Let’s talk on-reserve education: Survey report

The opinions and views set out in this report prepared by Hill+Knowlton Strategies Canada are not necessarily the opinions or views of the Government of Canada.

Table of contents

Introduction: First Nation kindergarten to grade 12 education

The Government of Canada recognizes that enhancing First Nation education is a fundamental part of renewing the relationship with Indigenous peoples. First Nation children and youth deserve culturally appropriate, high-quality education that meets their needs while respecting the principle of First Nations control of First Nation education.

The government is committed to supporting the renewal of a nation-to-nation fiscal relationship with First Nations that provides sufficient, predictable, and sustained funding for essential programs and services. The goal of this renewed fiscal relationship is to improve economic and social outcomes for First Nation peoples, and to eliminate disparities and inequities between First Nations and other Canadians.

To this end, the government is working with First Nations to develop and implement positive changes and to establish a new partnership on First Nation elementary and secondary education. Budget 2016 announced an unprecedented funding increase of $2.6 billion over five years for primary and secondary education on reserve. This includes support for the transformation of education systems with the aim of improving education outcomes for First Nation children.

This investment is only a first step, as the Government of Canada is engaging with First Nation partners to make further improvements in education. 

The government supported community gatherings led by First Nation organizations that were held across Canada from January to April 2017, to get parents and community members' perspectives on what needs to be done to ensure that all First Nation students receive a quality education that improves student success.

In order to hear from as many voices as possible, and provide a forum for those who were not able to attend community gatherings in person, Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) launched the online Let's Talk On-Reserve Education survey, which was available from February to April 2017. The objective of this survey was to collect input from youth, parents, Elders, technicians, First Nation leaders, and anyone else interested in sharing their perspectives on First Nation education. The survey was promoted through social media, shared at conferences and events, and approximately 6,300 paper copies were mailed to First Nation education partners and INAC regional offices for distribution.

Information collected from the survey will help inform the other elements of engagement on education, such as technical task teams jointly-led by members of First Nation organizations and government officials, as well as regional dialogue sessions between First Nation leaders and senior government representatives.

The Government of Canada recognizes that a one-size-fits-all approach will not work, and that is why the information collected from this survey was carefully examined on a region-by-region basis. Building upon existing knowledge and previous discussions with First Nations, this region-specific information will help to facilitate important regional discussions with First Nation leadership and technical experts, to identify the current gaps and steps forward in enhancing First Nation education.

Overall, this engagement process will help establish a new partnership between Canada and First Nations to ensure that all First Nation students receive a culturally responsive, high-quality education that improves student outcomes, while respecting regional priorities and the principle of First Nations control of First Nation education.

The Government of Canada thanks those who have taken the time to participate in the Let's Talk On-Reserve Education survey. Your responses, perspectives, and insights are appreciated and they form an important part of the discussion on enhancing First Nation education in Canada.

National summary

This is a summary of all survey responses received from across Canada.

Priority issues

Before giving their feedback on specific issues related to First Nation education, survey participants stated their most important issues or concerns overall. Across the country, the following major categories, or themes, of comments were most prominent, listed in order based on the responses.

Language, culture, and history was a major theme identified in every region. Many respondents expressed the view that First Nation culture should be an important part of the entire school curriculum. Traditional activities should be valued and built into classes, including land-based learning. Participants indicated that accurate history must be taught, including residential schools and their effects, treaties, and the Indian Act. First Nation languages should also be promoted and preserved. Respondents cited the importance of language instruction, including immersion, and teachers who are able to teach First Nation languages. Teachers should also be trained in cultural sensitivity. Participants often linked teaching language, culture, and history to developing a positive, confident, and proud First Nations identity, leading to success both in and out of the classroom.

Equity issues was another main theme. Respondents commented on an unfair gap in education quality and funding that favoured off-reserve schools. Many respondents indicated that that on-reserve schools have less qualified teachers and a curriculum that is not at a comparable level to off-reserve, provincially-run schools. Many also highlighted the large funding gap which they linked to lower academic and career success levels among First Nation students. Gaps were also noted in student support services, school infrastructure, and the accessibility of education.

Funding issues was also a top theme nationally. Many respondents indicated that funding, and the need for higher funding levels, is the single most important issue in First Nation education. A wide range of programs were listed which need more financial support, including programs for persons with disabilities, language and culture, extracurricular activities, further education, and health and wellness. Participants noted that the ability to hire and retain good quality teachers is limited due to a lack of funding, as is the ability to hire counsellors and teacher's aides, and to provide ongoing professional development. Respondents also criticised the funding model itself, indicating that stable, long-term funding is needed. Additionally, participants commented on an unfair funding gap between on- and off-reserve schools.

Support for students was another leading theme, as respondents mentioned the need for a variety of student supports. Supporting students with disabilities and learning difficulties should be a priority, with many participants mentioning the need for specialized programs, teacher's aides and one-on-one attention, along with early assessments to determine the cause of any difficulties. Respondents often noted that First Nation children may be dealing with trauma and need schools to have mental health support available, including counsellors. The need for anti-bullying and suicide prevention programs was also highlighted. Participants discussed the need for homework support both at lunch time and after school hours, and a need for tutors. Meal programs were considered important, along with transportation support to and from school and extracurricular activities. Respondents mentioned that students transitioning off-reserve to attend school and further education should be supported.

Student success

How can students be supported?

Respondents across the country highlighted several ways to help support First Nation students, grouped into major themes below in order based on the responses.

Language, culture, and history was a top theme from respondents in all regions. Many respondents stated that First Nation culture should be made a part of the curriculum and that it should be built into all classes, all grades, and each school day. The curriculum should celebrate First Nation heritage and include cultural events and activities, allowing students to build traditional skills. On-the-land learning was identified as one way to do this. Respondents often linked learning about First Nation language, culture, and history with developing pride in a student's First Nation identity. Participants indicated students should learn their First Nation language, and often stated that immersion programs should be available. Additionally, First Nation history should be taught, especially the history of residential schools and treaties. Respondents also mentioned the importance of involving Elders in any teaching of First Nation language, culture, and history.

Qualified teachers and support staff was another major theme across the country. Participants emphasized that teachers should be well-qualified and trained not only to teach basic subjects like reading, writing, and math, but also more diverse courses like fine arts, home economics, physical education, and First Nation languages. Teachers should also be prepared to teach students with disabilities or students with mental illness. Respondents wanted teachers to be trained in cultural sensitivity and have an understanding of First Nation backgrounds. They indicated that teachers should be caring, compassionate, dedicated, and willing to be involved in the local community. The importance of other school staff was also raised, including the need for counsellors, teacher's aides, speech therapists, tutors, and language and culture teachers. In addition, many respondents mentioned a lack of funding affected a school's ability to hire and retain good quality teachers with competitive salaries, and to offer ongoing and up-to-date professional development.

Extracurricular activities was another main theme from respondents, many of whom provided suggestions on what activities should be available to First Nation students. Organized sports was the top suggestion, though some respondents also wanted non-competitive activities. Other suggestions included science or technology clubs or camps, various arts-related activities (e.g. music, drama, dance, and photography), field trips, and supervised youth groups where students could feel safe. Participants mentioned the physical and mental health benefits of extracurricular activities, along with the opportunities for learning, but many noted that financial help is necessary to cover transportation costs and fees.

Education equipment and facilities was also a key theme. Participants recommended that schools should have libraries with up to date books, gyms with equipment, science labs, playgrounds, and music rooms with instruments. Another priority identified by respondents was the availability of modern technology for students, including laptops and tablets, along with reliable and high-speed internet. Teachers should also be trained to use technology. Participants mentioned that more funding is required for these types of facilities.

How can educators help?

Respondents across Canada identified three key themes concerning qualities that teachers need to work well with First Nation students.

Knowledge of language, history, and culture was a major theme from respondents across Canada. Participants stressed the need for teachers to be aware of the historical trauma that First Nation communities have faced, including residential schools, and to be well-trained in cultural sensitivity and racism awareness. Teachers should also make First Nation culture, history, and language a part of the curriculum they teach, from preschool onward. First Nation culture should be embraced in their classrooms, and teachers should include cultural activities and land-based learning in their lessons. Many respondents stated that teachers should be fluent in the First Nation language of their community, though views differed on whether teachers should be from the First Nation community. The importance of teaching accurate history was highlighted, including the impact of residential schools, treaties, and government policies. Some participants also noted the importance of inviting Elders to participate in classes.

An understanding, compassionate approach to teaching was also a common theme from participants, who indicated that teachers should be caring, understanding, compassionate, and respectful. They should be sensitive to the challenges that First Nation children often face, including the intergenerational trauma of residential schools. Respondents wanted teachers to have a passion for their job, not just for the salary. Teachers need to be open-minded and interested in learning more about First Nation culture. Additionally, participants wanted teachers to build trusting, respectful relationships with their students while also being role models for them.

Qualified teachers and staff was another important theme, as respondents expressed that teachers should be well-qualified and trained to teach, including subjects like reading, writing, math, and science. Participants stated that teachers need to be subject to better evaluation, and that they should be capable of meeting provincial teaching standards. Additionally, teachers should be able to adapt their teaching methods to the needs of each individual student. Teacher training was identified as key to student success, including training in First Nation culture, how to work with students with disabilities, how to identify emotional trauma in children, and how to intervene in situations of child abuse. Some participants also mentioned the importance of ongoing professional development.

Language and culture

What is currently available? What is working?

Over two-thirds of respondents across the country noted that either First Nation language or culture is taught in school in their community. About half indicated that both are taught. When considering what they liked about how language and culture is being taught in some schools, participants highlighted some key themes.

