Students in communities belonging to the First Nations Education Council of Quebec will soon discover how cooperation and partnerships lead to lifelong benefits. On May 4th, 2012 the Government of Canada marked a major milestone in advancing this goal when the Honourable John Duncan, Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, Quebec's Minister for Native Affairs , Geoffrey Kelley and Chief Ghislain Picard of the Assembly of First Nations of Quebec and Labrador (AFNQL) signed a Tripartite Education Agreement to provide students with the necessary learning tools and conditions for success.
The signing of a Memorandum of Agreement (MOU) committed all parties to work together to improve First Nation students' success. Quebec youth will join the growing ranks of First Nation school children across Canada to benefit from the Education Partnership Program.
Beyond academic achievement, the partnership program recognizes that First Nation youth deserve an education that ensures they graduate with the skills needed to succeed in today's job market. In an age when a country's human resources are its most valuable resource, and at a time when Canada's demographic challenges place a premium on new workers entering the labour force, Canada cannot afford to squander the incredible potential of the fastest-growing segment of the population. But more than economics, the program underlines that both First Nations and Canadians will be stronger when First Nation people can fully contribute their skills and talents and benefit equally from Canada's prosperity.
This partnership approach acknowledges that improving educational outcomes is a shared responsibility: governments, communities, educators, families and students all have a role to play. As Chief Picard said at the signing ceremony, "It is my hope that this partnership will give us a better understanding of the needs of First Nation students and help the parties, within the scope of their responsibilities and jurisdictions and in the spirit of co-operation and sharing of expertise, to prepare these students so they can take their rightful place in society in general and as citizens of First Nations."
First Nation students in seven other provinces are already taking advantage of the Education Partnership Program, as successive communities have signed on to tripartite agreements since the program's launch in 2008 and reviews of the existing partnerships are positive.
James Wilson, Commissioner of the Treaty Relations Commission of Manitoba , believes that access to provincial education resources has improved immensely since Manitoba signed an MOU in 2009.
He told a Senate Committee that, "Before the agreement, the province would not set foot on reserve. We would ask the province for an assessment specialist and they said: well, we cannot do any training on reserve... After the agreement came into effect, we requested assessment specialists and, right away, they flew them up and spent two days in our community."
These agreements offer important lessons for Aboriginal youth about the power of partnerships to effect positive change and, most important, provide the necessary tools to make progress possible.