Proceedings of the Standing Senate Committee on
Aboriginal Peoples

Issue 3 - Evidence - Meeting of April 1, 2009


OTTAWA, Wednesday, April 1, 2009

The Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples met this day at 6:29 p.m. to study on the federal government's constitutional, treaty, political and legal responsibilities to First Nations, Inuit and Metis peoples, and on other matters generally relating to the Aboriginal Peoples of Canada (topic: update on Summit on Aboriginal Education).

Senator Gerry St. Germain (Chair) in the chair.

[English]

The Chair: Good evening. I wish to welcome all honourable senators, any members of the public with us in this room tonight and all viewers across the country who are watching the proceedings of the Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples on the facilities of CPAC and the World Wide Web.

I am Senator St. Germain from British Columbia; I chair the committee. Our mandate is to examine legislation and matters relating to the Aboriginal peoples of Canada generally.

Today is the tenth anniversary of Nunavut becoming Canada's newest territory, the creation of which was a great step forward. Congratulations to the people of Nunavut.

[Translation]

This evening, we welcome a spokesman from the Council of Ministers of Education, Canada, who is going to speak to us about the high-priority issue of Aboriginal education. Allow me first to introduce the committee members we have with us this evening.

[English]

The following senators are here with us this evening: Senator Sibbeston from the Northwest Territories; Senator Brazeau from Quebec; Senator Lovelace Nicholas from New Brunswick; Senator Hubley from Prince Edward Island; Senator Dyck from Saskatchewan; Senator Peterson from Saskatchewan; Senator Campbell from British Columbia; Senator Raine from British Columbia; and Senator Lang from the Yukon.

Education is an issue in which members of this committee are very interested. Senator Dyck from Saskatchewan has shown extreme interest in this particular subject. Today, the Council of Ministers of Education, Canada — CMEC — will appear before us to follow up on the Summit on Aboriginal Education, which was organized by the council and which took place in Saskatoon at the end of February of this year.

[Translation]

The Summit on Aboriginal Education in Saskatoon brought together the leaders of more than 40 aboriginal organizations from across Canada and the provincial and territorial ministers of education. Honourable senators, here to speak to us about it this evening is Mr. Daniel Buteau, Coordinator, Elementary-Secondary Education, for the Council of Ministers of Education, Canada.

[English]

Mr. Buteau, welcome to the committee. We are eager to learn more about the findings of your summit, entitled Strengthening Aboriginal Success: Moving Toward Learn Canada 2020.

Your remarks are very important to us; however, we would ask you to limit them to 15 or 20 minutes, if you possibly can. I am sure senators will have many questions for you on the subject of education.

With that, honourable senators, I call on Mr. Buteau.

[Translation]

Daniel Buteau, Coordinator, Elementary-Secondary Education, Council of Ministers of Education, Canada: Mr. Chair, the Council of Ministers of Education, Canada, is honoured that the committee is focusing on education. We know that the committee has a very broad mandate that includes constitutional matters and other matters affecting Aboriginal peoples. We are very pleased to have been invited to come and present to you some aspects of our Summit on Aboriginal Education.

By way of reminder, I would like to give you some facts about CMEC. The Council of Ministers of Education, Canada is an organization established by ministers of education for ministers of education. It has existed since 1967 and brings together not only the ministers of education responsible for preschool to Grade 12, but also for postsecondary education.

The ministers established CMEC as a forum for discussing matters of strategy and for establishing cooperative projects on a national basis. The forum seeks to lead consultations and engage in discussions with the federal government. CMEC also represents Canada internationally on education matters.

The CMEC chair changes every two years and rotates among the ministers. The current chair of CMEC is the Honourable Kelly Lamrock, Minister of Education for New Brunswick.

At the moment, CMEC is working on three priorities. We have a number of education-related projects, but the three current priorities are: Aboriginal education, literacy, and capacity in postsecondary education institutions. We are also working on our joint ministerial declaration Learn Canada 2020, a vision of education for 2020. The declaration has four pillars: early childhood learning and development, elementary to high school systems, postsecondary education, and adult learning and skills development.

Let me say a few words about CMEC's Aboriginal education initiatives that preceded the summit. CMEC has been specifically focusing on Aboriginal education since 2004. In that year, CMEC announced its commitment to Aboriginal education. In 2005, an action plan on Aboriginal education was launched. The action plan has three priority goals. The first deals with best practices in Aboriginal education. The second deals with the collection of data and indicators in Aboriginal education. The third deals with teacher training.

In 2008, CMEC held an interactive national forum on literacy. We had several sites across Canada, including one in Regina that dealt with Aboriginal education. Also in 2008, as part of the Learn 2020 joint declaration, we reaffirmed Aboriginal education as one of CMEC's three priorities.

In 2008, CMEC committed to hold a summit on Aboriginal education. We held consultations across the country with the five national Aboriginal organizations as well as with CMEC members, the ministers and their regional organizations responsible for Aboriginal education.

On February 24 and 25, 2009, we held the Summit on Aboriginal Education in Saskatoon. The theme was: Strengthening Aboriginal Success in Education, Learn Canada 2020 — Enhancing Aboriginal Success.

[English]

Background work had been done mainly in consulting with national and regional Aboriginal educational organizations on the Aboriginal education needs around the country. Ministers wanted to hear the main concerns at the community level.

Following consultation with the five national Aboriginal organizations and regional Aboriginal organizations, the summit, we believe, was the first time all partners in Aboriginal education were brought together. The summit included provincial and territorial ministers of education, Aboriginal educational organizations and federal government representatives from INAC. The summit provided the first opportunity for all of these partners to meet and discuss issues of common interest. The CMEC's initiative on Aboriginal education has at its heart what we call closing the gap in achievement between Aboriginal learners and non-Aboriginal learners.