Preserving and promoting First Nation language and culture was a major theme from respondents, who were glad to see language and cultural activities in schools. This helps to ensure that First Nation language and culture will be maintained for future generations, and that children who learn about cultural activities will continue to practice them through adulthood. It also helps students learn about the traditions and history of their own community, especially if they are not learning this at home.

Fostering pride and a sense of identity was also a key theme, as participants emphasized that teaching First Nation language and culture builds pride and a sense of self-worth among First Nation students. It also helps them to develop a positive First Nation identity and a sense of belonging in their community. When students see their culture taught in schools, they see that it is important and valued. Respondents linked a proud First Nation identity to success later in life.

Involving Elders and other Indigenous community members was also a leading theme among participants across Canada. Respondents stated that when Elders and local Indigenous community members are involved in teaching language and culture, it brings the community together. Community members can also teach the local language dialect, and can relate to local values, beliefs, and traditions. In addition, participants noted that this process brings Elders and young people together.

While most respondents from all regions highlighted the aspects that they appreciated about how First Nation language or culture is taught, some also mentioned the need for improvement. In some schools, the language and culture curriculum should be redeveloped to teach more First Nation language to more grades and in a more engaging way. Participants also stated that language and culture instruction should take place in both on- and off-reserve schools. More funding is also needed for language teachers and teaching resources.

What could help?

When considering a list of factors that could contribute to effective First Nation language and culture education in schools, having students learn about language and culture from First Nation teachers was the highest-rated by respondents (90% rated it either "very important" or "important"). Overall, the majority of respondents rated all factors highly (81% or more rating them in a similar manner), which included students taking land-based programs in schools, students using materials with pictures of Indigenous people, and the school year being flexible so students have time for cultural activities.

Early years programs and services

What is currently available?

About 59% of the participants with children aged 6 and under indicated that they have programs and services in their community that they want their children to participate in. Furthermore, over half have supports and/or services in their community to help children begin elementary school. Pre-school programming was the most popular type of support/service. Other supports/services mentioned included daycare, Aboriginal Head Start, and other support services. The lack of available programs was the most common reason for not participating.

What could help?

Respondents across the country suggested that there are a wide range of supports and services that could help First Nation children succeed at elementary school.

Support from parents or caregivers was a major theme from participants, who noted that parental support is key to student success. Respondents stated that parents should provide support and encouragement, and should also maintain a home that is stable, healthy, and loving. Without this positive home environment, student success becomes difficult. Parents need to stay engaged in their children's school life, taking the child to school events and volunteering. Some participants also noted that parents need support as well, and that programs teaching parenting skills should be available. Additionally, schools must also provide opportunities for parents to be involved in their children's education.

Qualified teachers and staff was another leading theme, as participants highlighted the need for teachers to be well-trained to work with First Nation children and young children in particular. Teachers should have a solid understanding of First Nation culture, and should adapt their teaching methods to their students' needs. Participants indicated that teachers should be caring, hard-working, and dedicated enough to stay in a community for at least two years if not longer. Funding requirements were noted, for teachers' salaries, for classroom materials and teaching resources, for professional development, and to allow for smaller class sizes. The need for other school staff was also mentioned, including teacher's aides, speech therapists, and language teachers.

Learning supports was another common theme among respondents. The need for tutoring services was mentioned in many comments, including the importance of one-on-one attention. Various other supports were mentioned, including homework help, literacy and reading programs, math help, and good behaviour support. Respondents emphasized the importance of support for those students with learning difficulties.

First Nation education options

What is currently available?

Under one-third of respondents across Canada indicated that First Nation students in their community have support when they move away to attend school outside of their community. Slightly more, about one-third, stated that First Nation students in their community have flexible ways to take classes, such as through the internet, television, radio, and mail. About 37% indicated that this flexibility was not available in their community.

What works best?

Some respondents highlighted what they liked best about the flexible ways of learning or taking classes available in their community. Participants expressed that flexible ways of taking classes let students choose what works best for them and provide more course choices. Respondents also noted that distance options let students stay in their home community to learn, allowing them to maintain a connection to their own family and community.

However, many participants also noted that one-on-one, in-person teaching is usually the best way to learn, and that distance education is best for students who are self-motivated.

What could help?

In discussing what education options should be available, respondents highlighted the following themes.

Language, culture and history was a major theme across the country, as respondents suggested that they should be included in all education options. First Nation culture must be a part of the curriculum, and traditional skill-building need be incorporated into lesson plans. Elders should be involved in teaching language, culture, and history, which should include on-the-land instruction. Participants highlighted the need for First Nation language instruction, including immersion, and that students should learn accurate history, including lessons about treaties and the Indian Act. Learning First Nation language, culture, and history was linked to developing a sense of pride and First Nation identity. Some respondents also mentioned the need for more funding for language and culture programs.

Distance education was another key theme, as many respondents stated that it should be available for First Nation students. Participants noted the advantages of distance education, namely that students can stay in their home community, they can proceed at their own pace, it provides greater choice of subjects, and it is cheaper than traveling long distances for education. However, a reliable internet connection and computers are needed; respondents suggested that both should be available to First Nation students. Some comments also mentioned that distance education should be considered only if in-person education is not available.

Support for further education and jobs was also a leading theme across the country. Respondents indicated that more trades and apprenticeship programs should be available, along with adult education choices for those who did not complete high school. There should be more programs that offer First Nation students work experience while they finish their studies. Participants noted that while many First Nation students may wish to attend a post-secondary school, they need more support, including guidance counsellors, information sessions, and more financial assistance.

Working with provincial schools

What could help?

In considering a list of factors that could help support student success in off-reserve schools, respondents across Canada indicated that students feeling comfortable and on-reserve programs to help students get ready were the most important. Almost all respondents rated these as either "very important" or "important" (92% and 91% respectively). However, all of the other factors were highly rated as well, which included community counsellors, programs to connect with other First Nation students, culture and language education, and First Nations having a say in how off-reserve schools are run.

Additionally, the majority of participants emphasized the importance of on- and off-reserve schools having the same teaching goals for all students (83% rated it as either "very important" or "important"). In comparison, fewer respondents (72%) felt the same way about both schools having the same curriculum for all students.

Transition programs was a leading theme among respondents across Canada when asked what would help First Nation students switch from on-reserve schools to off-reserve schools. Participants suggested that more support programs of this kind are needed. On- and off-reserve schools could hold joint activities to give students preparing for the transition to off-reserve a chance to connect with off-reserve students and to get to know their new school. Advance visits to the off-reserve school could also be arranged, starting as early as a year in advance. Respondents also indicated that before transitioning to their new school, students need to be given information on what to expect. They should be informed about culture shock and given tips on how to live in a new town or city, including how to use public transit, where to buy groceries, and what First Nation organizations are nearby.

Social supports was another leading theme. Participants suggested that First Nation students need a supportive person or persons at the off-reserve school to provide guidance and support. This could be a mentor or buddy arranged through a buddy program, or it could be a counsellor, community liaison worker, or teacher. These persons or groups could help students deal with racism, bullying, or other challenges. The off-reserve schools must also do all they can to eliminate these problems. Respondents also mentioned that if more schools were built on-reserve and offered and education of comparable quality to schools off-reserve, then the transition would be less difficult.

Building First Nation culture into off-reserve schools was also a key theme, as many respondents expressed the need to build First Nation culture into the curriculum of off-reserve schools, including offering First Nation language classes. Accurate First Nation history should also be taught off-reserve, including treaties and the relationship between the government and First Nations. Elders could also be present in off-reserve schools. Participants suggested that off-reserve schools could offer space for cultural practices and activities for First Nation students, and that off-reserve teachers should take anti-racism and anti-oppression training. Respondents indicated that off-reserve schools should have an understanding of the cultural background of First Nation students. All of these steps would help to reduce racism, stigma, discrimination and prejudice, and would ease the transition of students from on- to off-reserve schools.

Youth summary

Issues of concern

Youth survey participants discussed their most important issues or concerns on First Nation education and what they thought would help students be successful.

The importance of First Nation language, culture and, history to education was consistently expressed by youth across the country. Respondents wanted to see First Nation culture become part of the school curriculum, noting how essential it is to preserve First Nation traditions. There should be classes on Indigenous culture offered at every grade and students should be taught outdoors, on-the-land as much as possible. Traditional language classes should also be offered, as should language immersion, giving students a chance to practice First Nation languages every day. Youth respondents stressed that the effects of historical trauma can still be felt today, which can make learning more difficult. In addition, participants mentioned the importance of integrating Indigenous knowledge into classes, including links to environmental sustainability. Many youth felt that Elders should be involved in schools more often. Overall, the teaching of language, culture and history to First Nation students was linked to a stronger sense of pride in students' First Nation identity.

Concerns about education quality on reserves were raised by many youth participants. A commonly-expressed view was that the standards and quality of the education received by First Nation students on reserve are much lower than what non-First Nation students off reserve receive. Respondents indicated that this was unfair, and it led to a lack of opportunities, lower skill levels, and often a lack of feeling self-worth among First Nation students. Much could be done to improve this situation.

Generally, youth respondents wanted to see more schools built on reserve, and for on-reserve schools to offer all grade levels so that students would not need to travel long distances away from their friends and families to continue their education. In addition, on-reserve schools should offer a wide range of facilities, courses, and activities as part of a high-quality education.

