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Picking Up the Pieces: A School Community-Based Approach to First Nations Education Renewal (September 2014)

Policy Research Paper | September 2014
“Picking Up the Pieces”:
A Community-School-Based Approach
to First Nations Education Renewal
By Paul W. Bennett and Jonathan Anuik
Policy Research Paper | September 2014
“Picking Up the Pieces”:
A Community-School-Based Approach
to First Nations Education Renewal
By Paul W. Bennett
and Jonathan Anuik
About NPI
About the Authors
Executive Summary
1.0 Introduction: First Nations Education and the Limits of Bureaucratic Reform
2.0 The Federal Initiative: The Proposed Reform and Its Origins
3.0 The Curriculum Question: Whose Curriculum — and for What Purpose?
4.0 Governance Policy Options and Alternatives
Benevolent Bureaucratic Rule (The Status Quo/Indian Act Legacy)
Managed Devolution(School Boardization)
The Autonomous Community Education Authority Model
The Community-School-Based Management Model
5.0 The Case for Community-School-Based Management Renewal
6.0 Summary and Recommendations: Making First Nations Schools Work
7.0 Figures and Tables
8.0 References
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Paul W. Bennett
Paul W. Bennett, EdD (OISE/Toronto), is
Founding Director of Schoolhouse Consulting
and Adjunct Professor of Education at Saint
Mary’s University, Halifax, Nova Scotia. Dr.
Bennett is a widely recognized leader
in Canadian education. From 1997
until 2009, he served as headmaster
of two of Canada’s leading
independent co-educational day
schools, Halifax Grammar School
and Lower Canada College.
He has written or co-authored
eight books, includingCanada: A
North American Nation (1998 and
1995);Vanishing Schools, Threatened
Communities; The Contested
Schoolhouse in Maritime Canada,
1850–2010 (2011); and The Last Stand:
Schools, Communities and the Future of
Rural Nova Scotia (2013).
Today Dr. Bennett is primarily an education
policy analyst and commentator, producing
regular columns for the Halifax Chronicle
Herald,magazine articles for Progress Magazine,
and a variety of publications. His most recent academic
articles have appeared in Acadiensis,Historical Studies in
Education, and the Royal Nova Scotia Historical Society Journal. Over
the past ve years, he has produced major policy papers for the Atlantic Institute for Market
Studies, the Society for Quality Education, and the Canadian Accredited Independent Schools
Association. He specializes in K-12 educational policy, education history, educational standards,
school governance, teacher education, and special education services. He is currently chair of
the Board of Halifax Public Libraries and a board member at Churchill Academy, a Dartmouth,
Nova Scotia, school for students with severe learning disabilities.
About the Authors
Jonathan Anuik
Jonathan Anuik, PhD (University of
Saskatchewan), is Assistant Professor,
Theoretical, Cultural and International
Studies in Education in the Department
of Educational Policy Studies at the
University of Alberta, Edmonton. In
addition to his PhD, he holds an
Hons. BA in History from the University
of Saskatchewan, and an MA in
History from Memorial University
of Newfoundland. Over the past
decade, Dr. Anuik has produced
dozens of academic papers and
book reviews on every aspect of
First Nations and Métis education.
Working under Dr. Marie Battiste,
he emerged as a leading scholar
instrumental in researching the
“Learning Spirit” and developing the
Holistic Lifelong Learning Framework for
Aboriginal education.
Dr. Anuik is a leading Métis scholar. His PhD
thesis won the Canadian History of Education
Association Founders’ Prize in 2010, and his rst book,
First in Canada: An Aboriginal Book of Days (Regina,
2010) captured a 2011 Saskatchewan Book Award. His
conference papers, academic articles, and book reviews appear
regularly in the Prairie Forum, Canadian Journal of Native Education, and the Alberta Journal
of Educational Research. Throughout 2010 and 2011, he presented a series of professional
conference papers on “Nourishing the Learning Spirit” all over the Americas in Toronto, Montreal,
Ottawa, and San Luis Posti, Mexico.
Since 2002, Dr. Anuik has taught educational history and First Nations and Métis education
courses at Memorial University of Newfoundland, the University of Saskatchewan, Lakehead
University, and the University of Alberta. He is now writing a second book on Missions, Churches,
Modern Schools, Métis Families, and Communities in Saskatchewan, from 1866 to1980.
Executive Summary
First Nations Education has been the
focus of a great deal of controversy
and discussion in recent months. The
latest proposed “solution” put forth in
Bill C-33 was built around an enhanced
federal nancial contribution. The bill
was, however, ultimately
rejected by many rst
nations and subsequently
abandoned by the
government. . In “Picking
up the Pieces,” Paul
Bennett and Jonathan
Anuik demonstrate why
the education reform
proposed in Bill C-33
missed the mark. More
money in the form of
increased capital funding
might have brought
modest gains to on-reserve
schooling, but replacing
one bureaucracy with
another rarely changes
the state of education or
improves the quality of
student learning at the
school or community level.
A community school-
based approach,
respectful of what
Indigenous scholars such
as Marie Battiste term the
“learning spirit,” that supports a real shift
in the locus of decision-making, stands a
far better chance of making a difference
and improving the achievement of all
Indigenous children and youth.
Education governance is a contested
democratic terrain. Provincial district school
boards across Canada are currently facing
a public crisis of condence, and the
proposed Act ran the risk of perpetuating
that problem by extending it into First
Nations communities. Publicly elected
trustees and school-level administrators now
voice serious concerns, most recently in a
2013 Canadian School Boards Association
study, that “centralization” is slowly
choking-off local-decision-making and
rendering elected boards
powerless. Simply enabling
the establishment of school
boards may well reinforce that
centralization impulse.
First Nations control over
education now involves a
transformation enabling
First Nations to develop
educational programs and
practices rooted in Indigenous
knowledge systems and
consistent with Aboriginal
ways of learning, exemplied
recently in what First Nations
call Holistic Lifelong Learning
Models. However, instead of
accepting the centrality of First
Nations knowledge systems
as an essential pre-condition
to discussion, Ottawa focused
on advancing a plan more
narrowly focused on improving
employability skills, reected
in student achievement and
graduation rates.
The declaration between the federal
government and the Assembly of First
Nations (AFN) on February 2014 speaks of
“mutual accountability” yet insisted upon
a core curriculum that “meets or exceeds
provincial standards,” requiring students
to meet minimum attendance standards,
teachers to be ofcially certied, and
schools to award “widely-recognized”
By 2026, the
on reserve
First Nation
population of
407,300 in 2000
is expected to
increase by 64%
to 667,900.
diplomas and certicates. Following the
declaration, a small group of First Nations
people, sparked by Blood First Nations
activist Twila Eagle-Bear Singer, began
wearing “blue dots” symbolizing the
tradition of exclusion. Subsequently, First
Nations leaders across Canada not party to
the national agreement coalesced, forcing
the AFNs Chief Shawn Atleo to resign and
the rejection of Bill C-33.
With the federal bill broken into pieces,
the authors propose an alternative model
for First Nations schools that they term
“Community School-Based Management”
renewal. That approach embraces a
mode of decision-making that has much
in common with First Nations ways and
practices, and most notably the “Talking
Circle” tradition of the Mi’kmaq.
Pioneered in the Edmonton Public Schools
in the 1980s and now adopted by the World
Bank in its international education initiatives,
the essential concept of “school-based
management” would seem to be more in
accord with the aspirations of First Nations
for a greater measure of self-government in
The First Nations population is not only young
but growing rapidly, creating a sense of
urgency. Forty-two percent of the country’s
registered Indian population is 19 years of
age or younger as compared to 25% of the
Canadian population as a whole. By 2026,
the on-reserve First Nation population of
407,300 in 2000 is expected to increase by
64% to 667,900.
Educating First Nations children and youth
is too important to be left solely to the
federal ofcials who still tend to set the
education agenda for AFN chiefs. We
urge the Canadian government to invest
in supporting and expanding community-
led initiatives involving teachers, parents,
and families outside of the existing span of
administrative control to achieve longer-
term goals of improved literacy, academic
achievement, and life chances.
Community school-based renewal
rather than bureaucratic reform will build
sustainable school communities, unlock
the First Nations “learning spirit,” and truly
engage children and youth on and off First
Nations reserves.
1.0 Introduction
First Nations Education and the
Limits of Bureaucratic Reform
We have no reason
to accept [the First
Nations education]
announcement at face
value....We remain
focused on protecting
our children’s inherent
rights to fair and
equitable education.
— Anishinabek Nation Grand
Council Chief Patrick Wadaseh
1.0 Introduction
First Nations Education and the
Limits of Bureaucratic Reform
On February 7, 2014, AFN National
Chief Shawn A-in-chut Atleo shook
hands with Prime Minister Stephen
Harper on a major nancial deal aimed
at salvaging First Nations education
reform. At Kainai High School in Treaty
No. 7 territory near Cardston, Alberta,
the two leaders announced a new
funding plan, clearing the way for what
was proclaimed as “a new approach
to First Nations control of First Nations
education” (AFN 2014a; Graveland
2014; Harper 2014; Taber 2014). Although
Atleo claimed that the pact met
the conditions set out by the AFN in
Resolution 14-2013 (AFN 2013), there was
no written agreement, and even the AFN
chiefs agreed that money alone would
not x Canada’s neglected on-reserve
schools. In early May 2014, Atleo was
toppled and the federal plan, embodied
in Bill C-33, shattered into pieces
(Galloway, 2014c). After the collapse of
the agreement, it is time to look more
critically at the proposed structural
education reform and at whether it
was the best way to build sustainable
First Nations school communities, unlock
the “learning spirit,” and truly engage
children and youth on and off reserve.
The public show of consensus at KainaiHigh
School proved short lived. Within the month,
a small group of First Nations people,
sparked by Blood First Nation activist Twila
Eagle-Bear Singer, began to protest the
deal by wearing “blue dots” symbolizing
exclusion (Sherritt 2014). First Nations leaders
from northern Ontario, the Kahnawake
First Nation near Montreal, Alberta, and
elsewhere who were not party to the
national agreement expressed caution or
disappointment about the pact or rejected
it outright (Carpenter 2014; French 2014;
CBC News Montreal 2014; Galloway 2014).
Judith Rae, of the Toronto law rm Olthuis
Kleer Townshend and a legal advisor to
Ontario First Nations, offered a detailed
critique (Rae 2014) of the new funding pact
focusing on the big number — the promised
$1.9 billion in education funding over three
years — and pointing out that this was “less
money” than was needed based on a May
2009 Parliamentary Budget Ofcer’s report
(Canada 2009, 12–13). More important, First
Nations news services such as Wawatay
Newssupported Rae’s contention that
“passing off responsibility without adequate
resources is a set up for failure.” (Carpenter
2014; INM Collective 2014). It was becoming
clear that, although “a bit more funding”
would help, it would be insufcient to
revitalize First Nations education.
The federal government’s initial attempt
at introducing a First Nations Education
Act in October 2013 capsized after
encountering stiff First Nations resistance,
particularly on the part of AFN chiefs.
Federal authorities, guided by Aboriginal
Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt, might
have pulled that failed legislation out of
the re, but “sealing the deal” signalled
a fresh start, rather than the culmination
of First Nations education reform. The
proposed law, Bill C-33, was renamed
the First Nations Control of First Nations
Without a comprehensive
understanding of Aboriginal people’s
perspective on learning and a
culturally appropriate framework for
measuring it, the diverse aspirations
and needs of First Nations, Inuit, and
Métis across Canada will continue to
be misinterpreted and misunderstood.
— Canadian Council on Learning
Education Act, and Ottawa pledged $1.25
billion over three years, beginning in scal
year 2016/17, with an annual escalation
of funding of 4.5 percent. An Enhanced
Education Fund would provide $160 million
over four years starting in scal year 2015/16,
and $500 million would be invested over
seven years in upgraded infrastructure (AFN
2014a, 2). Although Atleo and a coterie
of AFN chiefs won nancial concessions,
the renamed act remains a statement of
principles with an accompanying nancial
ledger and essentially an empty legislative
shell awaiting further denition. More money
might bring modest gains to on-reserve
schooling, but it is unlikely to change actual
circumstances at the school and community
level. Replacing one bureaucracy with
another rarely changes the state of schooling
or improves the quality of student learning. A
more community-school-based approach,
respectful of the “learning spirit” and
supporting a real shift in the locus of decision-
making stands a far better chance of making
a difference and improving the life chances
of all Indigenous children and youth.