We believe the summit was a great success. Unfortunately, I am not able to bring a copy of the report of the finding of the summit. CMEC has a consensus-based decision-making model. Hence, in order for the report to be approved, we need to go through all CMEC channels, a process that at this moment involves 20 departments, so it takes time to achieve consensus on the report. However, I am able to present to you the key findings.

The summit was a great success. The number of participants totalled 218. CMEC ministers participated; provincial and territorial Ministers of Aboriginal Affairs were also invited by their colleagues in education to participate. We also had the leaders of the five national Aboriginal organizations, as well as the leaders of regional Aboriginal organizations, as selected by CMEC ministers. There were also federal government representatives at the summit. The Honourable Chuck Strahl was not able to attend, but he sent us video greetings. I might add that, further to the summit, Minister Lamrock from New Brunswick, the chair of CMEC, met with Minister Strahl to discuss the findings of the summit.

The key goals of the summit were to raise the public profile of First Nations, Metis and Inuit education and to promote awareness of the need to eliminate the gap in educational outcomes, both at the K-to-12 level and at the post- secondary level. Another objective of the summit was to engage on a multilateral basis with the federal government and Aboriginal educational organizations to discuss opportunities to develop strategies to effect policy change and to bring together all partners towards common goals. We also wanted to encourage and build support for partnerships based on dialogue and engagement strategies, together with national and regional Aboriginal organizations.

I shall now turn to critical success factors and outcomes from the summit. First, the broad support for and participation from Aboriginal leaders, we believe, is a key indicator of success. The key achievement of CMEC is that we were able to consult with all organizations and bring 218 participants to the summit. There was also agreement on opportunities for moving forward together among ministers of education, national Aboriginal leaders, regional Aboriginal organizations, and potentially the federal government.

The main findings that I want to report to you are basically what we have heard. As Minister Lamrock said at the outset of the summit, CMEC endeavoured to listen, learn and respond to the concerns and ideas expressed by Aboriginal education partners. I have provided you with copies of two press releases, one we released pre-summit and the other post-summit.

Let me quote from one of those press releases, just to give you an idea of the main concerns — particularly with respect to the federal government. We heard loud and clear that more support is needed from the federal government and that that support is "critical to the success of Aboriginal learners."

The press release goes on to say:

Participants also raised issues such as the need to enhance Aboriginal educational achievement, the need to focus on early learning opportunities, the education funding gap between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal learners, the limited participation in postsecondary education, and the shortage of quality school infrastructure on reserve. Participants also underlined the need to ensure that curricula are reflective of Aboriginal perspectives.

I might add that, from the perspective of Aboriginal organizations, we are talking about the integration of Aboriginal perspectives to curricula not only for Aboriginal learners but as it pertains to the whole population. "We are all Treaty People" is a Office of the Treaty Commissioner in Saskatchewan campaign, a strong belief, that Aboriginal perspectives should be integrated in the curricula for all Canadian learners.

Loud and clear, we heard about the need for support for early childhood development in order to prepare Aboriginal learners for success in schools. The inequity in funding, I have to say, is one of the loudest messages that we heard. In their report to the summit, the Assembly of First Nations, AFN, said that there is an outdated federal funding formula for the funding of Aboriginal education and post-secondary students that was capped at 2 per cent increases per year since 1996, and this is at the same time that the population growth in First Nations communities is 6.2 per cent. The AFN said that the cap has left First Nations communities with an accumulated deficit of $1.7 billion from 1996 to 2005. These challenges do not include the fact that First Nations schools receive no dollars for libraries, technology, sports and recreation, languages, employee benefits and school information management systems, which, I might add, are part and parcel of provincial and territorial systems of education for all learners.

We also heard about jurisdictional issues. An example that came across strongly is jurisdictional issues as they affect Metis learners. We heard of the need for a better partnerships model that brings all partners that are critical to Aboriginal education.

In terms of key functions that CMEC is considering post-summit, first, we shall continue to raise the profile of Aboriginal education and highlight what is being accomplished at the provincial and territorial levels. We shall also share information on promising initiatives by provincial and territorial governments in Aboriginal education.

I might add that one of the things we do best at CMEC is provide the forum for exchange of best practices in all aspects of education. Ministers as well as officials in departments of education appreciate the opportunity that CMEC committees provide to share best practices. In terms of Aboriginal education, we believe this is a key role that we can play.

We want to identify collectively areas of improvement, as well as how to measure and report on progress. We also heard clearly about the need to establish common indicators or benchmarks for the purpose of assessment, accountability and reporting. This is an area where CMEC has made a lot of progress since 2005. CMEC, along with Statistics Canada, has a partnership called CESC, the Canadian Educational Statistics Council, which has a subcommittee on Aboriginal data. There are many challenges in collecting Aboriginal data, but we believe that, since 2005, through the efforts of CESC, and especially the subcommittee on Aboriginal data, we are achieving progress in this area.

Even though this goes beyond education, we have heard clearly that we have to look at serious issues that have a negative impact on Aboriginal education — issues such as poverty, parental engagement, overcrowding, chronic underfunding and infrastructure insufficiencies. Of course, these are areas that go beyond what ministers of education can do. However, ministers of education clearly believe that they can be advocates for action.

To conclude, after the summit, ministers have decided that their best form of action in order to address issues raised at the Aboriginal education summit can be summarized in three words: convene, profile, engage.

Convening, to call together all partners of Aboriginal education to initiate and to further dialogue needed for action. Again, this is an area where CMEC has achieved quite a bit of success in the past 42 years of its existence.