  • Facilities: Schools should have gyms, science labs, libraries, kitchens, playgrounds, and gardens.
  • Equipment: Schools should have reliable internet, computers, art supplies, books, musical instruments, and sports equipment.
  • Courses: The courses offered should be wide-ranging, from basics like reading, writing, math, science, and the arts through to social studies, geography, carpentry, cooking, welding, and coding. Youth respondents also wanted schools to teach about mental health, suicide-prevention, gang violence, drugs and alcohol, and sexual education.
  • Extracurricular activities and clubs: Many respondents noted the importance of sports and other physical activities. Other suggestions included leadership programs, social events, and safe spaces including for LGBTQ groups.

Schools should also be clean and have proper, safe infrastructure, including safe drinking water.

Having the right teachers and support staff was considered key to student success by participants. Teachers should be qualified and well-trained, and have a good understanding of First Nation culture and history. They should also be open-minded, caring, dedicated professionals, and be willing to stay in a community consistently.

Another major issue raised by youth participants was mental health support, including the need for counsellors and psychologists. Respondents wanted schools to offer suicide-prevention and substance-abuse programs. Youth respondents also noted the need for support for students with disabilities and the importance of meal programs.

Youth respondents also noted the need for support for students with disabilities and the importance of meal programs.

Analysis and reporting methodology

The analysis and reporting for this project were completed by Hill+Knowlton Strategies Canada (H+K), which has extensive experience in policy-driven public engagement and a national research and analytics team with expertise in primary research methods. H+K has worked on several Indigenous policy files, which have included working directly with Indigenous communities.

Data treatment and analysis

Quantitative analysis

H+K used two statistical analysis programs, SPSS and Q, to analyze the survey's closed-ended questions. SPSS was primarily used for restructuring and validating the data, while Q assisted in the analysis of data, discovery of trends, and reporting.

Throughout the analysis process, multiple measures were taken to validate the quality of the data collected from the engagement, with a focus on including as many responses as possible without compromising the quality of the data. This approach was taken to maximize the inclusiveness of the survey and to not discount any substantive responses from participants, especially since all survey questions were optional.

As such, completing all survey questions was not a requirement for a participants' data to be included in the analysis. Rather, the data analyzed included all substantive responses from participants. This was defined as any response to any of the questions starting at the first qualitative question ("There are many issues that are important in First Nations education. What is the most important issue in education for First Nations children for you right now?") and ending with the last ("Is there anything else we should know about improving education for First Nation students?"). Additional measures were taken to identify and remove any responses which did not appear to be valid. For example, empty responses, where no questions were answered, and responses where open-ended answers were not legible were excluded.

Qualitative analysis

H+K used qualitative data analysis software called NVivo to analyze all of the participants' responses to each of the survey's open-ended questions. Through NVivo, a meaningful process was developed to review, analyze, and organize large volumes of qualitative data. Each individual response was read and then categorized into one or more ‘coding trees', which were developed iteratively to represent the categories or themes that emerged from participants' responses.

This approach allowed analysts to manage qualitative data and continuously refine their analysis, as new themes could be developed, existing themes could be reframed, and themes can be merged or separated as needed. Through this process, analysts could better understand key trends in the data, which ultimately contributed to more robust reporting. The frequency of themes (i.e. how many times it was mentioned) helped to determine the most common issues and concerns, or "key themes," identified by participants.

It is important to note that many participants discussed more than one theme in their responses. In the analysis, these were coded multiple times under different themes to accurately capture all of the detail and nuance from a participant's response. As a result, this report distinguishes between the number of responses received (such as how many participants answered a question) and the number of distinct ideas contained in the qualitative data overall.

Reporting of results

This report provides an in-depth synthesis of the survey findings, with a focus on representing participants' views on enhancing First Nation education, as expressed "in their own words." As a result, the key themes discussed throughout this report have been developed to capture "what we heard" from participants.

The survey findings are presented in sections based on the following regions: Atlantic Canada, Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia. A separate high-level summary of findings from territorial participants is also included.

Each regional section includes a brief overview of participant demographics, a summary of key highlights, and then a description of key themes corresponding to the various survey sections, which include: student success, language and culture, early years programs and services, First Nation education options, and working with provincial schools. The report is structured to highlight participants' views on what is currently available, what is working, and what could help improve First Nation education in their communities.

Each section begins with the demographic information of who we heard from in that region. It is important to note that individual respondents may share their point of view from multiple perspectives; for example, a teacher may also be a parent and an aunt or an uncle. As such, the percentage values for the demographics may not total 100%.

The findings in this report do not necessarily reflect the position of INAC or the Government of Canada.

Scope and limitations

Given the open and inclusive nature of the public engagement, it should be noted that the findings in this report are not representative of the Canadian public nationally, provincially/territorially, or regionally. Similarly, while extensive efforts were made to engage First Nation leaders, communities, and organizations, the survey findings are also not limited to First Nation voices. Participation was open to hear from as many individuals as possible across the country, with a focus on encouraging those with experience and interest in First Nation education.

Who we heard from

The following section contains demographic information provided by survey respondents.

Below each graph "total n" is the total number of respondents to any part of the survey. "Base n" is the number of respondents who answered that particular question. If all respondents answered that question then only "base n" is shown.

Are you First Nations, Inuit or Métis?
Are you First Nations, Inuit or Métis?
Text description of the bar chart
  • 69% of respondents are First Nations, Inuit or Métis
  • 28% are not
  • 4% don't know or prefer not to answer
Do you currently live on reserve?
Do you currently live on reserve?
Text description of the bar chart
  • 37% of respondents live on-reserve
  • 61% are off-reserve
  • 2% don't know or prefer not to answer
Did you live on-reserve in the last year?
Did you live on-reserve in the last year?
Text description of the bar chart
  • 9% of respondents lived on-reserve in the past year
  • 88% of respondents did not live on-reserve in the past year
  • 3% don't know or prefer not to answer
Age of children
Age of children
Text description of the bar chart - Age of respondents’ children
  • Age 6 and under: 25%
  • Between 7 and 11 years: 26%
  • Between 12 and 18 years: 33%
  • No children: 43%
  • Don't know or prefer not to answer: 3%
Family member/roles/profession
Family member/roles/profession
Text description of the bar chart - Family member/roles/profession of respondents
  • Parent: 35%
  • Aunt or uncle: 22%
  • University or college student: 15%
  • Teacher: 15%
  • Grandparent: 13%
  • Guardian: 6%
  • Knowledge keeper: 7%
  • Youth: 5%
  • Social worker: 5%
  • Elder: 4%
  • None of these: 4%
  • Health care worker: 3%
  • Principal: 3%
  • Early childhood worker: 3%
  • K-12 student: 2%
Age
Text description of the bar chart - Age of respondents
  • Under 18 years of age: 2%
  • 18 to 24 years of age: 14%
  • 25 to 34 years of age: 19%
  • 35 to 44 years of age: 19%
  • 45 to 54 years of age: 24%
  • 55 to 64 years of age: 15%
  • 75 and over 0%
  • Prefer not to say: 2%
Gender - Female
Text description of the bar chart - Gender of respondents
  • Female: 75%
  • Male: 22%
  • Describes themselves in another way: 2%
  • Prefer not to say: 1%
Children in K-12 education in last 5 years
Children in K-12 education in last 5 years
Text description of the bar chart - Respondents had children in K-12 education in last 5 years
  • Yes, preschool: 13%
  • Yes primary school: 27%
  • Yes, secondary school: 24%
  • Yes (total): 42%
  • No: 19%
  • Don't know or prefer not to say: 2%
Province/Territory
Province/Territory
Text description of the bar chart - Province or territory of respondents
  • Ontario: 27%
  • British Columbia: 26%
  • Alberta: 14%
  • Quebec: 11%
  • Manitoba: 9%
  • Saskatchewan: 9%
  • Atlantic: 2%
  • Northern: 1%

What we heard: Key messages

Several key messages were clear from survey respondents across all questions and regions.

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What we heard: By region

Atlantic

Who we heard from

27 individuals from the Atlantic region responded to the survey, who brought their point of view as a:

  • Parent (48%)
  • Teacher (19%)
  • Youth (7%)
  • Aunt or uncle (37%)
  • Grandparent (7%)
  • Elder (7%)

Key highlights: What we heard

What are the most important education issues for First Nation children?

  1. Language, culture and history
  2. The right teachers
  3. Equity issues
  4. Supports for students

What are the critical factors for First Nation student success?

  1. Language and culture
  2. Extracurricular activities
  3. Educational equipment and facilities
  4. Qualified teachers and support staff

Priority issues

Before giving their perspectives on issues related to First Nation education, survey participants identified their most important issues or concerns. The following chart shows the categories, or themes, of comments received. One theme was much more prevalent than the others.

What is the most important issue in education for First Nation children for you right now?
There were 33 distinct comments
Text description of the pie chart - Total distinct comments = 33

There were 33 distinct comments.

  • Language and culture: 43%
  • Other: 12%
  • The right teacher: 9%
  • Equity: 9%
  • Support for students: 9%
  • Racism: 6%
  • Quality education: 6%
  • Science, tech, engineering, math: 6%

Other (12%):

  • Presence of schools
  • Keeping students
  • Better administration
  • Disabilities support

Language, culture and history was the top theme among Atlantic region respondents. Many focused on the importance of accurate history, including coverage of treaties, the Indian Act, and the impact of residential schools. Several respondents highlighted the need for First Nation language instruction, and a lack of traditional culture in the education of First Nation students. They stated that an increased and improved teaching of language, traditional culture, and accurate history would lead to a stronger sense of identity, pride, and self-esteem among First Nations.

The right teachers was the second-highest theme. Participants stressed that teachers must be properly educated on First Nation culture and history, and need to teach in a way that is sensitive to First Nation culture.

