Proceedings of the Standing Senate Committee on
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
Mr. Buteau: I have to say that I am not very familiar with that
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
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
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.
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.)