We want to raise the profile of Aboriginal education both at the pan-Canadian level and the international level, and we want to engage all relevant partners for the purpose of action and improvements to Aboriginal education.

We believe the summit was the first step to dialogue. We have achieved quite a bit of success with that, and we are willing to continue moving forward in order to close the gap between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal learners.

The Chair: I now have questions from senators, but I will ask one first, if I may.

How much discussion was there, Mr. Buteau, with regard to the British Columbia Education Jurisdiction Framework Agreement that has been entered into by British Columbia? There is an MOU in New Brunswick with regard to education and First Nations children and the province's involvement, whereas currently it is under INAC.

Was there much discussion from the other provinces that do not have an agreement as such yet? Can you comment on that, please?

Mr. Buteau: Of course, we have heard from Aboriginal organizations from New Brunswick and British Columbia that these were examples of best practice in terms of agreements that can be entered into between provinces and First Nations. We did not have very many questions on these, however. The main focus at the summit was hearing regional representatives expressing their concerns, as well as expressing what works in their jurisdictions. The examples you mention were presented as examples of best practice. The focus of the summit was mainly on other issues.

Senator Campbell: Thank you for appearing. I have a number of questions.

Going back to what the chair said, more than B.C. and New Brunswick, I am interested in the 1999 agreement with the Mi'kmaq. Since we are now 10 years out, has there been a change as a result of the Mi'kmaq taking over their own education?

Mr. Buteau: I have to say that I am not very familiar with that subject.

Senator Campbell: Thank you. I am intrigued. You said that one of the things you were trying to accomplish was to bring the education issue nationally — which I certainly understand. I believe you then said "internationally." Of what help would that be to our Aboriginal peoples? Nationally, we clearly have to do something, but explain how internationally would help our Aboriginal peoples.

Mr. Buteau: CMEC, as I mentioned earlier, is looking at Canada's representation on educational issues. I find it quite interesting that there are similarities between Aboriginal peoples' concerns and Aboriginal peoples' demands in terms of education internationally. It is great to see that there are commonalities in terms of the needs of First Nations internationally. We can also get some ideas regarding best practice in other countries.

Senator Campbell: With respect to successes that have taken place also, I would imagine?

Mr. Buteau: Yes.

Senator Peterson: Thank you for your presentation. I have a couple of questions with respect to funding. Do you track the comparison between federal funding and provincial funding, whether it is matched?

Mr. Buteau: The figure I have here comes from the Assembly of First Nations. At this moment, the Assembly of First Nations estimates that there is a $3,000 gap between the funding per student in reserve schools and the funding per student in provincial-territorial schools. Provinces and territories are spending an average of $3,000 more per student than the federal government spends per student on First Nations schools.

Senator Peterson: It says here that the majority of INAC support comes through programs and assists approximately 23,000 eligible students. The Canadian Association of University Students visited my office a month and a half ago. They indicated to me that there were 13,000 First Nations students who could not obtain post- secondary education because there was no support available to them.

The 23,000 eligible students — is that because the money ran out? It certainly cannot be because they ran out of students. How do they do it? They talk about $314 million that INAC has proposed for post-secondary education.

Mr. Buteau: According to the Assembly of First Nations report, because the increases were capped at 2 per cent, there was no money available for all eligible students.

Senator Peterson: In other words, they ran out of money before they ran out of students to help?

Mr. Buteau: Basically, that would be a good way to summarize it.

[Translation]

Senator Brazeau: Welcome and thank you for your presentation. Could you elaborate on the concrete results of the summit? What are CMEC's future commitments regarding Aboriginal education?

I have participated in a number of summits on various topics such as health, education and economic development. Very often, they are costly affairs without any follow-up to establish where things stand, whether any progress has been made and which concrete measures will be put forward.

Has CMEC confirmed that it will hold a second summit? Has it made any commitments to that end?

Mr. Buteau: At this time, we have not made any commitments to hold a second summit. We are considering possibly hosting a summit on best practices in Aboriginal education. The main outcome of the summit was hearing the concerns voiced by Aboriginal organizations. This gave ministers confirmation that a number of initiatives undertaken by ministries of education were indeed working well.

Even though First Nations' education is under federal jurisdiction, we know that Aboriginal students attend a number of provincial and territorial schools and that we need to improve the services provided to Aboriginal learners in some provinces. We are already doing a great deal to enhance the Aboriginal perspective in curriculum. In a number of provinces, they also discuss the Aboriginal perspective with all students.

The issue of the gap between federal funding and provincial and territorial funding was raised. Minister Lamrock has already met with Chuck Strahl, Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development. The concept of building partnerships and learning more about the areas where we need to increase partner collaboration shows that we have already made progress.

Senator Brazeau: One of the biggest problems is jurisdiction, something we rarely discuss. Aboriginals who live on reserve and Inuit fall under federal jurisdiction.

However, Metis people, and Non-Status and Status Indians living off reserve fall under provincial jurisdiction.

Whether we agree with that division or not, my intention is not to start a debate on the issue but to point out that all it does is contribute to the problem, especially in terms of funding. Before we can determine whether the funding is sufficient, it would be a good idea to know how much the federal government spends on education for Aboriginals who live on reserve. Likewise, it would be interesting to know how much provincial governments spend on education for Aboriginals who live off reserve. All too often, these people are forgotten.

Aboriginals who live off reserve could help to develop curriculum and study the issue of program development for those on reserve. Clearly, the issue of jurisdiction remains. We need to start by finding out how much the federal government spends. Then CMEC could study the issue. We could also invite Aboriginals living off reserve to take part in the process. The schools and infrastructure are already in place. Why not take advantage of these people in order to make the biggest impact?