"The education they receive regarding first nations is not reflective of the history of our people. It does not foster pride in who we are as first peoples and the reality of how Canada became a country." -Atlantic participant

Equity issues were also raised by respondents, especially equal access to education. Some respondents indicated that First Nation students cannot access the educational resources available off-reserve, such as field trips or the use of science labs.

Supports for students was another key theme. The type of supports mentioned ranged from technological, to social, to health-related. Students trying to take online courses often face difficulties doing so because of slow internet speed. Students dealing with health disorders have little-to-no learning support. Respondents also expressed that First Nation students need support when dealing with challenging personal lives and bullying.

Student success

How can students be supported?

Atlantic region respondents highlighted several factors to help First Nation students succeed, as displayed in the chart below.

What makes a good school and helps First Nation students succeed?
There were 38 distinct comments made
Text description of the pie chart - Total distinct comments = 38

There were 38 distinct comments made

  • Language and culture: 24%
  • Other: 21%
  • Extracurricular activities: 16%
  • Educational equipment/facilities: 13%
  • Qualified teachers and support staff: 13%
  • Community involvement: 8%
  • Honor treaties, self-determination: 5%

Other (21%):

  • Support for finding jobs and further education
  • Support for families
  • Moving to other reserves
  • Nutrition programs
  • Support from family and community
  • Train teachers in First Nation culture and history
  • Social supports

Language and culture was the top theme from Atlantic participants, as many stated that First Nation culture should be incorporated into all grades and that a class on traditional cultural practices should be required every year. Several respondents shared that more language instruction is required, including an increased use of First Nation language immersion in schools. The importance of teaching accurate history was also expressed by some respondents.

Extracurricular activities was the second-highest theme. Respondents who raised these activities as important to student success often linked them to health, team-spirit, and teacher and parental involvement. Activities mentioned by respondents ranged from sports to science fairs to arts programs like music and drama.

Educational equipment and facilities was another key theme among participants. Resources mentioned include libraries and books, as well as internet access, laptops and science labs.

Qualified teachers and support staff was a theme expressed mainly in two ways: that teachers be of good quality and that they take time to connect with students, or that teachers be First Nations themselves and be from the community where they teach. Respondents also noted the importance of retaining good teachers, and that First Nation teachers should have more control over what they teach.

"More culturally appropriate, cultural learning, more language specific classes, and being respectful of one's cultural beliefs and respecting their traditions in the classroom, taught from K-12."- Atlantic participant

How can educators help?

When thinking about which teacher qualities are most important to First Nation student success, responses from Atlantic region participants raised three main themes.

Knowledge and understanding of First Nation culture was the top theme among respondents, as it was mentioned in 37% of responses. Some respondents expressed that the success of First Nation students is, in part, linked to being taught First Nation culture, language, and history. Participants also indicated that traditional language instruction was very important, noting that many First Nations are losing their ability to communicate in traditional languages, a key part of their culture. Some respondents indicated that teachers may not necessarily have to be university-educated in order to teach First Nation culture, but they must know First Nation culture very well.

"Have a native language teacher so that we could also keep our language. Many are losing theirs and it's important because it's also a part of our culture." - Atlantic participant

Being a role model was a main theme among Atlantic region respondents. Being both positive and supportive of First Nation students were identified as important parts of being a role model, along with the ability to show students how to be successful. This theme was highlighted in 16% of Atlantic region responses.

An understanding, compassionate approach to teaching was another common theme. Participants indicated that it is important for teachers to have qualities including understanding, compassion, respect, trust, comfort, and open-mindedness. Overall, 16% of Atlantic region responses mentioned this theme.

Language and culture

What's currently available? What's working?

Almost half of Atlantic region respondents indicated that First Nation language and culture is not taught in school in their community. Only 19% responded that both are taught. When considering what is positive about First Nation language and culture instruction in school, two themes were identified:

  • Retaining and promoting First Nation language and culture: In class, students can learn how to work with traditional materials and are taught about the value and history of the traditional language.
  • Encouraging understanding and tolerance: Teaching First Nation language and culture in class can help children understand and be tolerant of different cultures.

"Illusiavut (cultural arts and crafts class) is a great place for students to learn to use their hands to make many things using traditional materials like moose hide, animal fur and sinew." - Atlantic participant

What could help?

When given a list of factors related to language and culture and asked to consider how important it was to have each one in schools, two factors were rated most highly by respondents: having students learn about language and culture from First Nation teachers and students taking land-based programs in schools (85% rated them either "very important" or "important"). The remaining two factors were also rated highly, as 81% of respondents rated the school year being flexible so students have time for cultural activities like hunting either "very important" or "important", and 78% of respondents rated students using materials with pictures of Indigenous people either "very important" or "important".

Early years programs and services

What’s currently available?

Just over half of the Atlantic region participants with children aged 6 and under have programs and services in their community that they want their children to participate in. However, just under one-third have supports and/or services in their community to help children begin elementary school. Learning supports, youth activities, and after school programs were the most popular types of these supports/services. Others included pre-school programs and orientation programs.

What could help?

Atlantic region respondents suggested that First Nation children need a range of supports and services in order to prepare for and succeed at elementary school.

Daycare or pre-school was the top theme, as respondents mentioned how these services allow First Nation children to develop social skills and how they provide basic learning activities, starting a child's educational growth. The importance of culturally respectful daycare was also mentioned by some participants. About 15% of respondents highlighted this theme.

Social supports was also a key theme among Atlantic respondents. Some mentioned the need for a case worker or guidance counsellor to provide ongoing support around issues like bullying and who could watch for issues as children start elementary school. The importance of time for play with other children was also noted. About 12% of respondents mentioned this theme.

Other supports and services identified in Atlantic region responses included:

  • Language and culture: Daycare must be culturally sensitive, and traditional language teaching for all classes should be offered.
  • Learning supports: Tutoring should be provided both before and after a student starts elementary school and guidance should be provided in choosing which courses to take in school.
  • Support from parents and community: While parental support is key, the wider community must help to support students.

First Nation education options

What’s currently available?

Just under 40% of respondents in the Atlantic region indicated that First Nation students in their community have support when they move away to attend school outside of their community. Only 20% of participants said that First Nation students in their community have flexible ways to take classes, such as through the internet, television, radio and mail. Slightly over 40% stated that students did not have flexible options to take classes.

What works best?

Some respondents gave their perspectives on what they liked best about the flexible education options available in their community. Providing greater educational options for under-served communities was the top theme among Atlantic region responses, as expressed by two-thirds of responses. The only other theme was the more support, the better, highlighting the continuing need for community support for students.

What could help?

In discussing what options students should have, Atlantic region respondents identified a few themes.

Cultural and language activities was the top theme, as many respondents expressed that any options should include the teaching of First Nation culture and language. This could include taking part in traditional activities like making drums, basket-weaving, or traditional dancing, drumming or singing. About 24% of respondents mentioned this theme.

Other key themes were raised about the types of education options that could help:

  • Involving Elders: Elders could be involved in schools by teaching about culture, or simply by being present in the schools to speak with the students.
  • Increased funding: The government should fund all First Nation educational endeavours in a sustainable, long-term, and predictable way.

Working with provincial schools

What could help?

In considering a list of factors that could help with student success in off-reserve schools, 93% of Atlantic region respondents said that community counsellors in off-reserve schools was either "very important" or "important". However, all of the remaining factors were rated only slightly lower, ranging from 89% to 78%, and included students feeling comfortable, on-reserve programs to help students to get ready, programs to connect with other First Nation students, culture and language education, and First Nations having a say in how off-reserve schools are run.

Furthermore, most participants, 89%, indicated that it was either "very important" or "important" that on- and off-reserve schools have the same teaching goals for students. In addition, 78% indicated that it was either "very important" or "important" to have the same curriculum in on- and off-reserve schools.

When asked what would help First Nation students switch from on-reserve schools to off-reserve schools, three main themes were identified.

Transition and orientation programs was the top theme among Atlantic region respondents. This could mean on- and off-reserve schools holding activities together a year before a student goes off-reserve for school. It could also mean visits to off-reserve schools before starting classes, or providing information to students on culture-shock and what to expect when living in a town or city.

Social supports was another main theme. Supports mentioned included a First Nation support group at the off-reserve school, or a mentor to guide First Nation students at an off-reserve school.

Off-reserve schools accepting and teaching First Nation culture was also a key theme. Respondents suggested that if off-reserve schools taught First Nation language and culture, it would increase equality and reduce racism. In addition, off-reserve teachers need to understand the cultural backgrounds of First Nation students.

"Off-reserve schools should be just as immersed in the language and culture of the First Nation's community as much as on-reserve schools, regardless of whether or not they explicitly serve students from First Nation's communities. Otherwise, these students will always been seen as "outsiders" when they switch into off-reserve schools." - Atlantic participant

Quebec

Who we heard from

130 individuals from Quebec responded to the survey, who brought their point of view as a:

  • Parent (45%)
  • Grandparent (6%)
  • Youth (10%)
  • Elder (3%)
  • Aunt or uncle (18%)
  • Teacher (14%)
  • Early childhood worker (2%)

Key highlights: What we heard

What are the most important education issues for First Nation children?

  1. Language, culture, and history
  2. Student supports
  3. Equity issues
  4. Funding issues

What are the critical factors for First Nation student success?