The proposed First Nations Education Act, rst
telegraphed in the 2012 federal budget, was
yet another attempt to break the “gridlock”
(Paquette and Fallon 2010) that has been
the reality of First Nations education policy
since the ill-fated White Paper of 1969. First
Nations have been seeking greater local
control over education, more parental
involvement in educational decision-making
affecting children, and more support for
the promotion of Indigenous languages
and culture ever since the release in 1972
of a National Indian Brotherhood policy
paper,“Indian Control of Indian Education.”
Some progress has been made: as the
Senate Committee on Aboriginal Affairs
noted in 2011, “parental responsibility and
local control of on-reserve education is much
more prevalent today” (Canada 2011a, 8).
Yet, the proposed First Nations Education
Act was aborted because it attempted to
establish a framework for an educational
governance “system” without rst settling
the contentious funding issues. Moreover,
judging by the February 7, 2014, declaration,
the legislation’s second incarnation seems
to contain another critical aw in that it
assumes that the creation of de facto First
Nations school boards will raise educational
standards and strengthen local democratic
accountability (AFN 2014b).
In fact, attempting to improve the quality of
First Nations education through governance
reform means treading on contested
democratic terrain. District school boards
across Canada already face a public crisis
of condence, and publicly elected trustees
and school-level administrators surveyed by
the Canadian School Boards Association
are now voicing serious concerns that
“centralization” is slowly choking off local
decision-making and rendering elected
boards powerless (Galway et al. 2013, 1–3,
27–28). By enabling the establishment of
school boards in First Nations communities,
the proposed act would merely extend the
problem to these areas. What is needed
instead is the development of what we term
“community-school-based management” in
First Nations schools.
The reform of First Nations education should
begin by focusing more on successes
than on decits. That means building upon
promising initiatives such as the Mi`kmaw
Kina`matnewey (MK), a Nova Scotian
Mi`kmaw school authority founded in
1992, formally recognized by the federal
and provincial governments in 1997, and
originally consisting of nine Mi’kmaw First
Nations. It is, what MK negotiator John
Donnelly aptly describes as “an overnight
success -- years in-the-making.” Today, the
MK schools, currently operating in 12 of
the province’s 13 Mi’kmaw communities,
although small and enrol only 3,000 students,
they are contributing to rising graduation
rates on reserves in Atlantic Canada.
Across the country, the proportion of on-
reserve adults under age 25 with a high
school diploma rose from 25 percent in
1996 to 30 in 2006, but Atlantic Canada,
led by Nova Scotia, registered the highest
rate of high school graduation, rising
signicantly from about 55 percent to 65
percent over that period (Canada 2012c,
24–25). Graduation rates in MK schools are
also rising, although not as dramatically as
reported because the ofcial gures reect
only grade 12 completion rates (Fabian
2013; Mi’kmaw Kina’matnewey 2013, 2–13).
Nevertheless, such encouraging trends do
raise the fundamental question: how can
we capitalize on such advances and build
First Nations-run community schools more
effectively into the current education reform
Securing the support and consent of First
Nations will mean meeting First Nations
people halfway and including them fully
in the process of reform. True First Nations
control over education is now clearly
understood by First Nations peoples
themselves to mean a transformation that
enables them to develop educational
programs and practices rooted in Aboriginal
culture and consistent with Aboriginal
ways of learning (see Anuik 2013b; Anuik
and Battiste 2008; Cannon 1994; Haig-
Brown 1995). First Nations will not consider
any educational policy acceptable
unless it respects their commitment to
“culture, traditions, historicity, worldviews,
family and community.... that reect an
expression of self” (Absolon 2011, 84). In the
case of British Columbia, the First Nations
Education Steering Committee (FNESC)
expects the new federal act at least to
match the commitment of the BC Tripartite
Education Framework Agreement to
provide “adequate and sustained funding”
sufcient to support what it describes as a
“comprehensive, integrated and responsive
system” (FNESC 2013, 1–2).
The principle of First Nations control of
Aboriginal education was afrmed by the
AFN in 1988 and again in 2010, and was a
centrepiece of the report of the 1996 Royal
Commission on Aboriginal Peoples (Canada
1996). For First Nations, such control means
core principles that recognize “a suitable
philosophy of education based upon
Indian values,” which are the means to
enable a child to learn “the forces which
shape” him or her; “the history of his (or
her) people, their values and customs,
their language.” In effect, the child is not
considered educated unless and until he or
she knows oneself or one’s “potential as a
human being” (Anuik, Battiste, and George
2008; see also Cannon 1994). The source
of the impasse, however, is the federal
government’s initial approach to “xing”
the First Nations “education problem.”
Instead of accepting the centrality of First
Nations knowledge systems as an essential
precondition to discussion, Ottawa chose to
interpret transferring control as meaning the
devolution of management responsibility
and, in some cases, oversight. Operating on
such assumptions, the attempt to improve
student achievement and graduation
rates is likely to fall far short of expectations.
Indeed, it might end up being another in the
succession of saddening precedents that
Paquette and Fallon (2010) summarize in
their book, First Nations Education Policy in
Canada: Progress or Gridlock?
The First Nations population is not only
young; it is growing rapidly, creating a
sense of urgency. Forty-two per cent of
the registered Indian population is 19 years of age or younger, compared with 25 percent of
the Canadian population as a whole, while the on-reserve population is expected to increase
from 407,300 in 2000 to 667,900 by 2016 (Canada 2012b, 3; see Figure 1). That signicant bulge
of First Nations children and youth represents both a formidable challenge and a possible
opportunity. Signicantly more funding will be required to educate that growing population,
and improvements will be needed to avert the tragedy of depriving another generation of the
education it deserves.
FIGURE 1: Projected Population Growth by Age Category of Interest from 2010 to 2026
Source: AANDC, Summative Evaluation of Elementary-Secondary Education, June 2012, p. 17.
2010 2012 2014 2016 2018 2020 2022 2024 2026
Of the approximately 5 million junior
kindergarten to grade 12 (K-12) students
in Canadian schools, 450,000 are First
Nations, Métis, and Inuit. Some 116,400
First Nations students live on reserve, and
about 60 percent of them attend more than
550 band-operated on-reserve schools,
most of which serve younger students
from kindergarten through grade 8
. Only
seven of the band-operated schools are
administered by Aboriginal Affairs and
Northern Development Canada (AANDC).
1 Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada
estimates the numbers of schools as “over 500”; a report
by the Parliamentary Budget Ofcer (Canada 2009, 8)
puts the number of existing “permanent structures” at 726,
only 574 of which were “inspected “ schools.
The remaining 40 percent of First Nations
students attend off-reserve schools run by
school boards, divisions, or districts under
provincial authority. A few thousand attend
privately run First Nations schools, mostly
band-operated inspected secondary
schools. All funding for First Nations
education comes from AANDC; in turn,
First Nations fund the on-reserve schools
and reimburse school boards, districts, and
divisions for the education First Nations
children receive in off-reserve schools. In
scal year 2011/12,AANDC budgeted over
$1.55 billion for First Nations K-12 education
and an additional $322 million for post-
secondary education to support First
Nations and Inuit students across Canada
(Canada 2013b). Since 2008, AANDC has
spent over $1.2 billion a year on First Nations
K-12 educational operations and $200
million a year on capital and maintenance
costs. Since the early 1990s, the federal
government’s role has evolved into that of
“a transfer agency” that sends cheques to
the AANDC’s seven regional ofces, which
then distribute the funds to First Nations
bands. Until 2000, only one regional ofce
(Ontario) ran its own education program,
and a formal education branch was not
established until 2004 and then only in
response to a report of the auditor general
(Mendelson 2008).
Assessing the cost of operating First Nations
schools is a complex matter, given their
remote location and the relatively small size
of many of them. Although total education
expenditures are higher for on-reserve
schools than for the much larger provincial
school districts — on average between
$5,000 and $7,000 per full-time equivalent
(FTE) student in British Columbia, Ontario,
and the Maritime provinces (Richards
and Scott 2009, vi, 1–3, 52–63) — across-
the-board comparisons are misleading. In
fact, a 2012 AANDC report found that, in
comparing instructional service costs per
FTE student in First Nations schools with those
in provincial boards enrolling fewer than a
thousand FTE students, First Nations schools
receive less funding (Canada 2012c). In
British Columbia, provincial districts with
smaller student populations received an
average of $2,029 more than their First
Nations counterparts, and the gap was
even greater in Quebec and Ontario and
in all regions except Manitoba (ibid., 32–34).
A 2009 report by the Parliamentary Budget
Ofcer documented estimated shortfalls
in operation and maintenance costs of
$11 million a year, and reported that the
number of new schools had dropped from
35 a year between 1990 and 2000 to only 8
schools a year from 2006 to 2009 (Canada
2009, 8). Given the complexities and variety
of program funding sources, the most
critical need is for a more reliable funding
formula to determine the resources First
Nations schools will need to meet expected
standards of curriculum and teaching,
quality of facilities, and access to programs.
The proposed First Nations Control of First
Nations Education Act, however, would
give high priority to creating bureaucratic
solutions, and will continue to focus on the
“transition” of First Nations education from
a “non-system” to a new model with an
explicit governance role delegated to new
or existing First Nations authorities. The 2013
draft legislation sets out a framework that,
in many ways, mirrors the conventional
provincial model of governance vested
in another layer of bureaucratic authority.
Local autonomy is envisioned, but nowhere
is it specically guaranteed or spelled out
in legal terms. Little recognition is shown
for the core philosophy, knowledge, and
experience that would sustain First Nations
self-government in education. Instead,
the February 2014 declaration (AFN 2014)
speaks of “mutual accountability” and
adherence to a core curriculum that
“meets or exceeds provincial standards.”
First Nations students will be expected to
meet “minimum attendance standards,”
teachers will have to be properly certied,
and schools will have to award “widely-
recognized diplomas and certicates”
(Taber 2014). Overall, the proposed
legislation amounts toyet another scheme
that promises devolution to First Nations
control of education, but still tied to
compliance with “minimum standards”
and adherence to centrally determined
educational and nancial accountability.
Since many First Nations leaders, educators,
and parents are lukewarm toward, resistant
to, or uneasy about this most recent
iteration of federal policy toward First
Nations education (Galloway 2014a,b), this
report explores and assesses the potential
of an alternative model, rooted in the
“learning spirit” of community-school-
based management. Pioneered in the
Edmonton Public Schools in the 1980s (see
McBeath 2003) and now adopted by the
World Bank in its international education
initiatives (Bruns, Filmer, and Patrinos 2011),
the essential concept of “school-based
management” seems to be more in accord
with the aspirations of First Nations for a
greater measure of self-government in
education. It is also philosophically more
compatible with the tradition of school
community councils that have been
championed by First Nations and Métis
in cities such as Winnipeg and Regina
since the early 1980s (Elliott 2012; Evitts
2007). The MK community-school-based
renewal model of Nova Scotia’s Mi’kmaq
demonstrates the potential advantages
of such an approach (Lewington 2012).
Working with the federal and provincial
governments, some tribal councils, such
as the File Hills Qu’Appelle Tribal Council in
southeast Saskatchewan, have assumed
broader responsibilities for social service
delivery, manifested in projects supporting
a passion for lifelong learning (Anuik,
Williamson, and Findlay 2009, 76–83).
The proposed ‘First
Nations Control of First
Nations Education
Act’ would give high
priority to creating
bureaucratic solutions
What might an expanded community-
school-based management model
offer First Nations parents, students, and
families? Instead of strengthening central
authority and introducing another layer of
bureaucracy, it might well break the gridlock
described by Paquette and Fallon (2010) and
empower First Nations peoples to develop
Indigenous educational foundations, while
providing fresh incentives for Aboriginal
children to stay in school until graduation.