Mr. Buteau: Let me make two comments. Talks are in progress between officials at Indian and Northern Affairs Canada, CMEC and ministers of education. The federal representatives are very interested in the curriculum and best practices in place at provincial and territorial schools.

As you said, these are very complex issues. One of the difficulties is with respect to Aboriginal students living off reserve and especially urban populations. Through the data strategy, we at CMEC are trying to collect better data on Aboriginal students, mainly where they are and what the measures of success are. One of the biggest obstacles is self- identification. Finding data on Aboriginal learners and families who live off reserve is very hard. Aboriginal identification is not always reflected in data available through Statistics Canada or census data.

CMEC has recently received two research papers on the best methods to promote self-identification. While a number of challenges exist, we want to come up with a better strategy to address the problem. The task is a difficult one, but this will be the first step toward solving the problem you described.

Senator Brazeau: As I mentioned, a good starting point would be for both levels of government, federal and provincial, to be open and to indicate how much they spend on Aboriginal education.

[English]

Senator Hubley: I should like to talk about the gaps. When I looked at the 2001 statistics, I found that 16 per cent of Canadians aged 20 to 24 had not completed high school. Among Aboriginal Canadians of that same age group, 43 per cent had not attended high school. That is a big gap. Again, 20 per cent of non-Aboriginal Canadians between 25 and 65 had completed a university degree, while only 6 per cent of Aboriginal Canadians in the same category had completed university in 2001.

Let us look at 2006 for Aboriginal Canadians of the same age group. The percentage of those who had completely a university degree increased from 6 per cent to 8 per cent over the past five years. That is pretty slow progress. I have been looking at your Learn Canada 2020, which is 10 years away. Is the vision that you have for Aboriginal Canadians going to close that gap any faster?

What was the main barrier to learning faced by the Aboriginal students? Could you also comment on the underlying socio-economic factors that also impede student access? What educational strategies that may have been discussed at your summit, or best practices or vision, have been identified to help overcome these barriers?

Mr. Buteau: First, there is some hope in that, in the statistics you referred to, it was also found that among younger populations the rate of high-school graduation, as well as the rate of participation of Aboriginal students in post- secondary education, has increased. We will certainly work to close the gap towards 2020.

A number of best practices are already in place in some provinces and territories. At the post-secondary level, we rely on the efforts of independent university institutions and colleges, but there are a lot of best practices in, for example, providing daycare for Aboriginal students. There are efforts in many provinces and territories in helping young mothers access university just by providing daycare.

Also, there is an emphasis in some universities on making native studies courses compulsory in many programs, both to enhance the awareness of all students and to better meet the needs of Aboriginal students.

It will be a challenge, but we believe that in many provinces and territories there are already measures in place. Continuing both to establish partnerships and to share practices — by implementing such practices in all provinces and territories in more institutions — will help.

Senator Lovelace Nicholas: Mr. Buteau, you mentioned that committee members have expressed a desire to study Aboriginal education. Are there any Aboriginal members in this Aboriginal summit?

Mr. Buteau: I believe the current Minister of Education for the Northwest Territories is Aboriginal. At the summit, we invited leaders of Aboriginal organizations, and the level of participants was very high.

Senator Lovelace Nicholas: That is good to hear.

I have noticed in my community that First Nations have been asking for meetings with INAC to solve the problem about the schools. The schools are in such poor condition. Did anyone visit these First Nations facilities?

Mr. Buteau: If you allow me to go back to your original question, I might add that at CMEC, since September, we have had an Aboriginal education coordinator, Christy Bressette, who is First Nations from the Sarnia region. We have also established an Aboriginal education working group that groups officials working in Aboriginal education in all provinces and territories. We do have committees that have great expertise in Aboriginal education.

In terms of meeting with INAC, one of the goals of the summit was to convene all partners, including the federal government. There are more conversations taking place with INAC right now. We are working at the public-servant level with officials at INAC and we are certainly supporting the demands of First Nations to have more communication with INAC. Again, one of the goals of the summit was to convene all partners, and CMEC ministers were certainly supportive of helping First Nations and meeting with INAC officials.

Senator Lovelace Nicholas: I think the core of the problem is that the people in this situation, who are the grassroots people, should be contacted.

Racism has often been identified as a barrier for learning. What are the strategies, policies and programs implemented by provincial and territorial governments to address this issue?

Mr. Buteau: At this moment, as programs of studies are revised, there is more of an emphasis on Aboriginal perspectives.

In Western Canada, there is a common curriculum framework in social studies that has integrated Aboriginal perspectives. From that curriculum framework, provinces that are members of the Western and Northern Canadian Protocol are building their program based on these frameworks, which means that there is more of an emphasis on the perspectives of Aboriginal peoples in programs of studies.

There are currently more courses being developed in all provinces and territories, and there is an effort to enhance Aboriginal perspectives, especially in the areas of the humanities, social studies and history.

There has been an emphasis in the past few years on a safe and caring schools initiative, where the problems present at the school level have been identified. Issues of racism were profiled. Provinces and territories in the safe and caring schools initiative work with a positive point of view towards enhancing understanding of one another. Through these changes and programs of study, I believe this understanding is occurring.

As I mentioned, CMEC works mainly on issues of common interest. In order to have a pan-Canadian initiative, we need to have consensus. Even though issues of programs of studies are not always part of the CMEC project, the CMEC project has built on current initiatives that are taken at the provincial-territorial level. We believe Canada's education system is responsive to local needs thanks to the provincial and territorial jurisdictions. At this moment, in each province and territory, there is a keen desire to enhance Aboriginal perspectives for all students, which in the long run will lead to a better understanding and will help in eliminating racism.

Senator Lovelace Nicholas: That is a good start, but much of it comes from the non-Aboriginal teachers as well.