  1. Qualified teachers and staff
  2. Language, culture and history
  3. School equipment and facilities
  4. Accessibility and learning supports

Priority issues

Before giving their perspectives on issues related to First Nation education, survey participants stated their most important issues or concerns. The following chart shows the categories, or themes, of comments received. As shown, one theme was more common among participants' responses, followed by several key themes of roughly equal representation, and then a variety of smaller themes.

What is the most important issue in education for First Nation children for you right now?
There were 223 distinct comments
Text description of the pie chart - Total distinct comments = 223

There were 223 distinct comments

  • Language and culture: 22%
  • Other: 18%
  • The right teacher: 5%
  • Student supports: 10%
  • Equity issues: 9%
  • Funding issues: 9%
  • Quality education: 8%
  • The right teacher: 5%
  • Tailored education: 4%
  • Health and nutrition: 4%
  • Focus on job: 3%

Other (18%):

  • Student motivation
  • Further education
  • Support from family and community
  • After school activities
  • Presence of schools
  • School infrastructure
  • Math, science, literacy
  • Supports for families
  • Racism, colonialism, poverty
  • Separation from family
  • Lack of distance education

Language, culture and history was the top theme among Quebec respondents, who expressed that learning traditional culture and language in school is very important, often linking both to a sense of pride and First Nation identity. Many responded that traditional language is being lost and must be saved. Respondents clearly expressed that the history of First Nations should also be taught, including the impacts of residential schools and the reserve system, and how links to culture and language were cut and must now be repaired. This could mean teaching in a way that builds culture and language into every class, and valuing First Nation ways of knowing.

Student supports was also a key theme. Respondents mentioned different kinds of supports, but focused on the importance of support for students with disabilities and learning difficulties. Respondents stressed how teachers must try different ways of teaching. Programs to help students with literacy and homework were also mentioned, along with the need to help students when they transfer to off-reserve schools. Some participants stated that schools must be ready to support students who have experienced trauma, in addition to having the right technology to support students' learning.

"Cultural re-appropriation. Young Indigenous people have to rebuild their cultural ties that were savagely cut in the past. Whether it is the language or traditions, it is vital that they rediscover their culture."

Quebec participant
(Translated from French)

Equity issues was another key theme discussed by participants, who expressed that the quality of education offered on-reserve is much lower than that offered off-reserve. They noted gaps in funding, teaching quality, student assistance, and school infrastructure, and stressed the negative impact this issue has on First Nation students.

Funding issues was a theme expressed by many respondents who stated that funding is the most important education issue, or that current funding levels are not high enough. Some respondents said that funding is required for certain things like after-school programs (sports, cultural activities), programs for children with disabilities, or further learning like college or university.

"In my view, there is a wide gap in education between Indigenous and non-Indigenous students in terms of literacy, numeracy, student retention, graduation rates and the continuation of post-secondary studies."

Quebec participant
(Translated from French)

Student success

How can students be supported?

Quebec respondents highlighted many different factors that help First Nation students succeed, as shown in the chart below.

What makes a good school and helps First Nation students succeed?
 There were 248 distinct comments made
Text description of the pie chart - Total distinct comments = 248

There were 248 distinct comments made

  • Qualified teachers and support staff: 24%
  • Other: 20%
  • Language and culture: 17%
  • School equipment/facilities: 9%
  • Accessibility and learning support: 8%
  • Mental health: 7%
  • After school activities: 6%
  • Welcoming environment: 5%
  • School infrastructure: 4%

Other (20%):

  • Support from family and community
  • Health and nutrition
  • Social supports
  • Support for families
  • Tailored education
  • Connection to nature
  • Communication between school and family
  • Extend route 138

Qualified teachers and staff was the top theme from Quebec participants, as most respondents emphasized that teachers must be skilled, well-trained, and able to teach students who have disabilities or learning difficulties. Respondents also noted that teachers must be trained in First Nation culture and be sensitive to the backgrounds of First Nation students. As for teacher qualities, Quebec respondents wanted teachers to be caring, dedicated and supportive, able to provide each student with attention, and be involved in school and community activities. The need for other, specialized staff was also highlighted, including speech therapists, counsellors, and teachers' aides. In addition, some respondents suggested that more teachers are needed and that ongoing training of teachers is important.

Language, culture and history was the second-highest theme. Respondents shared that First Nation culture should not only be taught in schools, but it should be built into all classes and subjects. Schools should hold cultural events and place value on First Nation culture and ways of knowing. According to some respondents this could mean involving Elders in the classroom or teaching traditional skills outside on the land. The importance of teaching First Nation languages was also stressed by many Quebec respondents, either through specific classes or by making traditional language a part of every class. Respondents also stressed the need to teach an accurate history of First Nations, which would build pride in students' First Nation identity.

"Knowledgeable teachers who know how to help and teach children who may be in difficult situations at home." - Quebec participant

School equipment and facilities was another main theme which covered different aspects of what a school could offer its students. Modern technology, including computers, tablets, and internet access, was highlighted as key to student success, including the need for teachers to be trained in the use of technology. Respondents also wanted to see schools able to offer their students libraries filled with up-to-date books, science labs, theatres, and music rooms with instruments.

Accessibility and learning support was also a key theme. Respondents were clear that some First Nation students have difficulties at school and require more support. These difficulties could relate to learning, behaviour, psychological issues, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), autism, or other mental or physical difficulties. Supports suggested by respondents included teachers or support workers who are trained to deal with disabilities, or programs adapted for students with difficulties. Respondents also noted that all students could use support like help with homework, tutors, or mentors.

"Provide professional services for children who have difficulties (reading, physical, psychological, writing, behaviour, etc.)."

Quebec participant
(Translated from French)

How can educators help?

Quebec respondents discussed what they thought are important qualities of those who teach First Nation students. One theme stood out slightly more than the rest.

Language, history, and culture was the top theme, as respondents said that teachers need not only the right knowledge, but the right attitude. Teachers should not only have a deep understanding of First Nation history, including the impact of residential schools, but also an awareness and sensitivity to how this history has affected First Nations and continues to affect them today. Many respondents expressed that teachers should be sensitive to and respectful of First Nation culture, and should be trained in this sensitivity if they are not First Nations themselves. Participants responded that teachers should also build First Nation language and culture into their classes from pre-school onward and be willing to change how they teach to better suit First Nations' needs. In total, 22% of responses mentioned this theme.

"It would be essential to incorporate elements of their language and culture into day-to-day teaching. For example, having a class in which instruction is given in their mother tongue."

Quebec participant
(Translated from French)

Positive, caring approach to teaching was another main theme identified by Quebec respondents, who noted the importance of teachers genuinely caring about their students. Respondents indicated that teachers must care about student success, be encouraging and supportive, and build a positive relationship with students and their parents or caregivers. Being open-minded and motivated were considered key qualities, along with a willingness to learn and grow. Some participants also indicated that teachers should be there for the "right reasons" and not just to earn money. This theme was highlighted by 14% of responses.

Teaching according to the needs of First Nation students was also a key theme. Each First Nation student can have very different needs and challenges, and teachers must adapt their teaching to each student. Respondents noted that First Nation students need culturally sensitive teaching methods and teaching styles that recognize the social issues that First Nation students often face. About 14% of Quebec responses mentioned this theme.

"Since all children are different, we need to adjust to each child."

Quebec participant
(Translated from French)

Language and culture

What's currently available? What's working?

Over half of Quebec respondents indicated that either First Nation language or culture is taught in schoolin their community. Just under half noted that both are taught. When giving their perspectives on what they liked about how language and culture is being taught in some schools, two main themes were clear.

Fostering pride and a sense of identity was the most common theme from Quebec respondents. The importance of teaching First Nation language and culture to First Nation students was linked to feelings of pride and self-worth. By learning about their culture, history and traditional languages, students can develop their identity as First Nations and a sense of belonging with their community. This identity and pride helps them to succeed when they leave their communities, often for further education. Respondents made clear connections between a lack of pride and self-worth to substance abuse and suicide. Fully 33% of responses highlighted this theme.

"This encourages the strengthening of the Indigenous identity and the appreciation of Indigenous views, values and cultures by students and school staff."

Quebec participant
(Translated from French)

Preserving First Nation culture was the second main theme, as respondents highlighted that teaching First Nation culture, language, and history in schools may save it from disappearing, which respondents identified as a real risk in some communities. When children learn a traditional language, they learn about their culture and help to save it and pass it to the next generation. Respondents also liked how teaching language and culture in schools can strengthen the cultural teachings that children may get at home or in the community. Some respondents also mentioned how important it was for First Nation students to understand Canadian history and First Nations' role in it. About 30% of responses mentioned this theme.

While most respondents discussed positive aspects of how language or culture is taught in their community's school, about 8% of responses raised concerns. These concerns included that traditional language and cultural activities should be mixed with day-to-day teaching but are not, and that more funding is needed for language and culture programs.

What could help?

In considering a list of factors that could contribute to effective First Nation language and culture education in schools, students learning about language and culture from First Nation teachers was the highest-rated factor by Quebec respondents (92% rated it either "very important" or "important"). The other factors, in descending order of rated importance, were students taking land-based programs in the school, followed by schools using materials with pictures of Indigenous people, and the school year being flexible so students have time for cultural activities like hunting.

Early years programs and services

What’s currently available?

Over half of Quebec participants with children aged 6 and under have programs and services in their community that they want their children to participate in. However, just over one-third have supports and/or services in their community to help children begin elementary school. Pre-school programs were the most common type of support/service mentioned, highlighted by nearly one-third of responses. Other supports/services mentioned included centres de la petite enfance (CPE), daycare, and other Indigenous cultural and traditional language-based programs.