Improved literacy and academic
achievement would be a by-product
of higher levels of student engagement
in schools. Adopting a school-based-
management model would be a substantive
change, and one likely to address effectively
the serious and chronic educational
challenges facing First Nations communities.
Such an initiative would give a major boost
to First Nations knowledge and language
retention, and recognize their impact
on producing better student outcomes
(Canada 2012c, 2, 3, 45). Addressing the
critical need for a rm commitment to long-
term sustainable funding is proving to be
essential to overcome the existing impasse
(Ibbitson and Galloway 2013a). With such
a guarantee, it would be much easier to
secure agreement on achieving higher
standards in literacy and numeracy and on
setting goals for raising graduation rates.
After reviewing the proposed First Nations
education reform and carefully analysing
the pressing challenges facing First Nations
schools, we recommend a more focused
approach to education reform, grounded
in First Nations traditions and culture and
designed to achieve longer-term, sustainable
improvements in student achievement, social
well-being, and life outcomes.
Our key recommendations,
detailed at the end of the
report, are:
1. Rethink the plan in the proposed
First Nations Control of First Nations
Education Act of conventional
education governance reform,
and instead open the door to a
more exible and community-
school-based model that provides
parents and students access to a
variety of publicly funded school
options, thus fullling the promise
of true First Nations community-run
2. Review the adequacy of the
proposed funding plan —
specically, the implementation
costs of $160 million over four
years, or $40 million a year, which
amounts to only about $63,000
annually for each of Canada’s First
3. Embrace traditional Indigenous
knowledge and languages as the
core foundation for First Nations
education policy and as reected
in the First Nations Holistic Lifelong
Learning Framework.
4. Adopt new measures of student
performance and success, drawing
on the First Nations Holistic Learning
Framework and incorporating
validated accountability measures
5. Support First Nations community
school authorities in developing
new and innovative forms of local
decision-making, including parent/
community governing boards.
6. Establish a First Nations culture,
language, and learning institute to
study and pilot promising practices
in teaching and learning.
7. Assess progress in implementing
management and improving
student achievement levels, starting
in the 2018–19 education year.
2.0 The Federal Initiative
The Proposed Reform and Its Origins
Investing in First Nations
youth, the youngest and
fastest growing population
in the country is... not the
culmination of our work, it is
the beginning. First Nations
must decide on the approach
that works for them to make
First Nations control a reality.
— Shawn Atleo
The Federal Initiative:
The Proposed Reform
and Its Origins
Eighteen years ago, the Royal Commission
on Aboriginal Peoples (Canada 1996),
chaired by then AFN chief George Erasmus,
asked a troubling question: “Why, with so
many sincere efforts to change the quality
of Aboriginal education, have the overall
results been so disappointing?” That same
question might be asked today — and
the rationalizations for inaction provided
then would be even less convincing. The
latest national review, conducted by the
National Panel on First Nations Elementary
and Secondary Education (Canada 2012b),
covered much of the same educational
terrain and produced no real surprises.
First Nations education in Canada is a
patchwork of organization, and lagging
literacy and high school graduation rates
signal deeper problems (AFN 2012).
Top-down prescriptions from federal
authorities have not worked before, so why
would the federal government proceed
along the same path again? Devolution
from the centre has not worked since
the White Paper of 1969. Although the
Indian Control of Indian Education policy,
adopted in 1972, promised devolution, in
practice Ottawa retained its administrative
and leadership authority (Anuik, Battiste,
and George 2008). Will the proposed First
Nations Control of First Nations Education
Act be any different? Perhaps we have
got it completely backward. The best
and soundest policy lies in empowering
First Nation communities and investing in
building the capacity of those communities
to manage their own publicly funded
schools. Instead of decrying the lack of a “school system,” perhaps we should rebuild from the
schools up by studying the Mi’kmaw project, which embraces local control of education, and
learn from the critical lessons offered by the World Bank in its promotion of the school-based-
management model of school improvement in a host of countries outside North America (Bruns,
Filmer, and Patrinos 2011).
Finding a consensus on the persistent problems plaguing on-reserve education is relatively
easy.First Nations education remains in dire straits by most accounts. Students of First Nations
ancestry continue to lag signicantly behind other Canadian students in levels of educational
attainment (Laboucane 2010). As Figure 2 shows, in 2006 40 percent of Aboriginals between
the ages of 20 and 24 did not have a high school diploma, compared with 23 percent of
non-Aboriginal Canadians in the same age group. The rate was even higher for First Nations
people living on reserve (61 percent) and for Inuit living in remote communities (68 percent)
(Statistics Canada 2006). In the 2011 National Household Survey, the high school completion gap
remained signicant, with 38 percent of Aboriginals ages 20 to 24 lacking a high school diploma,
compared with 19.4 percent of non-Aboriginals ((Statistics Canada 2011; see also Fong and
Gulati 2013, 3). Given the importance of a high school diploma as the gateway to better life and
work outcomes in contemporary Canada, these gures remain distressing for both First Nations
and the broader Canadian community.
The statistics are only slightly more positive for post-secondary education (PSE) achievement.
Although growing numbers of Aboriginal youth are completing programs, in 2006 41 percent
of Aboriginal people ages 25 to 64 had a post-secondary certicate, diploma, or degree,
compared with 56 percent of non-Aboriginals. Aboriginal people were on a more equal footing
when it came to rates of attainment at the college level (19 percent vs. 20 percent) and the
trades (14 percent vs. 12 percent), but lagged in university degree completion, where only 8
percent possessed degrees, compared with 23 percent of non-Aboriginals (Statistics Canada
2006). Judging from the 2011 National Household Survey, the pattern and gap in PSE identied in
2006 persists today (Statistics Canada 2011; Fong and Gulati 2013, 3).
FIGURE 2: Comparative High School Incompletion Rates, Ages 20-24, 2006
Source: John Richards, C.D. Howe Institute, 2013. Calculated from tabulations of the 2006 Census.
North American
Indian/First Nation
Métis Non-Aboriginal
The 2012 National Panel report (Canada
2012b) and the subsequent discussion guide
to the First Nations Education Act (Canada
2012a) were both based on conventional
economic success measures, and both
awarded First Nations education a failing
grade. In painting that picture, however,
the panel overlooked positive signs of the
resilience of a more holistic Aboriginal
approach to lifelong learning, rooted
in what is known as a “learning spirit.”
Learning from — and about— knowledge,
language, and tradition, according to
the Canadian Council on Learning (CCL),
continues to be “critical to the well-being
of Aboriginal people.” Traditional activities
such as drum dancing and ddling and
ancestral practices such as hunting, shing,
and trapping are being passed down to
the younger on-reserve generation. More
than two-thirds (ranging from 68 percent to
86 percent) of Aboriginal people living in
rural off-reserve communities and in remote
Inuit communities still practise traditional
ways, and one out of four (28 percent)
of Aboriginal children living off reserve in
2006 attended at least one gathering or
ceremony each year.
Although First Nations students are struggling
by mainstream society’s standards, the
CCL found ample evidence in 2009 of a
holistic Indigenous community supportive
of youth. Familial ties and support are
strong, exemplied by the inuential role of
Elders who impart a sense of responsibility
and community identity and reinforce
intergenerational connections and ties.
Most, if not all, First Nations youth living on
reserve now have access to support in
learning their ancestral language, as do
77 percent of Inuit children and some 41
percent of off-reserve First Nations and
Métis children. Although access to, and
acceptance of, ancestral languages
varies from one First Nations community
to another, especially in northwestern
Ontario, there is evidence of language
retention if not resurgence. As well, some
65 percent of children living on reserve
reportedly receive child care in a home
setting, and an increasing proportion of
off-reserve First Nations, Métis, and Inuit
children receive child care in a setting that
promotes traditional cultural values and
customs. Aboriginal youth, both on and off
reserve, also tend to be at least as involved
as their non-Aboriginal counterparts in
community volunteer activities, social
clubs or groups, and sports outside school
(CCL 2009, 4–7, 10–17). Yet, none of these
positive signs warranted mention in the
federal government’s latest report on
“the continuing failure” of conventional
economic-success-driven public education
in First Nations communities (Mendelson
2008, 2).
Given the set of assumptions of its drafters,
the First Nations Education Act proposed in
late October 2013 was bound to encounter
a chilly reception. Its preamble presented
the proposed legislation as a further step
toward reconciliation and professed
respect for First Nations rights, but the bill
approached governance reform merely
as an exercise in school improvement and
accountability for better student outcomes
(Canada 2013c, 4, 10–31). Sidestepping
long-standing First Nations demands for
stable, secure funding, as well as proposals
to advance Indigenous curricula and
pedagogy, the proposed legislation was
directed more toward establishing another
layer of authority in an attempt to raise
academic standards and graduation
rates. Viewed through First Nations eyes,
the federal government was essentially
proposing devolution with strings attached.
The July 2013 discussion guide to the
proposed act (Canada 2013a) also sent out
the wrong signals to First Nations. The stated
objectives of the proposed legislation were
virtually interchangeable with those found in
mainstream school systems:
attendance and structure requirements
similar to provincial requirements;
a recognized high school diploma;
education support services that lead to
better student outcomes; and
school success plans and reports to the
The guide spelled out accountability
measures before the section outlining
possible “options for educational
governance structures.” For the most part,
these options were only those existing in
current operations: a federally funded
community school, a school operated
by a First Nations education authority, or
funding of a provincial school board either
to operate a school or to transfer fees to
support students studying at off-reserve
schools. In short, the options simply mirrored
the status quo in First Nations governance
models and practice. Furthermore, the two
key principles for funding enunciated were
top-down in their orientation. For all the
pretence of advancing First Nations self-
government in education, the proposed
legislation essentially came down to “stable
and predictable funding, and encouraging
the development of education systems”
(Canada 2012a, 1).
Although couched in gentle, progressive
reform language, the guide made it clear
that the proposed act was essentially
a federal accountability compliance
exercise. The rationale for the legislation
was anchored in the ndings and
recommendations of the 2011 report of
the auditor general (Canada 2011b), with
a nod to two other recent reports, from
the Senate (Canada 2011a) and from the
National Panel on First Nation Elementary
and Secondary Education for Students on
Reserve appointed by the Stephen Harper
government (Canada 2012b). Four structural
impediments, identied by the auditor
general, were given as the prime drivers:
lack of clarity about service levels;
lack of a legislative base;
lack of an appropriate funding
mechanism, and ;
lack of organizations to support local
service delivery.
Parsing the 2011 Senate report, Reforming
First Nation Education, the drafters
drew attention to the current funding
mechanism, which, it was said, “inhibits
effective accountability mechanisms and
is inadequate for achieving improved
outcomes or specic levels of service”
(Canada 2011a, 36). The discussion guide
to the proposed First Nations Education
Act (Canada 2012a) cited the February
2012 National Panel report to reinforce the
overall assessment that “the current ‘non-
system’ in education has failed First Nations
students.” The over arching goal was to
bring First Nations students up to provincial
educational standards, presumably by
mastering provincially sanctioned curricula
and student outcomes” (ibid., 2). Publicly
funded schooling, viewed through this lens,
is best dispensed in centralized systems
such as those exemplied by regional
school boards. First Nations students, like
their counterparts in provincially funded
schools, “deserve an educational system
that encourages them to stay in school
and graduate so that they have the
skills they need to realize their aspirations
and participate in a strong Canadian
economy.” Creating a “system” supposedly would remove one of “the greatest
barriers to improving outcomes,” identied as “the full range of supports,
including legislation, available to non-reserve schools.” Working on the
assumption that First Nations peoples need “sustainable, high quality
and accountable First Nations education systems,” the federal
government claimed that this “cannot be achieved without these
supports” (ibid., 3).
The federal government thus tends to view First Nations
education as a manifestation of “the problem” aficting
Aboriginals and their communities. After a succession
of inquiries, reports, and failed reforms, AANDC was
proposing “a framework for achieving better results,”
reducing the problem of First Nations education
to one of organization. The proposed solution
appeared to be driven by the desire to achieve
bureaucratic efciency. The framework set out in
the proposed legislation amounted to a replication
of provincial education law, including provisions
for “clarifying roles and responsibilities” and
“strengthening governance and accountability.”