Senator Sibbeston: I should like to ask, Mr. Buteau, whether the Council of Ministers of Education, Canada, and such officials dealt with the matter of Aboriginal education, recognizing the distinction of Aboriginal people where the Aboriginal languages and culture is still very strong.

I bring to mind the Inuit people in the Arctic, or the Dene, and other groups of Aboriginal people, particularly in the northern parts of the provinces, where they have not been in contact with civilization, as we know it, in the south. I am speaking of places where Aboriginal languages are still commonly used and where education then involves educating the people and trying to bring an emerging people into the Canadian system. The question is whether you educate the Aboriginal people in their languages or whether there is a combined process.

Was that issue dealt with by CMEC and others at the summit?

Mr. Buteau: We have heard from many Aboriginal organizations that the issue of language is integral to enhancing Aboriginal success and that there needs to be better recognition and more of an emphasis on Aboriginal languages.

In Nunavut, of course, the official language is Inuktitut. At this moment, I believe the program of studies in Nunavut for all students makes a course in Inuktitut compulsory. In terms of provincial-territorial K-to-12 schools for all students, there is an emphasis more and more on the learning of second languages in many provinces and territories, and more and more you see Aboriginal languages being offered as an option to all students. I am thinking of Alberta, where courses in Blackfoot and Cree are available for all students in some schools.

We have heard about the importance of language and efforts are being made in many provinces and territories.

Senator Sibbeston: I appreciate what you say. Teaching and having courses in the Aboriginal languages is one thing. That is probably the case where either English or French is the common or main language in a school, the language in which people are being taught. However, I am talking of a situation, for example, in the North, where there are Aboriginal people who do not know a word of English — and probably not French, because French is not often spoken in the North. That situation is totally different from the normal situation you would have in the south.

Speaking of Nunavut, it has been a separate territory now for 10 years. As the chair said at the outset of this meeting, today is Nunavut's birthday. As part of the land settlement, the Inuit people hoped that, in time, enough people would be educated from amongst their population — 85 percent are Inuit people and 15 per cent are non-native people — such that the public service in the territory would be representative of its population.

In 2005 and 2006, this was not the case, so Thomas Berger was engaged to look at the situation in the North. He concluded that the system they had on the ground, where Inuktitut was the language of teaching for the first three or four grades, and then a complete switch to English, did not work. In his report, Judge Berger says that the only solution is to provide a bilingual system that works.

As a result, Inuktitut is used until Grade 3 or 4, but after that both English and Inuktitut are used to educate the children. That issue is unique and specialized, as opposed to the issue of educating Aboriginal people in the south, predominantly in either English or French.

We need to make the distinction that there are two unique situations — Aboriginal people who come to the school and only speak their Aboriginal language versus those who know some of their Aboriginal language but are being taught in English or French.

Mr. Buteau: That is an area that the Northwest Territories, Yukon and Nunavut are working on. At the summit, we heard about the importance of Aboriginal languages. Those are definitely strategies that will be explored. I appreciate your comments.

Senator Dyck: Where do we start? Report after report has told us about attainment levels of Aboriginal people. It is heartening to see that CMEC has chosen this as a priority area. You have identified areas where work must be done.

If you were to start, what would be the most important place to start? If you take that first step, to which area would you go?

Mr. Buteau: At this moment, we are working currently on our three priorities. We have done quite a bit of work. As was mentioned, the first of the three priorities of the CMEC Aboriginal Education Action Plan is best practices in Aboriginal education in K-to-12 schools. We have a database of best practices from all provinces and territories that we will launch soon. We will help with that. On teacher training, we also have a literature review on best practices in teacher training. We are working on these areas now.

Senator Dyck: When you talk about teacher training, are you talking about increasing the number of Aboriginal teachers or are you talking about training teachers to be knowledgeable in cross-cultural issues?

Mr. Buteau: We are talking about and working on both.

Senator Dyck: In terms of best practices, do you have a sense of which area of the country has the best schools in closing the gaps in education?

Mr. Buteau: At this moment, I would not comment on where the best schools are. Every CMEC project has a lead jurisdiction. The jurisdiction that has taken leadership on best practices is Nunavut. For teacher-training practices, we have co-leadership between the Yukon and Saskatchewan.

Senator Dyck: In Saskatchewan, since the 1970s there have been band-controlled schools on reserves. One would think that, in Saskatchewan, we have probably achieved a better level of education on-reserve than in provinces where there has not been a similar degree of band control. With band control, there is more likely to be more Aboriginal teachers and more content inclusive of Aboriginal history and language, et cetera.

Did you say that you were looking at post-secondary institutions?

Mr. Buteau: Yes.

Senator Dyck: Are you looking at the number of students and the attainment of Aboriginal students at non- Aboriginal post-secondary institutions?

Mr. Buteau: We are trying to collect data on all of those indicators. In many post-secondary institutions, there are now more courses offered on native studies. There are also teacher-training programs, including a compulsory course on the needs of Aboriginal students. At the University of Saskatchewan, all teachers who graduate have taken a course on the needs of Aboriginal students.

Senator Dyck: You mentioned the name of a body that is looking after collecting statistics on educational attainment levels of Aboriginal students.

Mr. Buteau: It is the Canadian Education Statistics Council, CESC. That body is a partnership between Statistics Canada and CMEC.

Senator Dyck: There is a large amount of data that could be collected. I have gone to the Statistics Canada website and calculated a lot of my own statistics, but there are many gaps. You identified self-identification as one of the issues. Could you expand a little more on what the barriers are in that regard?

