McGuinty vows to improve First Nations schools

TheStar.com – news/canada/politics
Published On Tue Nov 22 2011.   By Tanya Talaga, Queen’s Park Bureau

Premier Dalton McGuinty made a surprise commitment in Tuesday’s throne speech to improve standards in First Nations schools.

During the election, McGuinty promised the Star’s editorial board to press Ottawa for greater provincial control over the woeful state of federal-run native education.

“We have a moral obligation to ensure that every child growing up in this province has all the opportunities they need to grow up strong, be the best they can be and realize their potential,” he told reporters Tuesday.

Education is a federal responsibility. However, Ottawa funds native children $2,000 to $3,000 less per student each year than the provinces provide to non-native kids. That means a lack of teachers, school supplies, even playgrounds and libraries.

And in some isolated northern communities, there are simply no schools. A recent Star investigation revealed six First Nations teens — hundreds of kilometres away from home just so they could go to high school – died in the waters leading to Lake Superior. Another teen asphyxiated at her boarding house.

But helping First Nations kids helps Ontario, McGuinty said. Native youth are the fastest growing group in their demographic.

“When we want to take on emerging economies and succeed in a very competitive and turbulent economy we need our people at their best,” he said.

It is time for Ottawa to engage in an “important” conversation about “unleashing” the provincial government to help improve standards, he said.

“They are not good at education. They don’t do education, we do education. And there are now international authorities who say we have the best public education system in the English-speaking world.”

Ottawa must correct the funding imbalances so native kids receive the same funding as other children in Ontario schools, McGuinty added.

“Let us take this on. Let us work with First Nations and develop a curriculum that speaks to their needs and aspirations,” he said.

The provincial ministers know something must be done to lift aboriginal education standards, said Ontario Regional Chief Angus Toulouse.

“Why does a 14-year-old have to leave home to get a secondary education?” he asked before speaking at the Ontario Economic Summit.

“The reality is, 14-, 15-, 16-year-olds aren’t receiving any parenting once they leave their communities . . . the culture shock they experience is, I am sure, quite traumatic.”

The funding discrepancy on what is spent on First Nations children compared to non-aboriginal kids has been known for years, Toulouse added.

A federal panel on First Nations learning has just finished in Ottawa, but more studies or commissions are not needed, said Toulouse who represents the 133 First Nations within the boundaries of Ontario.

“We need the political will of the government to implement what has been said for 10 or 15 years,” he said. “Provide some equity and respect.”

< http://www.thestar.com/news/canada/politics/article/1090965–mcguinty-vows-to-improve-first-nations-schools >

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