Little initially was offered on funding except
the pledge to address “the need for stable
and predictable funding.” The conventional
educational catch phrases common in ofcial
provincial education documents were also all
there: “better student outcomes, continuous
learning, professional and accountable practices,
and supporting students and teachers” (ibid., 4).
Providing exibility for communities was the last
stated goal of the proposed act, tacked on in the
discussion guide as a mere afterthought — a half-
measure rather than a full commitment. “The legislation
would create a framework for improved governance,” it
began, “while being exible enough to allow communities
to adapt delivery to meet their unique needs, including
adapting provincial curriculum.” The message was clear,
from a First Nations perspective: accountability comes rst,
then exibility, but not necessarily exibility. What would it mean in
practice? The proposed act essentially reafrmed the existing status
quo, requiring “services to students and schools” comparable to provincial
systems and permitting “the same degree of local exibility” that “currently
exists in the provincial systems.” That autonomy shrank, however, under closer
inspection. Instead of embracing new forms of local control and management, First
Nations authorities and schools were strictly limited to adapting provincial curriculum
and developing local courses of instruction,
provided that they “support better student
achievement” (ibid., 4–5).
First Nations leaders not only questioned
the legitimacy of the rst round of deadline-
driven consultations, but reacted swiftly to
the July 2013 blueprint for the proposed
act (Canada 2013a). The real reason for
poor graduation rates and lagging literacy
levels, AFN chiefs insisted, was chronic
underfunding of on-reserve schools, rather
than the structure and organization of First
Nations education. “We’re not happy with
the federal government establishing any
sort of standards for First Nations,” said Julia
Candlish, education coordinator for the
Chiefs of Ontario. “We have the capacity
to do it ourselves” (quoted in Hill 2013).
Instead of accepting a new tier of federally
managed administrative oversight, Vice
Chief Bobby Cameron of the Federation of
Saskatchewan Indian Nations (FSIN) called
for First Nations people to implement their
own education acts to assert their “Treaty
right” to control their own schooling. The
FSIN took the initiative by developing
with Saskatchewan band councils a First-
Nations-created education act, and urged
leaders to have it authorized by the bands
before the federal government introduced
its own legislation. “Let’s be honest here,”
Cameron told the Saskatoon StarPhoenix.
“If they want to improve our on-reserve
education systems, prove it by backing it up,
committing more dollars to our on-reserve
school systems” (quoted in Adam 2013).
Chiefs who attended the AFN meeting
held July 16–18, 2013, in Whitehorse,
Yukon, unanimously opposed the
federal government’s blueprint. The
formal resolution by Chief Steve Miller of
Atilkameksheng Anishnawbek rejected
the proposed legislation for failing on six
different counts. The resolution (AFN 2013)
claimed that the plan
failed to afrm First Nations control of
First Nations education;
failed to provide guarantees for First
Nations languages, cultures, and ways
of teaching and learning;
failed to build on successes of First
failed to address the necessary linkages
to early childhood development,
adult education, vocational training,
e-learning, and post-secondary
education, and the institutions created
by First Nations at all levels of education,
including language immersion schools;
failed to address historic shortfalls and
elimination of the 2 percent funding cap
on annual expenditure increases;
failed to provide capital funding to
provide sufcient access to primary,
secondary, and post-secondary schools;
failed to provide funding guarantees to
ensure First Nations schools and systems
would be able to address the actual
costs of providing high-quality, culturally
and linguistically relevant education
similar to the funding principles for
schools that provide services in ofcial
languages outside Quebec.
The AFN, in short, rejected the blueprint
because it denied the importance of their
languages and cultures, failed to reafrm
First Nations control over First Nations
education, and did not address a long-
standing funding gap (Galloway and
Morrow 2013).
Funding of First Nations education emerged
as the major stumbling block, and ultimately
forced Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard
Valcourt back to the table. The major bone
of contention, according to the AFN, was
the federal government’s cap on yearly
increases for First Nations education at
2 percent since 1996, which provided
about $7,000 per First Nations student
compared with the roughly $11,000 per
student that provinces provide their regular
public schools. “The [way] in which the
federal government has approached this
[legislation]hasn’t broken the pattern we
are looking to break,” said AFN Grand
Chief Shawn Atleo (quoted in Dolski 2013).
Speaking on July 24, 2013, to the Council
of the Federation in Niagara-on-the-Lake,
Ontario, he was more explicit: “federal
government...control and oversight is not
something First Nations accept. First Nations
are not going to establish lower standards
than exist elsewhere and have the ability
to drive their own systems” (quoted in
Galloway and Morrow 2013).
The First Nations Education Act white paper
of October 22, 2013 (Canada 2013c),
attempted to allay the public concerns
expressed by the AFN and a host of First
Nations groups across Canada. However,
while presenting the proposed legislation
as a step toward reconciliation, the primary
focus continued to be on introducing
a First Nations governance framework
designed to “support improved quality of
education and better results for First Nations
students on reserve.” The stated rationale
emphasized, once again, the commitment
to uphold the rights of First Nations to run
“community-operated schools” and to
retain “the option to work together to form
First Nation-led institutions called First Nations
education authorities.” What was new was
a clearer rationale for the consolidation of
school systems and a signal that First Nations
sectoral self-government agreements
(SGAs) were no longer the preferred route
to achieving First Nations self-government
in education. “The ability to form a larger
organization,” the white paper claimed,
“creates an opportunity to provide a
broader range of services to students and
schools, and may be an important means
of overcoming some of the challenges
of isolation and fragmentation that have
been identied by First Nations, First Nations
organizations, and reports such as those of
the Ofce of the Attorney General.” Entering
into larger organizational units, it added,
would facilitate reaching agreements with
provincial school boards either to allow
First Nations students to attend schools off
reserve or to manage an on-reserve school
(ibid., 4).
Moving forward with the legislation over the
objections of the AFN did not go down well
with First Nations leaders, nor did insisting
on a specic timetable for implementation
so that the new law would be in place
for the 2014–15 school year (Ibbitson and
Galloway 2013b). The backgrounder to the
bill declared that it would “recognize the
responsibility and ability of First Nations to
provide access to education” for students
between ages 6 and 21 on reserves, and it
proposed to “outline base standards and
services required to support success for
students and schools” (Canada 2013c, 4).
Under the proposed act, band councils
would continue to be responsible for
schools, but would now be empowered to
contract the function out to a provincial
school board or private educational
operation. Councils were also authorized
to band together to create a First Nations
educational authority — essentially a First-
Nations-run school board — that could
assume responsibility for managing all the
schools in a region or even a province. Like
school boards, these authorities would hire
a director, principals, and teachers, as well
as develop a First-Nations-centric curriculum,
provided that it met provincial standards
(ibid., 6–8, 10–31).
Setting and enforcing federally determined
standards for on-reserve schools quickly
emerged as the most contentious clauses in
the proposed legislation. Under the proposed
law, an outside inspector would review
school standards and performance each
year and recommend improvements. Where
“major and persistent problems” identied
by the inspector were not addressed, if the
school was failing nancially, or if AANDC
found “an immediate risk” to “student well-
being and success,” federal authorities
would be authorized to appoint a temporary
administrator, placing the school in
trusteeship (King 2013).
The BC First Nations Education Steering
Committee atly rejected the “overly
prescriptive” federal proposals. “The
foundation is in place in BC for First Nations
education,” FNESC declared. “We do not
need reform.” (FNESC 2013, 1). The chair
of the AFN Chiefs education committee,
Morley Googoo of Nova Scotia, claimed the
problems with the bill stemmed from a lack
of collaboration in its drafting. Little would
be resolved, he stated, without changes in
funding. “They say that funding is going to be
created [later] by their regulations,” he told
the Globe and Mail. “How are we supposed
to support something without knowing the
second part of the equation?” Under the
act, the federal government and minister,
Googoo added, do not accept their share
of responsibility for what happens in reserve
schools, but still “say ‘I want control’….So
that’s not acceptable” (quoted in Ibbitson
and Galloway 2013b).
The federal nancial deal unveiled by
Harper, Atleo, and Valcourt on February
7, 2014, ended the impasse, but it also
exposed divisions among First Nations
peoples. A Blood First Nation activist, Twila
Singer, and her two daughters attended
the announcement event at Kainai First
Nation High School, only to be separated
from the invited guests and given a blue
dot instead of a yellow dot to wear. Sitting
in the adjoining overow gym with 40
others, Singer felt the frustration welling up
inside her, especially after being accused
of live tweeting her displeasure and being
asked to leave the event. A few days later,
an incipient “Blue Dot” movement was
born when Singer’s treatment attracted
attention, and the “sacred blue dot meme”
appeared on social media as a symbol
of continuing resistance to the proposed
legislation (Greene 2014; Sherritt 2014).
With Prime Minister Harper and Chief
Atleo basking in the announcement’s
media afterglow, the “Blue Dot” resistance
spread like an echo of the “Idle No More”
movement. A highly acclaimed Métis artist,
Christi Belcourt, then took up the cause
of the “uninvited.” “I’m disgusted,” she
declared. “I’m claiming the blue dot for
us as a symbol of pride.” To her and many
other First Nations community activists,
the blue dot represented “the people the
government would arrest rst, or harass rst,
or doesn’t care about, or throughout history
has considered the ‘rebels’ for protecting
land [and] speaking out” (INM Collective
2011). The Kahnawake First Nation, near
Montreal, atly rejected the new version of
the act. “The cookie-cutter, one approach
[policy] does not work in Indian country,”
Grand Chief Mike Delisle stated. “When we
look at what we are trying to establish here,
it’s our Mohawk language, our Mohawk
culture, and some of these things are not
guaranteed,” added school principal
Kanasohon Deer (CBC News Montreal
2014). The impending federal legislation also
attracted critical re at a Western Canada
First Nations Education Administrators
Conference held in late February 2014 in
Saskatoon. Alberta-based lawyer and author
Sharon Venne told First Nations delegates
from across western Canada that the
whole initiative was a colonialist attempt
to shift First Nations education from federal
to provincial control. “Our First Nations
schooling,” she charged, “is not recognized
by the colonizers, so the colonizers say we
don’t have standards. That’s because they’re
not standards that are written in their way
of thinking” (French 2014; Galloway 2014b).
Settling the question of First Nations education
reform, it was clear, was far from over.
The Curriculum
The Proposed Reform
and Its Origins
The Curriculum
Question: Whose
Curriculum — and for
What Purpose?
From past experience, the curriculum
imposed on First Nations schools simply has
not connected with or engaged students
or teachers on reserves. Developing and
building on Indigenous knowledge and
ways of knowing should start with the First
Nations peoples themselves. Indeed, the
missing piece in ongoing efforts to improve
education for First Nations children and
youth, according to Lise Chabot in a
report for the Chiefs of Ontario, might be
a new form of parental and community
involvement (Chabot 2005, 2). Parental
involvement, in one form or another, has
been present in First Nations education,
particularly over the past 40 years. As
Chabot points out, “[w]ithout the activism of
First Nations parents, there would have been
little change in education management
and programming despite the professed
federal advocacy of Indian Control of
Education” (ibid.). Despite such positive
developments, however, First Nations
students continue to experience much
greater difculties than do non-Aboriginal
students. Basic literacy and numeracy
skills continue to lag, and, for many, post-
secondary education remains beyond
One area of great concern to First Nations
is how the federal government and the
provinces dene “achievement.” First
Nations Elders and scholars espouse a
Aboriginal people in Canada
have long understood the role
that learning plays in building
healthy, thriving communities.
Despite signicant cultural
and historical differences,
Canada’s First Nations, Inuit
and Métis people share a
vision of learning as a holistic
lifelong process.
The Holistic Lifelong Learning
Measurement Framework
grounded in an Aboriginal
vision of learning and
thus provides the basis for
informed program and
policy development; the very
changes that are necessary
to develop the full potential of
First Nations, Inuit, and Métis.