Mr. Buteau: As I was saying, the two main issues are self-identification and the size of the statistical database. If we want to look at the needs of Aboriginal students as a whole in terms of education, we have to look at specific First Nations, Aboriginal populations, provinces and territories. The data sample is sometimes so small that it is very difficult to derive reliable statistics.

Senator Dyck: Is asking a student to self-identify permissible?

Mr. Buteau: It is a question that is being examined. There are different strategies to achieve that. At this moment, it is a very sensitive issue.

Senator Dyck: At the University of Saskatchewan, I do not know what was done, but to get around the human rights issue — you are not actually allowed to ask — something was done to be able to collect data about Aboriginal students.

Senator Lang: I agree with the previous speaker. There is report after report and not a lot changes. In a previous life, I was an education minister for four years. This sounds a little like déjà vu — unfortunately, it is now 30 years later.

My first question is on financing. I read this report. What it tells me is that the federal government should put up more money and then everything else will be taken care of. I do not know if I necessarily believe that, but that is the essence of what I have read here.

An INAC report states that 40 per cent of First Nations students living on-reserve attend provincial, federal or privately run schools while, the remaining 60 per cent attend on-reserve First Nations schools. The federal government funds these students directly through tuition agreements with provincial authorities. If it is costing the province $10,000 per year to educate a student, is the federal government paying $10,000 when a student from the reserve attends a provincial school?

Mr. Buteau: To answer this question, I would need to look at specific school boards and specific provincial governments. I do not know exactly what the practices are.

Senator Lang: It would be important to find that out, Mr. Chair. It would give us an idea what we are spending per student.

The Chair: It is something that we could ask our researchers to look at; and Mr. Buteau may be able to find some of this information. Combined, we may be able to get an answer on this, Senator Lang.

Senator Lang: My second question is about parental or band responsibilities. At this summit or at a future summit, I am concerned that there seems to be no discussion about parental or band responsibility in conjunction with the provincial and federal governments. One of the problems we face — and we might as well put it on the table — is that many of these children do not go to school having had breakfast. We then wonder why they cannot get through the school day.

There is a problem far beyond the education system. There is a problem within society of how we are coping with these children prior to school age and then once they get to school.

Did any part of the summit address parental responsibility and a way to encourage that responsibility?

Mr. Buteau: There was definitely discussion on the need for early childhood preparation, in helping students prepare for school. There was discussion on the need for more parental involvement.

In addition, further to the literacy forum that we held last year, the Pan-Canadian Interactive Literacy Forum, we heard a lot about the need to help all children be better prepared for school. This is an issue that is definitely taking the forefront.

Of course, the issue does not only involve education ministers; it also involves health ministers and ministers responsible for early childhood education. This is an issue that definitely has a larger profile now than compared to the past few years. We heard about it at the summit, and it is also an area where education ministers are keen to obtain more information and take more action on.

Senator Lang: I have a further follow-up question on statistics that the senator from Saskatchewan asked about. While each jurisdiction has responsibility for education, we see national statistics that, quite frankly, are outrageous. It is embarrassing for our country, and I feel badly for those young people.

The point was well made that, in Saskatchewan, you may be in a situation where that statistic might be 10 per cent or 11 per cent as opposed to some other area. That may indicate that Saskatchewan is doing some things better than other areas — and perhaps we could learn from them.

My question for your organization is whether you have thought about asking the various jurisdictions to provide a breakdown on their statistics, so that we can compare jurisdictions across the country, not with criticism in mind but to learn from various jurisdictions what we could or should be doing. If that is not done, what will we compare ourselves with?

Before I conclude, the senator from British Columbia asked about the Mi'kmaq Education Act — which is something different. It has been in existence for 10 years. We should be able to determine how their education standards compare to other children provincially, in this case students in the area of Nova Scotia.

Will you be asking for a breakdown from across the country, in order to determine what the statistics say from area to area?

Mr. Buteau: Within the work of the Canadian Education Statistics Council, we look at provincial-territorial data. One challenge in terms of comparing provinces and territories is that not all provinces and territories use common indicators. That is an area where CESC, especially with respect to the Aboriginal data of the committee, is focusing its efforts. The comparability of data across the country is not always obvious, which is also a challenge we are facing.

In terms of the sharing of best practices, that is something we do very well at CMEC. We have been focusing on Aboriginal education since 2005, and our Aboriginal education working group looks at such issues and is looking at trying to find where the best practices are. Through these conversations and pan-Canadian efforts that we have on three priorities, we will work towards better comparability and better programs overall. It is a long-term process, of course.

Senator Lang: Do I take it that, if the political will is there, within the next year or so we will try to get a common denominator across the country so that we can obtain statistics that we can compare? Is that what you just explained?

Mr. Buteau: I would not want to put a one-year limit on it, but we are definitely working towards that goal.

Senator Raine: I wrote down something you said: In order to have a pan-Canadian solution, we need to have consensus.

I would suggest that, when it comes to First Nations, there are so many differences culturally and historically, from one side of our country and up to the North, that we cannot look at this as a blanket solution for everyone because there are so many unique situations. I like the thought that you are looking for best-case examples to spread around. I think that is the way to go.

At this point, is there any particular pocket around the country that is shining for what they are attaining right now?

Mr. Buteau: Currently, in all provinces and territories, there are efforts being made. We are not only looking at pan- Canadian solutions. You are absolutely right; in terms of Aboriginal education, we must look at local particular needs, which is why, at CMEC, when we talk about Aboriginal students, we are keen to always mention First Nations, Metis and Inuit. All provinces and territories have this as part of their practice.

I would say that Saskatchewan is the lead for the Aboriginal Education Action Plan. At this moment, we are seeing many good practices coming out of Saskatchewan. There are good practices in all provinces and territories; each region is keen to meet the needs of its local regional groups.

