Investments in First Nation Education

Notes for an address by the Honourable John Duncan, PC, MP
Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development

Investments in First Nation Education

Museum of Civilization, Gatineau, Quebec
October 2, 2012

Check against delivery

Good morning ladies and gentlemen. I'm pleased to join you here on Algonquin traditional territory and to acknowledge the special people that are here. My colleague MP Clarke and my colleague Rod Bruinooge are both here and members of the Aboriginal caucus of course.

I'd like to talk to you about an issue that is important to all of us and that is First Nation education. I'd like to acknowledge that there's many interested First Nation partners meeting in Ottawa at a special assembly on education this week that began yesterday, runs today and tomorrow. I have seen your officials in attendance and we're looking forward to outcomes.

Whether we have school-age children or not education is an issue that ultimately impacts all of us. Ultimately, we all recognize the benefits of an educated society.

A good education opens doors, creates opportunity and can lead to a good job. Over the long term, more job opportunities will lead to healthier, more self-sufficient First Nation communities. And that is a goal we all share. It is good for First Nations and it is good for Canada.

Our government has been consistent in taking concrete steps to address the education needs of First Nation students and improve educational outcomes.

At the Crown-First Nations Gathering in January of this year, Prime Minister Harper and First Nation chiefs renewed their commitment to education reform. And our government has acted on that commitment with $275 million in new funding for First Nation education in Economic Action Plan 2012.

Our plan for these additional funds will support the steps we have already taken to create the conditions for First Nations students to get the education they need to pursue the same opportunities and successes as all other Canadian students.

Our Government invests approximately $1.5 billion each year to support 117,500 First Nation elementary and secondary students living on reserve across the country. In addition, we provide on average over $200 million annually on education infrastructure.

Economic Action Plan 2012 committed to providing an additional $275 million to improve the learning environments and education outcomes of First Nation students.

This includes $175 million to build and renovate schools on reserve, thus providing First Nation students with better learning environments.

Of that, we have allocated funding to begin work on three schools in 2012, including Fort Severn and Pikangikum First Nations in Ontario, which we announced this summer, and Shamattawa First Nation in Manitoba.

We are also committing $50 million to encourage cost-sharing partnerships among industry and First Nations to find more innovative and cost-effective ways of procuring and building new schools.

Specifically, we will be seeking proposals for multiple school projects in Northern Manitoba and Ontario.

Another $25 million will be invested to fund First Nations-lead proposals for innovative new approaches to on-reserve school design and procurement.

Our approach will maximize the impact of our infrastructure dollars, allowing our investments in infrastructure to be felt by more First Nation students in more communities.

But funding infrastructure is only part of what we’re delivering.

We also need to continue to invest in education programming, like early literacy programs for children in grades K to 3, and better systems and standards to support strong and accountable education on-reserve.

That’s why we committed to having in place a First Nation Education Act by fall 2014. And to ensure that First Nation education organizations on reserve are prepared for the implementation of legislation we are investing $100 million in the Strong Schools, Successful Students Initiative.

Organizations will be invited to submit proposals for funding to build school administrative capacity, as well as for early literacy programming, and other supports or services for First Nation schools and students.

Today’s announcement makes clear that we are serious not only about continuing to invest in First Nations education, but that we are taking real action to put in place the structures necessary to strengthen the on-reserve education system.

While the numbers show that federal per-student funding is, across the country comparable to provincial per-student funding levels, money is but one factor in improving education outcomes.

Legislation will make a lasting impact too. Officials from my department are in discussions now with First Nations leaders, educators and other experts on what a First Nations Education Act could look like, and the specific issues it must address.

Our government recognizes that education is crucial to unlocking the potential of First Nation youth and to supporting the growth of healthier, more self-sufficient communities. We will continue to invest in and work with our partners to ensure that First Nations students have the best possible education and all of the opportunities that go with it.

A good K-12 education opens the door to opportunities, to jobs, and to personal success and prosperity. With the actions and investments I have outlined today, our government is working to place a good education within the grasp of all First Nation students.

Thank you.