— Canadian Council on Learning
conception of achievement that is much broader than strictly book learning. If we draw on the
insights from the First Nations Holistic Lifelong Learning model (see Figure 3, and as discussed
in Anuik 2013a; and CCL 2007), teachers, principals, parents, families, and communities are
all mentors and nurturing guides responsible for their children’s achievement in all aspects of
learning. School is part of a lifelong learning journey for children and youth. It is not a quantiable
journey in that learners are half Indigenous and half modern; they instead draw wisdom and
insights from “Canadianish” and “Indianish” perspectives and knowledge bases (Littlejohn 1983).
FIGURE 3: The First Nations Lifelong Learning Model
Source: Canadian Council on Learning, 2007.
Despite the good intentions to advance First Nations education, policy proposals, documents,
strategies, and accords have failed to be implemented at the school level (Canada 2011a).
It seems as though policy sits separate from practice. For a school-based renewal strategy to
succeed, attention must be paid to both policy and practice — and practice must be grounded
in First Nations community ways of learning.. The essential concept of community-school-based
management would t the bill because it represents a mode of decision-making rooted in First
Nations ways and practices. Indeed, this model of local decision-making has much in common
with the “talking circle” tradition in Mi’kmaw
culture and spirituality (Mi’kmaq Spirit 2013)
Chabot’s 2005 report sheds light on best
practices by engaging parents in First
Nations education. Based on a series of
focus groups consisting of parents, families,
and communities, Chabot argues that
student and parent engagement starts
in the community, by embracing the
teachings of the First Nations Holistic Lifelong
Learning model. Such an approach could
embrace a school-based management
perspective and could advance Indigenous
understandings of learning. It also could
serve to provide the missing link in the
current delivery of educational services to
First Nations children, youth, and families.
Re-engineering the proposed First Nations
Control of First Nations Education Act
to embrace community-school-based
management would involve tackling a few
critical questions, each of which, in effect,
Chabot poses in her report:
How do we ensure that school-based
management councils are truly
grounded in local contexts?
How will parental and community
involvement be connected to
governance in the First Nations
education domain?
What can school-based management
contribute to discussions of educational
What form should parental involvement
take in school-based management
These questions strongly suggest that we
consider the perspectives that parents,
families, and communities might bring to
bear in implementing community-school-
based management under a completely
reworked act. The proposed federal
legislation is seriously decient in recognizing
and advancing parental engagement
in First Nations education. Allowing more
scope for school governing councils would
build on First Nations governance practices.
Too often, policy directives are handed
down to schools and communities. Marie
Battiste of the University of Saskatchewan
(Battiste 1986, 2000) calls this dynamic
“cognitive imperialism”: the replacement
of one worldview with another, with the
implication that the former is superior to the
Chabot’s report shows the growing
need and potential for active parental
participation in First Nations communities.
Indeed, the FNESC (1995) has also agged
the critical issue: “It is essential that First
Nations parents are included in educational
decision-making.” In February 2004, a
number of focus groups conducted on
behalf of the Chiefs of Ontario in Toronto,
Hamilton, North Bay, Sudbury, Thunder
Bay, and Kenora, again demonstrated
the need and desire for more parental
involvement in their children’s education.
One of the facilitators, Cynthia Wesley-
Esquimaux, reported that “[e]ngagement
of the community is the most important
factor. We need [to] make education a
part of each community; it cannot be
abstracted” (quoted in Chabot 2005, 3).
In Thunder Bay, facilitator Pat Baxter found
that parents “need to have a leadership
role in education.” The most important
components identied by parents were
consistent with the Holistic Lifelong Learning
model: “The curriculum must preserve a
holistic approach with strong culture and
language components,” Baxter reported.
“Education must be self-governed and
self-directed. It should partner with other
agencies and with parents to ensure quality
education and sufcient funding” (quoted
in ibid., 4).
These ndings clearly establish the need
for a community-based curriculum
consistent with a true self-governing model
of education. In her report, Chabot nds
that programs such as BC’s First Nations
Education Clubs and Hamilton, Ontario’s
“Wampum String Commitment” initiative
are clear examples of parental involvement
that exemplify an organic view of site-based
governance. A few programs, such as
Ontario’s Aboriginal Head Start, although
touted as grassroots initiatives, in fact are
“laid on,” rather than parent-guided and
shared community to community (ibid., 8–9).
Chabot’s list of programs is a good start,
even if it is more of an inventory of existing
programs than a denitive list of exemplars.
What is really needed, then, is a more
rigorous assessment that probes further into
whether the programs actually exemplify
true self-governance at the school level. In
sum, a signicant change from “parental
involvement” to true engagement likely is
necessary to overcome the non-systemic,
patchwork set of policy and programs that
exist currently in First Nations education
(Canada 2011a).
First Nations participants in the more recent
AANDC Summative Evaluation of the
Elementary/Secondary Education Program
in Reserve, released in June 2012 (Canada
2012c), saw cultural and language retention
as critical to better student outcomes. In a
Harris-Decima national survey sent to 520 of
the 616 First Nations across Canada, netting
113 completed surveys, the key priorities
for First Nations people were culture and
language retention as well as the need
to recognize clear differences in learning
needs and the current learning gaps
between First Nation and non-Aboriginal
students (ibid., 12–14, 20). Although the
peer-reviewed research linking culturally
based learning to longer-term educational
success is still rather thin, there are some
promising ndings based on the short-
term impact of language and heritage
immersion (see, for example, Goddard and
Shields 1997; Taylor and Wright 2003). Much
of the supporting research suggests that
culturally based programs help to promote
school engagement by including topics
of relevance to youth, providing more
accurate images of past and present, and
improving self-esteem and pride among
Aboriginal youth (Castagano and Brayboy
2011; Demmett and Towner 2003).
First Nations schools that are truly anchored
in the community are not only best situated
to provide culturally relevant curriculum and
language immersion programs; they are
also more likely to retain students through
high school. Students perform more poorly
when the language of instruction is different
than the language spoken at home.
Furthermore, when examining progress from
one grade to the next, this difference is a
critical factor in explaining the increased
time taken to progress through high school.
Often cited in relation to English or French
language prociency, it also applies in the
case of heritage language retention (Taylor
and Wright 2003). The lack of culturally
relevant learning has also been identied
as a key factor in the under performance of
First Nations students in off-reserve schools.
First Nations participants in the 2012 AANDC
survey reported that their students learn
much better with hands-on experiential
opportunities, rather than the dominant
approach of focusing on mental processes:
“The First Nations students’ inability to see themselves in the
subject matter and a general lack of welcoming and culturally
relevant learning environments” in off-reserve schools, according
to survey participants, leads to “an array of negative outcomes
for many students” (Canada 2012c, 20–21).
What works in modern, non-Aboriginal provincial schools is not
necessarily what is best for First Nations students on reserves.
Focusing mostly on developing mental processes can stand in
the way of giving fuller attention to the spiritual, emotional, and
physical domains of deeper learning. Educational opportunities
need to be more equitable, but also more tailored to the culture,
language, and ways of First Nations students and their families.
As noted, First Nations students lag behind mainstream non-
Aboriginal students in rates of high school graduation. Resistance
to state schooling remains high among parents in many First
Nations communities, linked to the trauma associated with
the residential school legacy. Providing the same services, in a
standardized fashion, will not produce better student outcomes or
turn around struggling First Nations schools. Many, perhaps most,
First Nations communities and schools are starting from a position
of real disadvantage and will require signicantly more support
than their mainstream educational counterparts (ibid., 21–22).
4.0 Governance Policy
Options & Alternatives
Policy Options and
The educational governance of Canada’s
First Nations people and the improvement
of band-controlled education have long
been under discussion by federal cabinet
ministers, policy-makers, First Nations leaders,
university academics, and educators. The
British North America Act, 1867 and later the
Constitution Act, 1982 established a dual
system of education in Canada, designating
provincial authority over education, but
retaining federal responsibility for Indian
education. As part of its treaty obligations,
the federal government also agreed to
provide First Nations in western Canada
schools and services equitable to those
provided by provincial systems (Carr-Stewart
and Steeves 2009, 1). Conict has arisen,
however, over the “collision of educational
practices and differing world views” held by
a succession of “white man’s” governments
and First Nations peoples (Little Bear 2000).
The Indian Act effectively institutionalized
the exclusion of First Nations communities,
Elders, and parents in the delivery of
educational services. Despite repeated
attempts, reforms to the act, most recently
in 1985, have not signicantly changed
the governance framework (Carr-Stewart
and Steeves 2009, 1–2). The continuing
challenges facing First Nations education
and recent attempts at limited devolution
have only whetted public appetites for real
Academic experts such as Jerry Paquette
and federal policy-makers have spent years
The time has come to do more
than think “outside the box” of
the current generalized gridlock
in Aboriginal and First Nations
education; the time has arrived
too begin taking major steps to
move outside of that box.
— Jerald E. Paquette and Gerald Fallon
Today, though funding is still an
issue, the legal arrangement
that governs the schooling of
about 3,000 Mi’kmaw students in
Nova Scotia is winning national
attention as a possible model for
First Nation self-governance in
— Jennifer Lewington
analysing and debating possible reforms
aimed at improving the delivery and quality
of First Nations education. Since the 1986
appearance of Paquette’s inuential policy
paper, “Aboriginal Self-Government and
Education in Canada,” he has been in the
forefront of those urging “Aboriginal self-
government” in the education sector and
“making real-world trade-offs” (Paquette
1986, ix). Today, Paquette is still pursuing
those reforms, albeit with a harder edge and
a deeper sense of foreboding. In his 2010
book co-authored with Gerald Fallon, he
addresses the critical question: “Whoever
pays the bill,” he now insists, “essentially
‘calls the tune’ whatever the governance
arrangements.” “In twenty-rst century
Canada,” Paquette and Fallon state,
“First Nations peoples cannot reassume
responsibility and control unless they are also
willing to assume the costs. No room exists for
any authentic Indian control agenda for a
permanent exemption from self-taxation for
education” (2010, 354).
Most of the attempted reforms since 1986
have amounted to what Paquette and
Fallon describe as “tinkering around the
edges of the status quo,” rather than
embracing “fundamental change.” After
pursuing reform for nearly 30 years, Paquette
may well have fallen prey to a web of
complexity in which “a set of fourteen
propositions” must be met in moving the First
Nations education agenda forward (ibid.,
355). More recently, he has been advocating
replacing the “non-system” of Native and
First Nations education with a system based
on “mutual respect and relational pluralist
principles” (Anuik 2014). Much of the impetus
behind the current First Nations Control of
First Nations Education Act initiative comes
from those seeking to establish a form of
governance that essentially mirrors provincial
school board models.
Benevolent Bureaucratic Rule:
The Status Quo/Indian Act
The hand of the Indian Act is still present in
First Nations communities, and is particularly
evident in the realm of education. Until the
late 1960s, schooling for First Nations children
and youth was essentially “assimilationist.”
“The primary purpose of formal education,”
as stated in the report of the 1996 Royal
Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, “was
to indoctrinate Aboriginal peoples into a
Christian, European world view, thereby
‘civilizing’ them” (Canada 1996, vol. 3, chap.
5, 2; see also Bennett 1990; and Miller 1996).
Since the publication of “Indian Control of
Indian Education” by the National India
Brotherhood in 1972, over 40 years ago,
policy changes in the form of federal-local
education agreements, authorized under
SGAs, for the most part have only reinforced
the status quo of top-down, albeit partially
delegated, federal control over education
(Fallon and Paquette 2012, 3).
Conformity with mainstream society,
competition, and preparation for the
workforce were viewed as the only way
forward for all Canadian children and youth,
including Aboriginals. Such assumptions
effectively limited the scope of First Nations
children’s educational, cultural, and social
life by failing to recognize the legitimacy of
Aboriginal holistic learning and indigenous
knowledge (Battiste 2002). Policies
advocating the assimilation of Aboriginal
students and, later on, their integration into
provincial or non-Aboriginal schools were
the prescriptions for “normal” educational
provisions and practices deemed necessary
to integrate children and youth into a
hierarchically ordered, pluralist state (Moon
1993). Modications to the Indian Act regime
would merely perpetuate the status quo
in terms of federal dominance over First
Nations peoples. In such a hierarchical
social order, students are being prepared for
a world still dominated by federal ofcials
or indirectly managed by a chief and band
council acting at the behest of the agents
of non-Aboriginal society. Whatever their
traditional authority might have been,”
American political scientist J. Donald Moon
once wrote, the chief has “come to owe his
power mainly to his relationships to the ruling
stratum” (ibid., 15).