At the summit, we had an opportunity to visit a school in Saskatoon that is operated by the Catholic school board but is an Aboriginal high school. That was quite an inspirational visit.

All over the country you will find strong good practices. There are the agreements that were mentioned earlier in British Columbia and New Brunswick, and there is the agreement in Quebec. Aboriginal perspectives and programs of study throughout Western Canada are being enhanced. As a CMEC representative, I would have to mention each province and territory. There are good practices happening everywhere.

Senator Raine: I am personally encouraged by the interest in education from the First Nations people that I have met. There is a huge awareness that it is integral to future success.

I was very interested when you spoke about having access to education for young mothers by providing daycare as one of the areas you are looking at. Can you expand on that a little bit? Would you, at the same time as providing access to young mothers, be teaching them how to be involved with their child up to age 6? The earlier children can be exposed to education, especially from their mothers, the better off those children will be.

Mr. Buteau: Those are initiatives established at the level of post-secondary institutions, so I cannot comment from a CMEC perspective.

Senator Raine: You were not talking about young mothers obtaining their high-school education?

Mr. Buteau: No. I was talking about young mothers at the university level. In terms of young mothers at the high- school level, we are looking at an even more intricate situation, with provincial and territorial departments of education having different policies with regard to their school boards.

I am a former high-school teacher; I have seen such programs in some schools. However, at CMEC, we work at reaching consensus between 20 departments. Here we are looking at local high schools and local post-secondary institutions. Therefore, I cannot comment on your question from a CMEC perspective.

Senator Raine: Personally, this is an area where I think there is tremendous opportunity. Obviously, a young mother who is caring for her baby may — probably is, in fact — be missing out on her own education. If a young mother could obtain an education along with parenting skills, it could be very useful.

I have one final question. Has any thought been given to the Montessori program as perhaps providing a model that would be applicable to First Nations education?

Mr. Buteau: I have not heard about that specifically, especially issues in terms of programs of studies and programming. Provincial-territorial departments of education see this as an important area that needs to be responsive to local needs. From a CMEC perspective, issues of programming and study do not always take prominence.

The Chair: We have other business to conduct in camera, honourable senators, and we have a list of senators with questions on the second round.

Senator Campbell: I do not know whether you can answer this, Mr. Buteau. I clearly was labouring under misinformation. The research that was prepared for this committee refers to section 114 of the Indian Act — whereas I thought the federal government had to pay for the education of treaty First Nations people. In our notes it says that First Nations consider education to be a "treaty right" but that the federal government does not consider it a "legal obligation." Do you know anything about this, or am I outside your sphere? If I am, I will take my question someplace else.

I agree with Senator Brazeau. We know there is a $3,000 gap between what the federal government spends on a First Nations student on a reserve and what provincial governments spend per student outside the reserve. It would seem to me the federal government is not paying the bill. I do not know whether that is true. Do you know?

Mr. Buteau: We know that many First Nations students live in urban settings and attend provincial-territorial schools and that, therefore, they are funded at the same level as every other student. Also, in many provinces and territories, as I mentioned, there is a desire to better meet the needs of Aboriginal students at the provincial-territorial schools.

Whether or not there is a funding issue of First Nations students on the part of the federal government, I believe the situation for Aboriginal students attending regular neighbourhood schools has improved considerably in the past few years.

Senator Raine: When I was a school trustee, we had children from a nearby reserve attending our high school. The federal government paid the per-student cost for those students, recognizing that there was no school tax being generated for them. That money went into the school board budget.

Senator Campbell: Did the students live on a reserve?

Senator Raine: They lived on reserve.

Senator Campbell: That is exactly what I am saying. The federal government pays for a student who lives on reserve to attend a provincial school; however, if the student does not live on a reserve, there is no funding.

Senator Raine: No, but the province gets the funding from the taxes it collects, the property taxes, regardless of whether an owner lives on the property or whether a tenant lives on the property.

Senator Campbell: I will not get into it. If you are on the reserve, you get paid. If you are off the reserve, you do not get paid. That is the bottom line, whether it comes from taxes or not.

I have to say that I agree with Senator Raine. I do not like the term "Aboriginal." It reminds me of a big basket of Aboriginal. I prefer the term "First Nations," because it denotes that there are differences. It is like saying that everyone in Europe is the same; everyone in Europe is not the same. The same is true for First Nations people. I really dislike the term "Aboriginal." I prefer the terms First Nations, Inuit, and Metis.

In Vancouver, when I meet a First Nations person who is off the reserve, I am careful not to refer to him or her as a Haida when the person is Squamish. It is like someone referring to me as a person of Irish descent when in fact I am of Scottish descent. Until we start realizing that and taking that into consideration with our education, all the rest of it is gone. We take the religion, we take the language, we take people's social values, and then we expect to build them back up.

I think you are getting a bad rap here, by the way. We assume you are talking about a whole bunch of stuff that really is not here.

When I hear the word "consensual" in the context of a provincial government, I feel as though I have just taken a tranquilizer. It is that bad. I know what will come out of there will be pap for the masses, a little bit of something for everyone.

I commend you on what you are doing here, and I look forward to your reports. I know how difficult it is. We really have to get our head around First Nations and help them come back to where they once were, before we took it all away.

Senator Brazeau: Before I ask my question, I certainly invite anyone who has the information with respect to actual funding with respect to non-Aboriginal as compared to Aboriginals to please forward it, because I have not seen any concrete evidence that that is indeed the case. In any event, we can have that discussion in another arena.

Mr. Buteau, you mentioned best practices in your presentation. I believe I heard correctly earlier that you said that those would be published in some sort of report in the future.

