Aboriginal school boards touted - Minister holds early talks with Alberta chiefs
Sarah McGinnis - Calgary Herald
Sunday, March 26, 2006
Indian Affairs Minister Jim Prentice wants to create aboriginal school boards in Alberta to improve the First Nations education system.
Consultation with aboriginal educators, adequate funding levels and respect for programs that are working would be needed to make any school authority a success, warns Siksika Nation chief Strater Crowfoot.
"We're talking in the province of Alberta about (creating) an education authority for Treaty 8, one for Treaty 7 and one for Treaty 6," Prentice said in an interview with the Herald on Saturday.
Education authorities, divided geographically throughout the province and identified by the different treaty numbers, could be similar to the school boards that govern the public school system, Prentice explained.
They could include elected representatives who are made accountable for their decisions, he added.
School authorities are needed because First Nations students don't have the same legislative protection other students do, Prentice said.
"First Nations kids live in this legislative vacuum where there's no legislation that prescribes curriculum and class sizes, children's rights or the rights of children with disabilities," he said.
"These are all things you find in and around the Alberta school legislation. Aboriginal kids don't have that."
While there have been preliminary talks with Alberta chiefs about school authorities, the concept is far from being a workable policy yet, Prentice said.
And Crowfoot agrees there's still a lot of work to be done.
"I think Jim is taking the right step by looking at what can be done to make the system better," said Crowfoot.
"Perhaps having a pan-Alberta approach with . . . better co-ordination with the province may be a good step."
But there has to be much more discussion with affected groups before school authorities can be created, said Crowfoot.
And education discussions shouldn't be limited to chief and councils, he said.
"You have to get the politics out of education. Let the educators decide better how to run the systems," he said.
Adequate funding levels and support systems are also needed to ensure First Nations kids get the best schooling possible, said Crowfoot.
"Just because you put a school board in doesn't mean you're going to get anywhere," said Fraser Institute spokesman Peter Cowley, who added there are already two aboriginal school boards in Quebec.
Cowley organizes an annual report card on education, ranking schools across Canada.
Instead of expanding the educational bureaucracy, the government should release standardized test results so the public can see how serious the problems are in First Nations schools, he said.
By analysing test results, administrators can look for best practices at other aboriginal schools which can be applied to them, he said.