Managed Devolution (School
Managed devolution of power over
education to First Nations would amount to
extending federal oversight in education
governance. Authority is delegated
sufcient to meet the minimum standard of
First Nations control in principle, but not in
actual practice. Since about 1980, federal
policy has promoted First Nations control
of education in the context of a model of
integration in which First Nations students
are permitted to enrol in provincial school
systems offering educational services
and programs. In addition, First Nations
control over education has been gradually
ceded to delegated education authorities
as part of a larger strategy of fostering
economic development in First Nations
communities. Although presented as a
means of decolonization, the federal and
provincial governments have promoted self-
government and local control primarily as
a way of encouraging First Nations to give
up traditional ways and enter the market
society. Such experiments in devolution, as
Fallon and Paquette aptly observe, have
merely substituted a new form of neo-
colonialism” that is “deeply rooted in a
denial of First Nations peoples’ capacity to
formulate their own conceptions of person
and society” (2012, 12).
Recent federal-local agreements
negotiated as part of the devolution
movement in Nova Scotia and British
Columbia look promising, but — through
control of the purse — actually might
perpetuate the hegemony of the federal
and provincial governments over First
Nations communities. With a few exceptions,
the SGAs provide limited devolution of
power framed within what Fallon and
Paquette term “the municipal model of
self-government.” Some administrative
autonomy is ceded, but only within limits
set by outside educational authorities
controlled by federal and, mostly, provincial
governments. Despite appropriating
the public language of First Nations
empowerment, the real changes necessary
to extend authentic “Aboriginalization”
of education seem to be absent on the
ground in First Nations communities and
their schools. A decade ago, a report by
Cynthia Wesley-Esquimaux aptly entitled
“Reclaiming the Circle of Learning” and
written for the Ontario Assembly of Chiefs,
warned that history was in danger of
repeating itself in that recent shifts in the
direction of devolution did not amount to
fundamental change (Wesley-Esquimaux
2004; see also McCue 1999).
The proposed 2013 First Nations Education
Act was the latest mutation of devolution.
Under the guise of supporting devolution,
the federal government proposed to
establish what amounted to a new system
appropriating the provincial school board
model, with signicant strings attached.
Despite the friendly sounding rhetoric,
the legislation sought to ll the identied
void at the centre of the “non-system” of
First Nations education (Canada 2013c).
Confronted with what looked like a
“fractured mirror” in education governance,
Ottawa opted to nudge First Nations in the
direction of creating more confederated
boards to manage the more than 550 First
Nations schools scattered across Canada’s
ten provinces.
Introducing a school board model,
however, likely would curtail, rather than
advance, the movement to community-
based schools. A study for the Canadian
School Boards Association, conducted from
December 2010 to November 2011, raised
red ags about the impact of centralization
on the state of local democratic control
in Canada’s provincially regulated school
boards. Surveying national trends over the
past two decades, the authors conclude
that “the signicance of the school district
apparatus in Canada has diminished as
provincial governments have enacted
an aggressive centralization agenda”
(Sheppard et al. 2013, 42). In another
paper, they claim that democratic school
board governance is in serious jeopardy
because trustees and superintendents now
operate in a politicized policy environment
that is “antagonistic to local governance”
(Galway et al. 2013, 27–28). Elected school
boards subscribing to a corporate policy-
making model have also tended to stie
trustee autonomy and to narrow the scope
of local, community decision-making
(Bennett 2012). Introducing conventional
school board governance could impose
a new set of system-wide standards
and accountabilities while withholding
curriculum autonomy and thwarting the
introduction of holistic learning, Indigenous
knowledge, and heritage languages.
The Autonomous Community
Education Authority Model
Empowering First Nations through self-
government in education still has
considerable potential to break the long-
standing gridlock, and the Nova Scotia
Mi’kmaw model might provide a more
viable and visionary option going forward.
In 1997, nine Mi’kmaw chiefs and Minister
of Indian Affairs Ronald Irwin achieved a
breakthrough by signing An Agreement
with Respect to Mi’kmaw Education Nova
Scotia. Subsequent provincial and federal
legislation enabled the Mi’kmaq to opt
out of the Indian Act and gain jurisdiction
over primary, elementary, and secondary
educational programs and services
(Carr-Stewart and Steeves 2009, 9). Two
years after the agreement, the Mi’kmaw
Education Act became Canadian law,
eventually bringing 11 of 13 Mi’kmaw
communities under that umbrella and
recognizing the right to local decision-
making on educational curriculum,
including language, history, identity, and
The Nova Scotia agreement established a
new approach to the schooling of about
3,000 Mi’kmaw students (Lewington 2012,
14), but although this governance model
was praised by the National Panel on First
Nations education, the proposed federal
legislation stops short of a full commitment
to protect a “child’s right to their culture,
language and identity, a quality education,
funding, and First Nations control over First
Nation education.” It is, however, worth
a closer look as a possible model for First
Nations self-government in education.
The Nova Scotia Mi’kmaw education
model is the culmination of two decades
of experience in building the Mi’kmaw
Kina’matnewey, a First Nations education
authority now distributing some $40 million
a year in federal grants to its member
communities and preparing local
communities to assume more educational
responsibilities. Most signicantly, the three-
party agreement recognizes the role of the
education authority to support local band
schools in delivering language immersion
and other culturally based programs and
activities (Mi’kmaw Kina’matnewey 2013).
The Mi’kmaw model exemplies a unique
brand of “sovereignty-association” that
shows considerable promise for turning
around First Nations education in Nova
Scotia. Early indications are that students
are more engaged because of pedagogy
and curriculum that are more attuned
to Mi’kmaw traditions. For the 2010–11
education year, the MK reported rising high
school graduation rates that are now more
competitive with those for the province as
a whole. That success rate impressed Scott
Haldane, chair of the 2012 National Panel,
and demonstrated the potential benets of
extending more autonomy to First Nations
in managing their own community schools
(Lewington 2012, 14).
The critical public policy question is whether
the Mi’kmaw education model is working
“on the ground” and is an initiative that
is scalable. First Nations schools in Nova
Scotia still adhere to provincial standards
and diploma requirements, so their students
can transfer smoothly to provincial schools
at any time (Beswick 2013). Reproducing
and aggregating a community education
authority model might prove exceedingly
difcult, however, given the wide variety
of educational provision from province
to province. Self-governing educational
entities are only as strong as their ties to
local First Nations communities, and moving
to a larger scale might risk losing a footing in
local communities and their cultures.
First Nations communities continue to exhibit
a rich diversity of languages, traditions,
and economic development aspirations.
Establishing self-governance among First
Nations resting on multiple foundations, as
Fallon and Paquette warn, can be fraught
with potential challenges. As the AFN
demonstrates, fashioning common policy
can be difcult because of competing
priorities that pit First Nations bands steeped
in tradition against those with clearer
economic development aspirations (Fallon
and Paquette 2012, 24). Aggregating First
Nations self-government in Nova Scotia
proved difcult enough, which raises the
question of its viability as a pan-Canadian
strategy for First Nations education reform
and governance.
The Community-School-
Based Management Model
First Nations education has proven resistant
to centralized and top-down education
governance from the advent of the
Indian Act to the present day. AANDC
directly manages only seven of the more
than ve hundred First Nations schools,
but still acts as the “transfer agency” and
controls the purse strings of First Nations
education. Unfortunately, the proposed First
Nations Control of First Nations Education
Act, whatever its intentions, looks like just
another attempt to apply a pan-Canadian
educational management cure to what
ails First Nations education. However,
attempting to replicate the autonomous
First Nations authority model on a national
scale, with or without the proposed
legislation, might prove difcult because
the model is more an organic creation than
an organizational venture. Introducing the
model in a systematic, top-down fashion
might also run the risk of furthering the
advance of centralized administration and
bureaucratic control. The best alternative
to the proposed First Nations education
reform initiative might well lie in establishing
a governance framework that shifts
the focus from erecting organizational
structures to developing and building true
community schools. Fears expressed by
Canadian education policy specialists that
decentralization leads to the “the promotion
of particularism” (Fallon and Paquette 2012,
25) are largely unfounded. Indeed, the
best way forward likely lies in introducing
and building on best practices in
community schooling and learning from the
governance experience of Nova Scotia’s
Mi’kmaw schools. Moving outside the box of
current Canadian education governance,
a dramatic change in the direction of
school-based management is more likely to
afrm the principle of self-government and,
in the end, to generate thriving First Nations
schools that produce more engaged and
fully educated student graduates.
Good education for First Nations children
will come, not from managerial efciency,
increased funding, or even better physical
plant facilities, but from improvements
in school administration, teaching, and
learning. Turning the situation around for
First Nations students will also require a
major change in the way local schools
are actually managed and run. Since the
publication of William G. Ouchi’s Making
Schools Work (2008), school reformers have
been more attuned to the centralizing
tendencies of education systems and the
advantages of school-based management.
Those lessons have been absorbed and
implemented more outside the United
States than inside; in particular, they have
been adopted by the World Bank in its
international educational decentralization
development projects. As Bruns, Filmer, and
Patrinos (2011, 87) aptly state, in summing
up a 2005 World Bank study, “a service
education is too complex to be efciently
produced and distributed in a centralized
Decentralization of education to First
Nations communities might work far
better than introducing a new layer of
bureaucratic oversight. First Nations leaders,
including AFN Chief Shawn Atleo, are
rmly committed to self-governance in
education, and community-school-based
management would address that aspiration
directly. From the federal government’s
perspective, such a model might well
provide a powerful incentive that ultimately
leads to better teaching, learning, and
student achievement. Devolution to true
school-based management, through First
Nations school governing councils, would
also provide important new incentives to
improve learning and life outcomes for
students. US economic policy experts Eric
Hanushek and Ludger Woessmann have
identied three such incentives unleashed
by school-based management: choice
and competition, school autonomy, and
school accountability (Hanushek and
Woessmann 2007). The prime advantages
of decentralization in the form of school-
based management are, in fact, consistent
with the goals and aspirations of Canada’s
First Nations. Increased autonomy, devolved
responsibility, and responsiveness to local
needs — the core principles of community-
school-based management — mesh
well with First Nations aspirations and the
objective of raising student performance
and graduation levels (see Bruns, Filmer, and
Patrinos 2011).
5.0 The Case for Community-School-
Based Management Renewal
The Case for
Based Management
The current state of First Nations educational
governance has been likened by Sheila
Carr-Stewart and Larry Steeves to “a
fractured mirror” that has “negatively
impacted First Nations education” (2009,
13). Simply transferring funds to First Nations
schools to support teacher salaries, they
claim, will not, in and of itself, improve
levels of student achievement. More can
and should be done to turn around First
Nations schools in the interests of their
students. Judging from the reaction of both
the AFN and First Nations educators to the
proposed federal legislation, relying on
past precedents in First Nations education,
centralizing administration, and imposing
new school board-like structures will spark
dissent and resistance at all levels from
chiefs to Elders to local teachers in the more
than 550 schools located on reserves.
Over the past century, provincial initiatives,
including new governance models,
corporate managerialism, and block
funding programs, have provided a few
lessons about the limits of central direction
and bureaucratic “paper accountability”
(Johnson 2004, 23) Yet the education
establishment views providing educational
services to First Nations that are equitable
to those provided other Canadians
as synonymous with transplanting and
extending the centralizing administrative
model to First Nations communities (Bell
We can all agree that Canada
needs a new story...Our new
story embraces the dream of our
ancestors – yours and mine. The
dream of the two row of wampum
– of canoes travelling side by side
but never interfering with the other’s
path; the dreams of the original
Treaties of peace and friendship;....
the dream of Indigenous leaders
who sought to protect their citizens,
their territories, and their way of life.