The two most common reasons given by respondents as to why their children did not participate in programs or services in their community was that there were no programs available, or that they lived off-reserve. Together they made up one-third of responses. Other reasons mentioned included that caregivers did not know about the programs ("It was not advertised very well.") and the programs were poorly run ("There is a lack of organization to the programs."; "Tous simplement car ils ne sont pas bien présenté et il y a souvent un manque de place pour plus d'enfants").

What could help?

Quebec respondents discussed their perspectives on what supports and/or services children need to help them prepare for and succeed at elementary school. Three top themes emerged from their responses.

Qualified teachers and staff was the most commonly mentioned theme, as many respondents stressed how important it is to have teachers trained to work with First Nation children. These teachers must be able to adapt their teaching methods to First Nations' needs, and to deal with challenges like behavioural issues and learning difficulties. Respondents indicated that teachers must be dedicated and hardworking, and willing to stay in a First Nation community for longer than one or two years. The need for enough funding to support teachers was also noted, to pay for classroom materials and to allow for smaller class sizes. Some respondents also mentioned the need for more First Nation teachers and ongoing teacher training. About 16% of responses mentioned this theme.

"The children need teachers who return to the school year after year. We teachers are not paid well in Quebec compared to other provinces; this extremely high turnover is directly related to abysmally poor rates of graduation year after year." - Quebec participant

(Translated from French)

Health and nutrition was another top theme from Quebec respondents. In order to learn well, children need healthy food. Respondents suggested that schools should play a role by having healthy meals for students. Mental health support was also highlighted as very important, including the need for mental health workers in schools. Respondents also mentioned the importance of early screening for health issues including speech difficulties and the related need for speech therapists. Around 11% of responses brought up this theme.

"A healthy diet that responds to their basic needs."

Quebec participant
(Translated from French)

Learning support was another key theme, raised in 10% of responses. Many participants remarked that supports like tutoring and homework help, especially for math and reading ("Help with reading and Math early in life"), are important for student success. Some discussed putting in place free tutoring from other students, while others noted that tutors should be adults helping to prepare students for school. Respondents also stated that there is not enough support for students with learning difficulties, and that all students should be taught learning tools that will help them throughout their schooling.

Example shared by a participant: "I would even suggest a heritage day where each group of children presents their culture to others."

(Translated from French)

First Nation education options

What’s currently available?

Just over one-third of Quebec participants said that First Nation students in their community have support when they move away to attend school outside of their community. About the same number reported that First Nation students in their community have flexible ways to take classes, such as through the internet, television, radio, and mail. Just under one-third indicated that this flexibility was not available.

What works best?

When discussing what they liked best about flexible education choices, participants often brought up the overall importance of cultural activities and programs, and how education programs should be adapted for First Nations' needs. They mentioned that having TV, mail, internet, and radio available for education means more flexible ways to learn about First Nation culture. Other respondents stressed that flexible education using technology and the internet is more accessible for everyone.

"In Quebec, being able to further one's studies, in CEGEP and university, and with programs designed specifically for Indigenous, Métis and Inuit students."

Quebec participant
(Translated from French)

What could help?

In discussing what education choices should be available, Quebec respondents addressed a few key themes.

Building cultural activities into education was the top theme from participants, as many suggested that teachers should take their students out on the land to better teach about First Nation culture. This way learning about plants and animals, along with using traditional medicines, hunting, and other cultural activities could all be incorporated into the educational program. Respondents expressed that lessons and how they are taught should be adapted for First Nations' needs. For example, how the school year is organized and when exams are held could be aligned with hunting season or cultural events. Otherwise, many participants stressed the importance of including more First Nation culture and language in schools, whether that be through classes, programs or other activities, and linked this to pride and First Nation identity. This theme was raised in about one-quarter of responses.

Example shared by a participant:

"First Nations students should have the option to vote to pick which chapters the class should learn more about if they are more focused on First Nations culture."

Other key themes were raised about the types of education options that could help:

  • Distance learning: Online courses should be available. They not only allow students to complete them without having to leave home to continue their education, but they can also be done at a pace that makes sense for students ("Long distance learning that could be done in chunks while out of town for traditional hunting breaks").
  • Greater choice of subjects: First Nation students should be able to choose from a wide variety of courses, including reading and writing, science, technology, music, mechanics, woodworking, etc. Having choices of what to study can interest students in university or college courses, and can help them to decide what they want to do later in life.

Working with provincial schools

What could help?

In considering a list of factors that could help contribute to student success in off-reserve schools, Quebec participants indicated that students feeling comfortable was most important, with 92% of respondents rating this factor as either "very important" or "important". All of the other factors were highly rated as well, which included having programs on-reserve to help students get ready before they go to off-reserve schools, having programs to connect with other First Nation students in off-reserve schools, community counsellors in off-reserve schools, and First Nations having a say in how off-reserve schools are run. The lowest rated factor, First Nation culture and languages being taught in off-reserve schools, was still rated as either "very important" or "important" by 72% of respondents.

The majority of participants also indicated that it was important for on- and off-reserve schools to have the same teaching goals for all students (79% rated it as either "very important" or "important"). In comparison, fewer participants (66%) responded the same way about both schools having the same curriculum for all students.

Build First Nation culture into off-reserve schools was the leading theme among Quebec respondents when asked how First Nation students could be supported when they switch from on-reserve schools to off-reserve schools. Respondents clearly expressed that teachers and students in provincially-run schools need to be sensitive to First Nation students in a way that respects and values their First Nation culture and identity. If off-reserve teachers and students were taught about First Nation culture and language, and if they understood the real history of First Nations in Canada, participants indicated that it would reduce stigma and prejudice and ease the transition for First Nation students studying off-reserve. Respondents also stated that First Nation culture and language should be built into the curriculum of off-reserve schools and that provincial school boards should be more sensitive to First Nations' needs. About 17% of responses brought up this theme.

"Invite teachers and other school staff from outside the communities to visit on-reserve schools to make them aware of our realities and help them to better integrate Indigenous youth into school life off the reserve."

Quebec participant
(Translated from French)

Transition and orientation programs was another main theme. Respondents noted that there is not enough support for students who must go off-reserve to continue their schooling. This kind of support is greatly needed and could take many forms. Students could visit the off-reserve school in advance, or do an exchange with the off-reserve school to learn about it for a few days. Before going off-reserve, students could be given information on where they are going, about public transportation, First Nation organizations like Friendship Centres, and other general life skills like budgeting which would help the off-reserve experience. Other respondents suggested that the off-reserve school should offer more transition support, like setting aside a room for First Nation students, or offering some classes in First Nation languages. About 16% of responses mentioned this theme.

"More information or activities to incorporate First Nations in provincial schools."

Quebec participant
(Translated from French)

Proper funding was another key theme, as respondents mentioned that schools on-reserve need to be given enough funding to provide a quality education to their First Nation students. This would help students to succeed off-reserve and reduce the shock of transferring to an off-reserve school. Respondents also highlighted the need for enough funding for teaching materials, books, after school programs, and disability-related costs, and that Quebec school boards should be supportive of these funding needs. Around 11% of responses raised this theme.

Example shared by a participant:

"Exchange Day: The provincial school principal comes in and explains what to expect at the new school and what they expect from the student. A week later, the 'class' goes to the provincial school for a day and sees what it's like to be a student there. Giving a tour and preparing them for the provincial school."

Ontario

Who we heard from

301 individuals from Ontario responded to the survey, who brought their point of view as a:

  • Parent (49%)
  • Teacher (25%)
  • Youth (13%)
  • Aunt or uncle (32%)
  • Grandparent (16%)
  • Elder (5%)

Key highlights: What we heard

What are the most important education issues for First Nation children?

  1. Equity/equal opportunity
  2. Funding
  3. Language and culture
  4. Student supports

What are the critical factors for First Nation student success?

  1. Include language and culture
  2. Qualified teachers and staff
  3. Educational equipment and facilities
  4. Extracurricular activities

Priority issues

Before giving their feedback on issues related to First Nation education, survey participants stated their most important issues or concerns. The following chart shows the categories, or themes, of comments received.

What is the most important issue in education for First Nation children for you right now?
483 distinct comments
Text description of the pie chart - Total distinct comments = 483

There were 483 distinct comments

  • Equity issues: 19%
  • Funding: 17%
  • Language and culture: 12%
  • Other: 19%
  • Student supports: 11%
  • Tailored education: 7%
  • Quality education: 4%
  • The right teacher: 4%
  • Keeping the students in school: 4%
  • School infrastructure: 3%

Other (19%):

  • Health issues
  • Presence of schools
  • Keeping teachers
  • Math, science, literacy, etc.
  • Better administration
  • Support for families
  • Racism, impact of residential schools
  • Motivation
  • Effective programs
  • Lack of opportunities
  • Disabilities
  • Reduce political decision making

Equity issues was the top theme, as many respondents stated that high quality education needs to be provided to both First Nation and non-First Nation students, both on- and off-reserve. Some participants noted that there is a gap in favour of off-reserve/provincial schools, which needs to be fixed to improve First Nation student outcomes ("We need to ensure our First Nations communities have an equal chance in achieving success"). Some participants explained that this gap is connected to unequal funding. As such, more needs to be done to ensure that there are equivalent standards for education, as well as the same access to opportunities, resources, and supports for all students across Canada.

Funding issues was the second-highest theme from respondents. While similar to the equity theme, this is focused more on participants' concern with the funding levels for on-reserve schools. Some suggested that on-reserve schools cannot offer certain programs, or prepare their students well for further education, because there is not enough funding. Respondents explained that long-term, thoughtful funding decisions to ensure that on-reserve students have access to critical resources are necessary. These resources include teachers and support workers, equipment (e.g. books, computers, sports/recreation equipment), facilities (e.g. libraries), and services.