Mr. Buteau: Yes. We are currently working on two reports of best practices. Best practices at the K-to-12 school level will be launched sometime in the year 2009. The other database we are looking at is best practices in teacher- training programs. That database identifies which teacher-training programs include a component that focuses on Aboriginal learners in those institutions, as well as best practices for all teachers in dealing with Aboriginal students. That will be launched closer to 2010.

Senator Brazeau: With respect to the summit that took place involving the Aboriginal leadership, what specifically did CMEC hear directly in terms of best practices in Aboriginal schools and education?

Mr. Buteau: This was not an area that was discussed at the summit. We heard concerns. In terms of best practices, since we had the work that had been previously done by departments of education with their regional Aboriginal organizations, those conversations did include what were best practices. At the summit, we were in a listening mode. We were not in a mode of, "Here is what are we doing for you;" we were clearly listening to what Aboriginal organizations had to say.

Senator Brazeau: Did you have concrete specifics as to what the best practices were?

Mr. Buteau: Again, the best practices that have been collected will be launched, and all participants are aware in their communities of what works. Those are collections of practices already in place.

Senator Brazeau: Is the council doing anything to involve Aboriginal experts in the field of education, such as educators, principals, what not, to attempt to bring them to the table to fast-track the discussion? From my limited experience, when one has a toothache and is looking for a dentist, he or she should not call an electrician. Involving Aboriginal experts is a way to fast-track the discussions, to get some solutions on the table, as opposed to having a forum where, too often, we hear a lot about the challenges and barriers and problems — which are important. Nevertheless, the focus needs to be on solutions as to how we move ahead, get the results and ensure that the statistics are better in the Aboriginal favour.

Mr. Buteau: This is clearly something that we have in mind. When we first were planning for the summit, we knew that if we had 218 people at the table for a high-level political meeting, that a practitioners' summit would have to be at the next stage. We knew that those were the two areas on which we would have to work. We have to work at bringing together political leaders and then we have to bring together practitioners in the field.

The first stage of the summit was the political level. We are now looking at the feasibility of having a practitioners' summit. It is clearly in our planning.

Senator Lovelace Nicholas: I understand that the First Nations leaders wanted to speak at the summit but that there was a debate as to whether they would be allowed to speak. Why is this?

Mr. Buteau: CMEC, as I was saying, is a body for pan-Canadian collaboration and is the best body to enter into a conversation with the five national Aboriginal organizations and the federal government. In the first stages of the thinking of the summit, we thought this was the level at which the CMEC would best work. However, it clearly emerged that there was a need from all provincial and territorial ministers to involve their regional organizations. We have quite a few representatives.

Then it became an issue of logistics. If we have 218 people at the summit, what is the best way for everyone to have the opportunity to express themselves? I can assure senators that all regional Aboriginal organizations had the chance to express their ideas.

The concerns expressed were in the initial logistics planning. We had to simply find room on the agenda for all participants to have a chance to express themselves. I can assure you that we did find ways and that everyone was indeed heard.

Senator Dyck: In terms of statistics, Senator Campbell will be happy to know that statistics are separated into First Nations, Metis and Inuit; they just happen to report the whole figure. Statistics are also broken down into gender — which is related to what Senator Raine was talking about. If you consider Aboriginal students graduating at the secondary and post-secondary institutions, it is predominantly women. Many of the institutions, therefore, have incorporated child care because many of those women are single mothers. If a single mother is to succeed, child care is needed.

When the council is discussing this, did they take into consideration the gender differences in educational attainment, as well as the gender differences in terms of whether they are going to technical institutes versus universities?

Mr. Buteau: We are looking at all of those areas. The issue of gender differences in both high-school graduation and post-secondary participation is clearly emerging. There is more of an emphasis on vocational education as well, looking at how to improve those opportunities. All of the issues you mentioned are emerging issues that we are hearing about more and more. They are definitely taken under consideration.

Senator Dyck: I do not know if you saw the movie Grand Torino, but there is a line in the film that applies to First Nations and Metis communities — that is, the boys end up in prison and the girls get a degree. That sums it up pretty much in one line. That is the trend.

The Chair: That is Clint Eastwood.

Senator Dyck: Concerning the statistics you will gather, does anyone have statistics regarding the on-reserve schools? Do we know where there is a need for a new school building? Do we know where the so-called good schools are, the schools that have libraries that actually have books, the schools that have chemistry labs that actually have chemicals and Bunsen burners, and the schools that have computer labs that actually have computers? Do we have an idea of whether the resources are there and in which schools the resources are actually available, other than just the building and the teachers?

Mr. Buteau: In terms of First Nations schools, since they are the responsibility of the federal government, we do not have those statistics available. From what we heard from the Assembly of First Nations, this is an area where there are critical needs.

Senator Raine: I would like to thank you for coming. There is a huge amount of work to be done. The questions I was planning to ask have already been covered. I will not say anything more other than to tell you a little story.

As I was getting on the plane a couple of weeks ago to come here, I bumped into a fellow I know who happened to be a former chief of a band nearby, and he was telling me that he had just received his PhD. He laughed and put his arm around his wife, who said, "So now we are a pair of docs." She had her PhD as well.

There are many things happening out there.

The Chair: Thank you, senators. We owe a lot to Mr. Buteau, who answered many questions that went above and beyond the mandate of his responsibility. However, it is encouraging to see provincial involvement, because the provinces have the infrastructure and the ability to educate people. I believe their involvement will make a significant difference. Our greatest resource is our young people. There are so many young Aboriginal First Nations, Metis and Inuit children who require assistance in this area. There is no question that funding is an issue. It always has been.

Thank you, Mr. Buteau.

If there is nothing else at this point, we will go in camera.

(The committee continued in camera.)


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