner needs, curriculum that reflects Aboriginal cultures and perspectives, effective counselling and outreach, and a school environment that encourages Aboriginal student and parent engagement.

(Greater detail on the role of school boards in advancing First Nation, Métis and Inuit Education can be found in Chapter 9, Curriculum, Student Achievement and Well-Being, and Special Programs.)

The Role of First Nation Trustees

First Nation Trustees are appointedto a school board by their community when First Nation students of the community attend the board’s schools under an education services(tuition) agreement. This is provided for in Ontario Regulation 462/97 (First Nations Representation on Boards).

The Regulation sets out the conditions governing the number of First Nation trustees that boards which have one or more tuition agreements in place can appoint. These are:

  • Where the number of First Nation students enrolled in the schools of the board is fewer than the lesser of 10 per cent of the average daily enrolment and 100, the board has the discretion of appointing a First Nation trustee to the board.
  • Where the number of First Nation students enrolled in the schools of the board is more than 100, the First Nation(s) may name one person and the board shall appoint that person to be a member of the board.
  • Where the number of First Nation students exceeds 25 per cent of the average daily enrolment of the board, the First Nation(s) may name two persons and the board shall appoint those persons to be members of the board.

A person appointed to the board to represent the interests of the First Nation students is deemed to be an elected member of the board, with all the rights and responsibilities of the position.

The role of all trustees is to help create the vision and set the strategic direction that will guide the board and its schools. As the representative of First Nation students, the First Nation trustee is in a unique position to ensure that First Nation culture is part of that vision and that the strategic direction of the board includes the interests of First Nations.

The First Nation trustee is responsible for:

  • ensuring that the actions of the board reflect the education services agreement;
  • ensuring that both parties to the agreement are fulfilling their obligations;
  • ensuring that mechanisms are in place for effective accountability to the First Nation community;
  • ensuring a high-quality academic and cultural education for First Nation students; and
  • ensuring that First Nation students are free from any expression of racism and harassment as students of the board’s schools.

The First Nation trustee has a key role in representing the interests of the First Nation communities at the school board level and ensuring that there is dialogue with the First Nation communities about the work of the board and, in particular, matters affecting First Nation students. The First Nation trustee is also in a position to encourage the involvement of the parents and the First Nations communities in their students' education. This value is embedded in Ontario’s First Nation, Métis, and Inuit Education Policy Framework.

A majority of Ontario school boards have established First Nation or Aboriginal Advisory Committees. These provide a forum for discussing First Nation education issues and contributing to initiatives that ensure the implementation of the First Nation, Métis and Inuit Policy Framework within the board. In these committees, the First Nation trustee is usually the chair or co-chair, and membership includes a representative from each First Nation that has students in the board’s schools. Some education services (tuition) agreements also specify First Nation representation on the school board’s Special Education Advisory Committee (SEAC). Where a First Nation trustee is required by regulation to be a member of the board, the SEAC must also have one or two First Nation members to represent the interests of First Nation students.

Models for First Nation Representation

A majority of Ontario school boards have strong structures in place to ensure vibrant First Nation representation. More than 50 school boards have First Nation, Métis and Inuit Advisory Committees which provide for community involvement in issues affecting the education of First Nation, Métis and Inuit students. Examples include:

  • Algoma District School Board and Huron-Superior Catholic District School Board have a joint Aboriginal Education Committee whose mandate includes improving student achievement, increasing cultural awareness, sharing resources and promoting and strengthening respectful meaningful partnerships with Aboriginal communities.
  • The Conseil scolaire de district catholique du Nouvel-Ontario (CSCNO) collaborates with its students and their families and Aboriginal educational partners through the AboriginalEducation Advisory committee. The committee examines priorities and strategies in Aboriginal education in the board’s schools and makes recommendations for educational planning to better meet student needs.
  • Kenora Catholic District School Board’s First Nation, Métis and Inuit Advisory Committee supports schools by maintaining contact with parents of Aboriginal students, involving local Elders in prayer services, helping to integrate Aboriginal content throughout the curriculum and sharing information about current cultural events.
  • District School Board Ontario North East has an active First Nations Education Committee which provides advice to the Board on programs and services related to students from First Nations communities. Students at Timmins High School used the Students as Researchers Toolkit to create a seven-member Aboriginal Youth Advisory Council to voice their opinions about issues that matter to them, as part of the SpeakUp initiative. This group discusses the experiences Aboriginal youth face as they transition to provincial schools.
  • Lakehead District School Board has an Aboriginal Education Advisory Committee, has led a project in Urban Aboriginal Education and developed a range of resources including “Aboriginal Presence in Our Schools: a Guide for Staff.”
  • Peel District School Board has a First Nation, Métis and Inuit Education Advisory Circle which provides an open forum for First Nation, Métis and Inuit community-based organization and board staff to dialogue about concerns relating to First Nation, Métis and Inuit student engagement, achievement and ongoing success.
  • Rainbow District School Board has strong initiatives in place including a vibrant confidential, voluntary self-identification initiative; the First Nation Advisory Committee includes members from the eleven First Nations in the district.
  • Thames Valley District School Board has a First Nations Advisory Committee which makes recommendations to the Board, provides a forum to share issues or concerns with regard to programs and services, and celebrates the accomplishments of the First Nation students in the board’s schools. The Board also has a First Nation, Métis and Inuit Student Advisory Council which focuses on commun-ications, FNMI perspectives within the curriculum and extracurricular activities, course selection and encouraging First Nation, Métis and Inuit students to challenge themselves.

Resources

The Ontario legislation concerning First Nation representation on school boards is found in Section 188 of the Education Act and in Ontario Regulation 462/97, “First Nations Representation on Boards”. More information on First Nation representation can be found at the Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development website, at: http://www.aadnc-aandc.gc.ca