"Eliminating the gap in education standards between FNMI [First Nations, Métis and Inuit] children and other Canadian children. The education received from on-reserve schooling is not up to the general standard across Canada. FNMI children and youth are not supported or given the same opportunities." – Ontario participant

Language and culture education was another key theme. Respondents noted that First Nation students should have meaningful opportunities to learn about their language and culture as part of the curriculum and in their day-to-day activities. This requires developing and using a culturally-relevant curriculum that includes lessons on Indigenous culture and history, provides traditional language training, and offers more land-based activities. This could help to strengthen Indigenous language and culture, and it could also help strengthen First Nation students' sense of identity.

Supportive environments is a theme in which respondents identified a wide range of supports that can help students succeed in school. These include people (such as teachers, educational assistants, mentors), resources (such as supplies, books, computers, internet access), facilities (such as a library), after-school activities, health and wellness services (such as counselling), and disabilities accommodations. Additionally, some participants suggested more support to help First Nation students transition to post-secondary education and training.

"I grew up on a reserve and went to school from JK to grade 6. My school is very underfunded compared to the local provincially-funded schools… There is a lack of resources, a.k.a. money, teachers, and help." - Ontario participant

Student success

How can students be supported?

Ontario respondents highlighted several ways to help support First Nation students, as displayed in the chart below.

What makes a good school and helps First Nation students succeed?
511 distinct comments made
Text description of the pie chart - Total distinct comments = 511

There were 511 distinct comments made

  • Qualified teachers and support staff: 19%
  • Other: 23%
  • Language and culture: 22%
  • School equipment/facilities: 11%
  • Accessibility and learning support: 5%
  • Family and community support: 7%
  • Extracurricular activities: 8%
  • Social support: 5%
  • Accessibility/accommodations: 5%

Other (23%):

  • Welcoming environment
  • Nutrition programs
  • Mental health support
  • Support for families
  • Understanding of opportunities
  • Help finding jobs
  • School infrastructure
  • Housing
  • Health care
  • Regular attendance
  • Community centres
  • Human rights
  • Pre-school and daycare
  • Program coordination
  • Flexible attendance

Including culture and language was a top theme from Ontario respondents, as many focused on the importance of teaching Indigenous students about their culture and giving them the opportunities and space to experience and practice it. This could occur through outdoor/on-the-land learning, traditional skill building (e.g. hunting, harvesting, arts and crafts), and spiritual activities (such as dancing, smudging, healing). Several participants also suggested actively involving Elders in students' education through knowledge sharing. Participants expressed that these types of opportunities are important to help students be more aware of, better connect with, and embrace their culture and identity.

The importance of traditional language was also noted by several participants, as they suggested providing students with more opportunities to learn and practice their language in school. Some respondents commented on the importance of language immersion.

Qualified teachers and support staff was the second-highest theme on what contributes to student success. Some participants suggested having more Indigenous teachers, while others focused more on teachers living in or having experience with an Indigenous community, which helps them better understand and connect with First Nation students. In choosing certain characteristics, participants emphasized the importance of compassionate, engaging, and dedicated teachers. Challenges with retaining teachers were highlighted, as a lack of consistency and stability can be difficult for students. In addition to teachers, respondents also highlighted the importance of other resources for students, including guidance counsellors, educational assistants, support workers, and tutors.

"Confidence and knowledge of cultural identity, language revitalization and connection to the traditional lands." - Ontario participant

Example shared by a participant: Cultural supports through the Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic District School Board's Native Youth Advancement with Education Hamilton (N.Y.A:W.E.H.) program

The need for equitable funding, while broadly discussed throughout survey responses, was also mentioned by several participants as an issue that is closely connected to the challenge of attracting and retaining high-quality teachers at First Nation schools.

Educational equipment and facilities was another key theme among participants. In addition to having the right people in place, students also need access to up-to-date technologies, such as computers and high-speed internet. Others stressed the importance of spaces such as libraries, gyms, and playgrounds to help with learning.

"First Nations need permanent teachers that genuinely care about them. Most teachers are graduates looking for an easy out-of-school jobs that will look good on a resume." - Ontario participant

Extracurricular activities was also a main theme. Participants stated that students need activities that offer both healthy activities and a safe space to spend time. Suggestions included organized sports teams/programs, arts activities/groups, social groups, game/movie nights, and field trips/travel opportunities.

How can educators help?

Respondents identified three key themes concerning qualities that teachers need to work well with First Nation students.

Knowledge and understanding of First Nation culture was a top theme among respondents, who expressed that this is very important for teaching First Nation students. While some mentioned that teachers should be First Nations themselves, many suggested that it is more important that they are open to learning about Indigenous culture and history and build it into their teaching. Overall, 29% of responses mentioned this theme.

"They need to be more than open to learning about First Nations culture, language and history. They need to be passionate about it before they take the teaching job." - Ontario participant

Furthermore, respondents indicated that non-Indigenous teachers must be keenly aware of the intergenerational trauma caused by residential schools, as well as the broader political contexts and impact of colonialism and oppression. Respondents expressed that these issues continue to shape the lives of Indigenous peoples today, including how many students and their families view the modern education system. Several participants explained that this will require self-reflection, research, and education and training on the part of teachers.

Compassionate, positive approach to teaching was the second-highest theme. In addition to being qualified, several participants called for teachers who will genuinely care about and help nurture students, as well as demonstrate sensitivity and patience to tailor their approach to students' needs. This theme was highlighted in 23% of Ontario responses.

"Calm and patient people that take the time to know the individual student and connect with the family." - Ontario participant

Community involvement is another top theme for teaching First Nation students. Respondents recommended that teachers be open, engage parents and families in their child's education, and have a visible presence and actively participating in community events and activities. This could help to demonstrate respect and builds trust with students and their families. This theme was mentioned in 11% of Ontario responses.

Language and culture

What's currently available? What's working?

More than half of Ontario respondents noted that either First Nation language or culture is taught in school in their community. Almost half indicated that both are taught. When considering what they liked about how language and culture is being taught in some schools, participants highlighted a few key themes.

"Children retain their culture and language after leaving school… This is turn keeps the connection to their community alive." - Ontario participant

Promoting First Nation identity and community was the top theme. Many participants noted that by actively participating in traditional language and cultural activities, students are more likely to keep practicing them over the long term, which helps preserve these parts of Indigenous identity and gives life to communities. Students also gain a better understanding of their cultural identity and history, and how it interacts with the broader non-Indigenous Canadian culture. Twenty-six per cent of Ontario responses mentioned this theme.

Fostering pride in First Nation identity was another top theme mentioned by participants. This is similar to the previous theme, but focused more on the impact on students' attitudes and experiences. With effective language and cultural education, First Nation students can become more connected to and proud of their heritage. More broadly, this would help to build a more open, inclusive, and safer school environment, which can help reinforce First Nation students' sense of self and belonging. About 16% of Ontario responses identified this theme.

"Creates sense of pride in our students. They need this knowledge to be more successful in the off-reserve world." - Ontario participant

Other positive features of how language and culture is taught in schools include:

  • Involving Elders and other Indigenous community members: Such individuals could share their knowledge and skills with students through speaking opportunities, teaching traditional language, and participating in on-the-land activities outside of the classroom (e.g. hunting).
  • Building language and culture into all subjects: Language and culture should be built into the curriculum throughout the day and across various subjects, and "not just as an add on."
What could help?

When considering a list of factors that could contribute to effective First Nation language and culture education in schools, having students learn about language and culture from First Nation teachers was the highest-rated by respondents (91% rated it either "very important" or "important"). Overall, the majority of respondents rated all factors relatively high (more than 80% rating them in a similar manner), which included: students taking land-based programs in schools, students using materials with pictures of Indigenous people, and the school year being flexible so students have time for cultural activities.

Early years programs and services

What’s currently available?

More than half of Ontario participants with children aged 6 and under have programs and services in their community that they want their children to participate in. Furthermore, about half have supports and/or services in their community to help children begin elementary school. Pre-school programming was the most popular type of support/service, which was mentioned by nearly one-third of respondents. Other supported and programs mentioned included daycare, community centre programs, youth-based recreational activities, school-based programs, and health-based programs.

When asked why their children had not taken part in programs and services in their community, about half of the responses from Ontario participants indicated that there was a lack of available programs. Other reasons noted by participants included personal scheduling conflicts and low quality programs.

What could help?

Ontario respondents suggested that there are a wide range of supports and services that could help First Nation children succeed at elementary school.

Incorporating language and culture was the top theme, which included many of the elements previously discussed, such as teaching approaches that provide meaningful opportunities to practice traditional language and culture, curriculum that recognizes Indigenous culture and history, and teachers and support staff that work to understand Indigenous culture. Respondents stressed the positive impact that these teachings have on pride and First Nation identity. About 12% of responses mentioned this theme.

"Culturally relevant curriculum that instill a pride in their way of life so they are proud to live it when they hit mainstream." - Ontario participant

Qualified teachers and support staff was another top theme, particularly with respect to early childhood educators and child care workers. Participants explained that having well-trained teachers who are committed to the long term success of schools and students, who are well-paid, and who understand First Nation culture are linked to student success. This theme was noted in 10% of Ontario comments.

Family and community support was also a main theme. Respondents discussed the importance of support, encouragement, and active involvement in education by students' families and the broader community. In addition to the importance of parents valuing education, they also need to provide a positive home environment for their children. About 9% of responses mentioned this theme.