— Shawn A-in-cut Atleo
et al. 2004, 13). Instead, the “school
improvement journey” for First Nations,
after the legacy of failed centralized
administration, must leave room for schools
to develop the capacity to manage
themselves. At the same time, although
the Mi’kmaw education model of shared
and distributed authority is difcult to assess
denitively, given current levels of funding
and organizational support, the goal of
afrming the right of First Nations to self-
governance would seem to be far better
served by giving far more autonomy to
principals and teachers in those schools.
School leaders, properly trained and
can make a
difference through
based curriculum,
and pedagogy
respectful of
Indigenous ways
and customs (CCL
2009, 5–7; Hurton
Community-school-based management
was rst implemented in Canada some 40
years ago in the Edmonton public schools
by newly appointed superintendent Mike
Strembitsky. In the words of former teachers’
union president Karen Beaton, Strembitsky’s
innovation “turned the entire concept
of the district upside down” (Neal 1991,
4; see also Ouchi 2008, 24). Adopting a
completely new approach, he embarked
on an initiative to give self-governance
to principals and schools through the
decentralization of decisions from the
district ofce to the school. The central idea
was deceptively simple: “Every decision
which contributes to the instructional
effectiveness of the school and which
can be made at school level, should be
made at school level” (Coleman 1984, 25).
Most of the transfers have involved school-
based budgeting and resource-allocation
decisions, but the basic principle is also
applied to all educational decisions.
Policy-makers looking for actual living
examples of community-school-based
management would be well advised to take
a much closer look at the Edmonton public
school model, but decentralized education
governance has also been implemented in
Regina, Saskatchewan. There, a community
schools initiative, negotiated in 1980
with seven groups,
including Aboriginals
and marginalized
succeeded in securing
“a greater level of
over their children’s
education” (Elliott
2012, 1–3, 6–8). In the
mid-1990s, the school-
based management
movement spread to
Seattle, Washington, and Houston, Texas,
and by 2001 the decentralized model had
become fully established in both US cities
(Ouchi 2008, 23–46).
As noted, school-based management has
also been adopted by the World Bank on
a larger scale. Building on research by Eric
Hanushek and Dale Jorgenson (1996), since
2004 World Bank authorities have embraced
school-based management and teacher
autonomy as the means of promoting
higher student achievement levels in
developing countries (Bruns, Filmer, and
Patrinos 2011, 88). Decentralization of school
decision-making, in fact, has become a
Everyone in the wrong place, focusing
on the wrong things. It’s a classic case
of missing the forest for the trees.... it’s
the way schools are managed that
makes the difference.
— William G. Ouchi
major component of the World Bank’s work on “citizen mobilization in education.” The Bank
provides nancial incentives, including grants to schools, to advance the decentralization of
school decision-making to parents, principals, and teachers. A 2009 review of such projects
offers a generally positive assessment of their cost effectiveness and contribution to increased
parent participation, reduced failure rates, and declining dropout rates (Barrera-Osorio, Patrinos,
and Fasih 2009). Independent research in the United States claims, however, that school-based
management reforms in that country took at least ve years for results to become evident and
about eight years to yield improved student test results (Bruns, Filmer, and Patrinos 2011, 101; see
Figure 4 and Table 1).
FIGURE 4: Measuring the Impact of SBM Initiatives, 1998-2007
Source:Barbara Bruns, Deon Filmer, and Harry Anthony Patrinos (2011). Making Schools Work: New Evidence on
Accountability Reforms. World Bank, Graph, pp. 101.
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8-14
Years of SBM program implementation
adjusted effect size
(standard deviation)
TABLE 1: How to Measure the Impact of School-Based Management (SBM) Initiatives
Dimension Objective Question Type Question or topic examples
A. Education literature
Scope Clarity of goals and real
inuence of the board
Self-diagnosis; “site team”
(community, council, or
school board)
Site team members agree on
what kinds of decisions team
may make, or site team has
inuence on important issues.
Decision making Implementation practices Self-diagnosis; “site team” Members work to implement
decisions made, or members
work to correct problems that
arise during implementation.
Trust Interaction among
Self-diagnosis; “site team” Site team members have equal
opportunity to be involved
in decisions, or site team
communicates openly.
B. Economic literature
Information at local
Changes in key decisions Personnel (teachers and
Who makes decisions about
ring, hiring, rotation time,
Spending Spending on infrastructure,
Changes in education
Change in pedagogy, changes
in time allocation, absenteeism
of teachers
Resource mobilizations Amount of resources from
Accountability and
Involvement of parents
and community
Direct involvement in school Power of board, type and
number of meetings, decisions in
Better accountability and
Links between parental
involvement and decisions
Do complaints or praise about
teachers translate into decisions
about the teacher?
Changes in the accounting
systems of the school
Implementation of EMS,
changes in account tracking
Changes in the climate of
the school
Changes in attitude of teachers
and students about the school
Source:Barbara Bruns, Deon Filmer, and Harry Anthony Patrinos (2011). Making Schools Work: New Evidence on
Accountability Reforms. World Bank, Table, pp. 100.
A recent study of the young adult Aboriginal population (ages 20 to 24) in British Columbia by
John Richards nds that Aboriginal K-12 student outcomes in that province are much better than
those of their counterparts in Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta (Richards
2013; see also Cayo 2013); Nova Scotia, with a unique umbrella First Nations education authority,
was not included in the review. These superior student outcomes in British Columbia, according
to Richards, were the result of three factors. One is “incentives” for provincial school districts to
consult with First Nations leaders and to embrace innovative programs with more community-
based participation. Another key factor is comprehensive and regular monitoring of Aboriginal
school performance in core competencies of reading, writing and mathematics. The third is the
provision of secondary services by First-
Nations-run institutions to reserve schools
(ibid., 1, 12). Taken together, Richards’
ndings tend to support innovation in the
direction of more autonomous educational
governance by and for Aboriginal
Establishing a governance framework
that supports community-school-based
management is only the rst step, however,
in making First Nations schools work for
students, teachers, and families. Also
required is a major project of capacity
building to ensure that First Nations
communities, at the school level, take full
advantage of the opportunities for more
meaningful local engagement in decision-
making. The Chiefs of Ontario report (2011)
suggests that the essential ingredients might
be found in the current band-council-led
school system. Lise Chabot (2005) sees
evidence of the essential preconditions:
parental involvement strategies, policies,
programs, and services. Her report, based
on 2004 consultations with Ontario First
Nations communities, is replete with
examples of parent involvement adorned
with all the popular buzz words: community
governance, consultation, planning, input,
partnership, leadership — particularly
grassroots leadership and local control.
Monitoring and reporting, reciprocal
relationships, and representation are all
lauded, especially on provincial school
boards and committees. Collaboration
and coordination are the favoured
methods for advancing programs for
parents and their children (ibid., 23–25).
Parental involvement in schools, whether
First Nation or mainstream, can be more
symbolic than real and can be constrained
by “marginalization,” but it does open
the door to more genuine engagement
in local decision-making and to stronger
public accountability at the school level
(Kavanagh 1999; 2002).
First-Nations-run schools do not necessarily
lead, however, to the development of either
effective school administration or to true
school-based decision-making. Chabot
nds that teachers, principals, staff, school
boards, and band councils “limit parental
involvement in school management,” and
that the “virtual exclusion” of First Nations
parents from school management and
school board membership, and as resource
people, supporters and facilitators of
education is “a serious problem.” Where
the problem is being surmounted, it requires
“innovative methods” usually at the
instigation of a strong individual or groups of
individuals. In the Ontario communities she
examines, however, a signicant obstacle is
posed by “the scarcity of grassroots leaders”
(Chabot 2005, 19).
Any First Nations education legislation
faces the formidable challenge of lling the
gap between the symbolic representation
of First Nations parents, families, and
communities in school-based management
to meaningful representation. Indeed, the
Senate report on First Nations education
(Canada 2011a) identies the critical
need for programming at schools that
brings in, and draws strength from, families
and communities. We argue that a true
community-school-based management
model offers a way to tap into the talents,
energies, and commitment of First Nations
parents, families, and communities in a
fashion that leads to their meaningful
involvement in First Nations education.
First Nations, Métis, and Inuit Holistic Lifelong
Learning models all put considerable
emphasis on community- or place-based
learning. Are parental involvement and
community involvement the same?
Would implementing community-school-
based management help to clarify the
differences and linkages between parental
and community involvement in school
governance? Since Chabot’s report is
more of an inventory than an analysis,
additional empirical research is required to
answer these questions denitively. Yet, if
the experience of Mi’kmaw education and
various World Bank projects in developing
countries is any guide, the engagement of
parents and community ownership of First
Nations schools could be greatly enhanced
by such structural reforms.
Community development starts with local
First Nations initiatives, as the File Hills
Qu’Appelle Tribal Council is demonstrating
with its child care, youth centre, and lifelong
learning ventures in rural southeastern
Saskatchewan (Anuik, Williamson, and
Findlay 2009, 81–82). Moving forward to
broaden the scope of local decision-
making would most certainly engage band
councils and breathe new life into parental
involvement at the school level. Indeed,
the June 2012 Summative Evaluation of the
Elementary/Secondary Education Program
on Reserve (Canada 2012c) identies the
lack of parental engagement and family
poverty as obstacles to First Nation students’
success, but the lack of school leadership
and teaching capacity are also a challenge
(ibid., 37–38). These factors, combined with
resistance to schooling compounded by
the residential schools experience, have
created “a distance between school and
home life.” Measurable improvements in
student outcomes are more difcult when
basic community needs, such as basic
social and economic infrastructure, safety,
suitable housing, and family stability, are
unmet (ibid., 30). With more band and
parental engagement, in the form of
community-school-based management,
improved student outcomes likely would
materialize over the medium and longer
The proposed First Nations Control of
First Nations Education Act needs to
be rethought if it is to make much of a
difference for First Nations students, families,
and teachers. Establishing a school board
organizational framework, in and of itself,
would accomplish little when not all boards
are the same and do not all serve the same
purpose. Building accountability requires a
longer-term commitment and investment,
especially when boards are newly created
or serving schools or communities with needs
that are signicantly greater than usual
(Maguire 2003, 9, 11; Raham 1998, 14–16).
Simply put, reforming First Nations education
involves far more than sweetening the
nancial terms and imposing a new set of
educational accountabilities. In its initial
form, the whole approach ran counter to
the fundamental principle of First Nations
control of First Nations education (Galloway
and Morrow 2013; Hill 2013). Although
the federal government is now publicly
committed to rm funding, it is contingent
on First Nations’ accepting the proposed
bureaucratic reform without any real
assurance of a community-based approach
more attentive and accountable to First
Nations parents, families, and communities.
If it is actually to renew First Nations
schooling, the proposed legislation must
do more than pay lip service to building
on community-level work to educate First
Nations children and youth under the
leadership of supportive parents, teachers,
and families.
6.0 Summary and Recommendations:
Making First Nations Schools Work
Summary and
Making First Nations
Schools Work
More must to be done to improve student
learning and the quality of education for
First Nations people. Some 40 percent of
Aboriginals do not nish high school, and
of First Nations adults living on reserve,
60 percent lack such certication, which
is widely acknowledged as essential to
securing employment and increasing life
chances. Although the number of Aboriginal
university graduates has doubled over
the past decade, the gap in educational
attainment levels and employment rates
between Aboriginals and other Canadians
has only grown wider (Fong and Gulati
2013, 1–6). As Queen’s University economist
Don Drummond has pointed out, the
Aboriginal student population is growing
dramatically — by the end of this decade,
about 30 percent of school-age children
in Saskatchewan and Manitoba will be
of Aboriginal descent (cited in Freisen
2013). Meeting the growing needs of First
Nations children and youth and closing
the educational gap thus has emerged as
one of Canada’s most critical public policy
challenges (Richards 2014).
First Nations leaders, community activists,
and researchers, however, see the state of
First Nations learning through a completely
different lens. From AFN Chief Shawn
Atleo to leading scholars such as Marie
Battiste, they express the need to forge a
more common, mutually acceptable, and
sounder understanding of what constitutes
success in First Nations learning. Raising
student achievement standards is a clear
priority, but that does not mean focusing
exclusively on student test results and
graduation rates. Such an approach, in
their view, focuses far too much on failure
and tends to ignore the successes rooted
in Indigenous culture and languages and
that reect a more holistic conception
of lifelong learning. While accepting that
educational conditions are poor in the
majority of First Nations communities, they
believe that focusing on assets rather than
on deciencies would result in a more robust
foundation for true Indigenous educational
improvement and, in the long run, would
be more effective in helping young First
Nations, Inuit, and Métis students to achieve
their fullest potential in life (Cappon 2008;
CCL 2009, 4–7).
The proposed First Nations Education Act
stirred resistance because of the bitter
legacy of past precedents (Miller 1996),
the imposition of a tight timetable for
implementation, and the initial absence
of any funding commitment (Woods
2013). Many chiefs saw in the proposed
2013 law clear evidence of the usual
hegemonic perspective and unmistakable
signs of top-down bureaucratic reform
thinking. Although couched in carefully
chosen language, the rationale in the
proposed act strongly suggested that the
“new approach” was another attempt at
“devolution” of self-government, rather
than a real transfer of local education
governance powers. Through the eyes of
Canada’s First Nations leaders, activists
and scholars, it looked very much like more
of the same — establishing a new level of
educational authority while withholding
full local autonomy and making no solid
commitment to addressing the need
for more funding. Nor did the proposed act reect the educational philosophy and priorities
espoused by Marie Battiste, the rst scholar to call for the creation of such legislation (Battiste
2000; see also Table 2).
TABLE 2: Proposed National Framework for Measuring Aboriginal Learning, 2008
Place where learning occurs (sources of learning)
Home School/
Community Land Workplace
Early learning Formal
Extent to which
parents read to
Access to
First Nations-
specic ECE
Access to
play group)
with family
who help
High school
Exposure to
school eld
trips to sacred
Use of First
language at
in sports and
programs at
in First
and festivals
Practice of
First Nations
skills (hunting,
of internship
Participation in
distance learning
courses leading
to a certication
Availability of
based post-
Availability of
Exposure to First
Nations culture
and traditions at
Access to
centres and/
or support
Access to
Use of celestial
Availability of
Adult learning Formal
First Nations
returning to
school to
high school
in formal
Reading non-
material at home
of traditional
medicines and
learning through
the Internet
Proportion of
teachers in
school who are
First Nations
of First Nations
culture at home
of elders at
with elders
who help
and culture
Extent of use
of traditional
Use of First
language in the
Source: Paul Cappon, “Measuring Success in First Nations, Inuit, and Metis Learning.” Policy Options (May, 2008), p. 65.
All school boards, as Helen Raham aptly
observed in 1998, are not created alike, and
the proposed First Nations model in the 2013
legislation is no exception. Over the past 20
years, school boards have become even
more subject to centralization (Galway et al.
2013). Creating a new layer of centralizing
administration would do little or nothing
to address what Lise Chabot (2005, 19)
terms the “marginalization” of parents and
local community members in the actual
management of First Nations education.
School superintendents, education
ofcials, and principals might even enjoy
consolidated power, rendering parental
participation mostly symbolic, limited to
attending meetings, complying with strict
governance rules, and exercising little or no
inuence because professionals control the
ow of information (ibid.; Kavanagh 1999).
The proposed First Nations Control of First
Nations Education Act, even in its latest
form, is at odds with the fundamental
aspirations and vision of education voiced
by First Nations over the past 40 years
(see, for example, AFN 1988, 2010; NIB
1972). Looking at First Nations education
governance as a “fractured mirror” and
describing it repeatedly as a “non-system”
clearly reects the centralist perspective
deeply ingrained in the Canadian
education establishment and exemplied in
the vast majority of school boards scattered
across Canada’s ten provinces. It is, in fact,
becoming increasingly clear that the real
intent of the proposed federal legislation is
to impose another layer of administrative
oversight in the realm of First Nations
In our view, the way to meet the aspirations
and goals of First Nations education is to
embrace a more holistic and community-
based philosophy of lifelong learning
(Cappon 2008), to adopt a broader
approach to raising student performance,
and to establish self-government in
actual practice. Such an approach, we
believe, is better suited to unlocking the
“learning spirit” in First Nations schools
and communities. We take the longer
view that, instead of imposing another
layer of bureaucratic oversight, it would
be far better to build on the potential
of the models of the self-governing
Mi’kmaw education authority (Fabian
2013) and the promising ventures rooted
in local community schools Rather than
attempting to replicate provincial school
board administrative management, we
recommend studying and learning from
the lessons provided by school-based
management ventures supported by the
World Bank in dozens of countries around
the world. Building schools from the school
level up is also seen as “an antidote to
new managerialism” and proving to be
more sustainable in the end (Johnson
2004, 1, 23). For those who prefer North
American examples of what can be done
to restore true local autonomy in publicly
funded schools, we recommend looking
at the Edmonton public schools, a proven
school choice model too often overlooked
in Canada but much admired by school
reformers around the globe. A genuine
community-school-based management
model, rooted in respect for First Nations
knowledge systems, languages, and ways
of knowing, has the greatest potential for
improving education on and off First Nations
Recommendation 1:
Rethink the proposed First
Nations Control of First Nations
Education Act and embrace
education renewal.
Abandon conventional education
governance reform in favour of a more
exible and community-based model of
school renewal that provides parents and
students access to a variety of publicly
funded school options, fullling the promise
of true First Nations community-run schools.
Make a much clearer commitment to
support and build capacity for community-
school-based management in First Nations
reserve schools. Embrace the “learning
spirit,” embodying the true aspirations and
goals of First Nations education as expressed
in the Canadian Council on Learning’s 2009
report, The State of Aboriginal Learning
in Canada and incorporating additional
provisions for the improvement of student
achievement levels.
Recommendation 2:
Review the proposed
funding plan.
Review the adequacy of the proposed
funding plan — specically the
implementation costs of $160 million
over four years or $40 million a year, and
representing only $63,000 annually for each
of Canada’s First Nations.
Recommendation 3:
Embrace traditional Indigenous
knowledge and languages as
the core foundation for First
Nations education policy.
Afrm the centrality of traditional knowledge
and languages as reected in the First
Nations Holistic Lifelong Learning framework
developed by Marie Battiste (2002) and the
Canadian Council on Learning (2009).
Recommendation 4:
Adopt new measures of First
Nations student performance
and success.
Support the initiative shown by First Nations
in developing the Holistic Lifelong Learning
Model framework for assessment, expanded
to include shorter-term goals for improving
student achievement levels and graduation
Recommendation 5:
Develop new and innovative
forms of local decision-making,
including parent/community
governing boards.
Enable autonomous First Nations community
schools authorities, governed entirely by
First Nations peoples themselves, to adopt
new forms of governance, respecting First
Nations traditions and supporting innovative
forms of local education decision-making,
including parent and community governing
Recommendation 6:
Establish a First Nations
culture, language, and
learning institute to study and
pilot promising practices in
governance, teaching, and
Create a First Nations culture,
language, and education institute, as
recommended by the Royal Commission
on Aboriginal Peoples (Canada 1996),
that would be responsible for gathering
research and data on the state of
Aboriginal education and entrusted with
a mandate to generate policy research
on educational improvement in First
Nations communities.
Recommendation 7:
Assess progress in
implementing community-
school-based management
and improving First Nations
student achievement levels,
starting in the 2018–19 school
After expanding the number of
community-based and -managed
schools, undertake a comprehensive
assessment of the effectiveness of the
initiative every ve years, starting in the
2018–19 school year.
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Across Canada there have been numerous recent examples of incidents where the political and ideological interests of provincial governments have run counter to the mandates of school districts. In this pan-Canadian study, focus groups were conducted with school board trustees and school district superintendents to examine the relationships between districts and provincial governments. Preliminary data suggest that the significance of the school district apparatus in Canada has diminished as provincial governments have enacted an aggressive centralization agenda. We theorize that in a politicized environment, the values, reward systems, and accountabilities against which school board superintendents and trustees operate are likely to differ substantively from those of politicians and bureaucrats, thereby creating a policy environment that is antagonistic to local governance.
Indigenous methodologies have been silenced and obscured by the Western scientific means of knowledge production. In a challenge to this colonist rejection of Indigenous knowledge, Anishinaabe researcher Kathy Absolon examines the academic work of eleven Indigenous scholars who utilize Indigenous world views in their search for knowing. Through an examination not only of their work but also of their experience in producing that work, Kaandossiwin describes how Indigenous researchers re-theorize and re-create methodologies. Understanding Indigenous methodologies as guided by Indigenous paradigms, world views, principles, processes and contexts. Absolon argues that they are wholistic, relational, inter-relational and interdependent with Indigenous philosophies, beliefs and ways of life. In exploring the ways Indigenous re-searchers use Indigenous methodologies within mainstream academia, Kaandossiwin renders these methods visible and helps guard other ways of knowing from colonial repression.
Poor education outcomes for Aboriginals in Canada have long been a source of concern for Aboriginal leaders and the provincial and federal governments. Notably, sixty percent of young Aboriginal adults living on reserves in Canada lack high-school certification. As a result, they face severely limited employment opportunities off-reserve, and limited opportunities on-reserve. Among young Canadians not living on a reserve, those who identify as Indian-First Nation have better education outcomes than those on-reserve, but they are weaker than outcomes for Metis. In general, non-Aboriginals achieve the best outcomes. This Commentary undertakes a suggestive, but far-from-definitive, exercise in assessing the role of education policies and institutions in Aboriginal K-12 outcomes. It disaggregates the young adult Aboriginal population (ages 20-24 at the time of the 2006 census) into subgroups defined by province, location within a province (urban vs. rural and on- vs. off-reserve) and by Aboriginal identity group (non-Aboriginal, Metis, Indian-First Nation). After allowance for the impact of school location and employment rate as a proxy for family characteristics, this examination finds that British Columbia has achieved considerably better K-12 outcomes than the five other provinces, Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta, with large Aboriginal cohorts. The Commentary discusses three institutional and policy differences between British Columbia and other provinces that may explain its superior outcomes: i) more comprehensive and regular monitoring of Aboriginal student performance in the core competencies of reading, writing and mathematics; ii) incentives for provincial school districts to innovate and consult with local Aboriginal leaders; and iii) the encompassing nature of First Nation institutions providing secondary services to reserve schools.
With the growing strength of minority voices in recent decades has come much impassioned discussion of residential schools, the institutions where attendance by Native children was compulsory as recently as the 1960s. Former students have come forward in increasing numbers to describe the psychological and physical abuse they suffered in these schools, and many view the system as an experiment in cultural genocide. In this first comprehensive history of these institutions, J.R. Miller explores the motives of all three agents in the story. He looks at the separate experiences and agendas of the government officials who authorized the schools, the missionaries who taught in them, and the students who attended them. Starting with the foundations of residential schooling in seventeenth-century New France, Miller traces the modern version of the institution that was created in the 1880s, and, finally, describes the phasing-out of the schools in the 1960s. He looks at instruction, work and recreation, care and abuse, and the growing resistance to the system on the part of students and their families. Based on extensive interviews as well as archival research, Miller's history is particularly rich in Native accounts of the school system. This book is an absolute first in its comprehensive treatment of this subject. J.R. Miller has written a new chapter in the history of relations between indigenous and immigrant peoples in Canada. Co-winner of the 1996 Saskatchewan Book Award for nonfiction. Winner of the 1996 John Wesley Dafoe Foundation competition for Distinguished Writing by Canadians Named an 'Outstanding Book on the subject of human rights in North America' by the Gustavus Myer Center for the Study of Human Rights in North America.
This paper reviews the meaning and content of various First-Nation self-government discourses that have emerged over the last 40 years. Based on a detailed thematic analysis of policy papers, reports, and self-governance agreements on this issue of First-Nations control of education, this paper presents a coherent and defensible understanding of the current state of First-Nations rights to control education while mapping institutional arrangements or internal principles of organization for self-determination that have emerged over time in discourse on First-Nations rights and education in Canada.