First Nation education options

What’s currently available?

Example shared by a participant: First Nation's children need to be offered food and nutrition programs. Breakfast subsidies, lunch subsidies are a couple of examples.

About one-quarter of Ontario respondents indicated that First Nation students in their community have support when they move away to attend school outside of their community. A similar number stated that First Nation students in their community have flexible ways to take classes, such as through the internet, television, radio, and mail. Slightly more than one-third indicated that this flexibility was not available.

What works best?

Some respondents highlighted what they liked best about the flexible ways of learning or taking classes available in their community. Supporting those with different learning needs was the top theme among Ontario responses. Around 11% of comments mentioned this. Other themes included helping students remain connected with their family and community, and providing access to more diverse learning programs and opportunities.

However, many participants also noted that while having flexible options is important, students should have access to in-person education and support in the community, especially for learning about their traditional language and culture.

What could help?

In discussing what education options should be available, Ontario respondents focused on several recurring themes.

Cultural and language activities was the top theme, which included on-the-land activities, language instruction, traditional skill-building, and learning about Indigenous history. Respondents wanted teachers to understand Indigenous culture and to make the effort work it into their lesson plans. About 19% of Ontario respondents mentioned this theme.

Example shared by a participant: A modified school calendar and land-based learning opportunities that recognize the "six seasons" used by some First Nations: "winter, spring, blooming earth, summer, fall, and freezing up."

Online and distance education options was another key theme, as this could provide students with options to remain in their community, as well as accommodate those who have learning disabilities, who are working, or who have children of their own. In total, 11% of responses discussed this theme.

Other key themes were raised about the types of education options that could help:

  • Post-secondary supports: In addition to having more post-secondary opportunities (e.g. trade apprenticeships), students also need support to help them pursue education beyond K-12.
  • Life skills development: Students should have many opportunities to develop basic life skills (e.g. cooking, sewing, health and wellness, self-care, paying bills), as well as education/training more specific to their cultural experience (such as "how to deal with the outside world outside of the reserve", "how to deal with racism or how to educate others in a respectful way about First Nations people").
  • Learn about others: Students could benefit from learning about other cultures, including other Indigenous groups in Canada.

Working with provincial schools

What could help?

In considering a list of factors that could help support student success in off-reserve schools, Ontario respondents indicated that students feeling comfortable and on-reserve programs to help students get ready were the most important. Almost all respondents rated these as either "very important" or "important" (96% and 93% respectively). However, all of the other factors were highly rated as well, which included community counsellors, programs to connect with other First Nation students, culture and language education, and First Nations having a say in how off-reserve schools are run.

"Have them go to their new school multiple times beforehand with their families, therefore everyone is comfortable with the transition." - Ontario participant

Additionally, the majority of participants stressed the importance of on- and off-reserve schools having the same teaching goals for all students (80% rated it as either "very important" or "important"). In comparison, fewer respondents (67%) felt the same way about both schools having the same curriculum for all students.

"Have social supports built in. It can be very anxiety-provoking to be away from one's family. Have weekly meetings with a counselor or other healthcare professionals to debrief." - Ontario participant

Transition programming/supports was the top theme among Ontario respondents when asked what would help First Nation students switch from on-reserve schools to off-reserve schools. This could include many advanced tours/visits to off-reserve schools, orientation programs (especially how to get around and be safe in a big city), mentor/buddy programs, and support groups/networks. These would help new students adapt to the changes, help them meet other people (including other First Nation students or those experiencing similar transitions), and minimize their culture shock. About 23% of responses mentioned this theme.

Example shared by a participant: I believe having First Nations counsellors and support programs for students switching from on-reserve school to off-reserve schools is extremely important.

Promoting Indigenous culture was another main theme. Respondents suggested that off-reserve schools should offer cultural spaces, resources, and activities for First Nation students. They should teach accurate history that covers the relationship between the federal government and First Nations, along with treaties and territories. Building First Nation culture into the curriculum was also mentioned by participants as important. About 10% of responses raised this theme.

Teaching Indigenous history and culture to all students was also a key theme. Similar to the previous theme, this focused more on the education needed to help all students understand Indigenous culture and history (such as treaties). This could help dispel myths and correct misperceptions, build inclusiveness, and minimize discrimination against First Nation students. In total, 7% of responses highlighted this theme.

Manitoba

Who we heard from

106 individuals from Manitoba responded to the survey, who brought their point of view as a:

  • Parent (58%)
  • Grandparent (26%)
  • Youth (9%)
  • Elder (6%)
  • Aunt or uncle (41%)
  • Teacher (21%)
  • Early childhood worker (7%)

Key highlights:What we heard

What are the most important education issues for First Nation children?

  1. Quality education
  2. Funding
  3. Equity/equal opportunity
  4. Student supports

What are the critical factors for First Nation student success?

  1. Qualified teachers and staff
  2. Include language and culture
  3. Family and community support
  4. Extracurricular activities

Priority issues

Before providing their ideas on specific issues related to First Nation education, survey participants identified their most important issues or concerns. The following chart displays the categories, or themes, of comments received. As shown, several key themes emerged from participants' comments, as there was no single leading issue identified.

What is the most important issue in education for First Nation children for you right now?
There were 187 distinct comments.
Text description of the pie chart - Total distinct comments = 187

There were 187 distinct comments

  • Quality education: 17%
  • Funding: 15%
  • Other: 15%
  • Support for students: 14%
  • Equity: 14%
  • Language and culture: 11%
  • The right teacher: 6%
  • Keeping students in school: 7%

Other (16%):

  • Presence of schools
  • Infrastructure
  • Tailored education
  • Science, tech, math, etc.
  • Support for families
  • Safety
  • Understanding opportunities
  • Housing
  • Nutrition programs
  • Reduce political decision making
  • Locally available jobs

Quality education was the top theme among Manitoba respondents, as many focused on access to resources. The most frequently noted resources were technology (such as computers, internet access) and books, although some discussed the need to update the curriculum as well. Participants also cited quality education as important for preparing students for college/university and future employment.

Funding issues was the second-highest theme. While this is related to several other education issues identified by respondents, such as equity and quality, this theme reflects more specific comments on funding. Many of the comments stressed a lack of, or unequal, funding for First Nation students, and the need for stable/guaranteed and matched government funding. Some comments called for funding for students with disabilities, to support post-secondary opportunities, and to help retain teachers.

Equity issues, while closely connected to the previous themes, was another key topic highlighted by respondents. While mentioned frequently alongside quality of education and funding, some comments reflected specific concerns around First Nation students on reserve not having access to the same opportunities as non-First Nation/off-reserve students.

"When our children go to university/college they are not prepared and are lacking essential skills and knowledge." - Manitoba participant

Supports for students was a theme that represented a wide range of programs and services for First Nation students. In addition to having access to up-to-date resources/materials and technology, several specific areas were discussed by participants, including: mental health/wellness support (with an emphasis on bullying and suicide), parental involvement and encouragement, health education (including physical and sex education), and support for disabilities.

"Right now, on reserve children receive less funding… which means less books, electronic devices, etc. They should have equal amenities." - Manitoba participant

Student success

How can students be supported?

Manitoba respondents highlighted a wide range of factors that help First Nation students to succeed, as shown in the chart below.

What makes a good school and helps First Nation student succeed?
Total distinct comments =  189
Text description of the pie chart - Total distinct comments = 189

There were 189 distinct comments made

  • Qualified teachers and support staff: 17%
  • Other: 15%
  • Language and culture: 13%
  • Family and community support: 12%
  • Extracurricular activities: 11%
  • Educational equipment/facilities: 7%
  • Social/educational supports: 7%
  • Mental health support/services: 5%
  • Nutrition programs: 5%
  • Tailored education: 4%
  • Infrastructure: 4%

Other (14%):

  • Help finding jobs
  • Support for families
  • Funding
  • Transition support
  • Clean water, housing
  • First Nations control of First Nation education
  • Safety
  • Teach equality
  • Do not promote religion
  • Reduce political decision making
  • Locally available jobs

Qualified teachers and staff was the top theme, as many respondents focused on the importance of teachers who truly care about helping their students ("and not just their paycheck"). The most common qualities suggested by participants were compassion and empathy, as teachers should be non-judgmental of students, acknowledge their strengths, and put in extra time to help them build their self-esteem and achieve their goals. Some participants emphasized the importance of teachers listening to students and their families, and treating their students as if they are their own family. Additionally, some respondents discussed the importance of teacher continuity/commitment and effective professional development/training for teachers.

Language and culture was the second-highest theme among Manitoba respondents, as many indicated that this was important for engaging students and increasing cultural awareness and sensitivity overall. This involves integrating more land-based education (such as fishing, trapping) and teaching traditional knowledge and skills (such as healing, "how to use the sky to navigate if lost in the bush"). Some respondents also discussed the importance of teaching First Nation students about the intergenerational impacts of residential schools, as well as involving Elders in education.

"Educators who have compassion and take the initiative to support their students in more ways than just teaching course materials." - Manitoba participant

Family and community support was also considered a key factor contributing to student success. In addition to the need for parental support and involvement, many respondents discussed the importance of the local community in supporting First Nation students. Respondents noted that community members should be helping each other and contributing to students' education by being actively involved in schools and, more broadly, supporting school goals and activities.

Extracurricular activities were also identified as critical in helping students succeed, particularly those offered before and after school. Manitoba respondents recommended a variety of arts-based programs, such as photography, music, and dance, as well as organized sports. Other examples of extracurricular activities included special events/trips (such as "trips to larger centres (Winnipeg)"), job preparation, science labs/clubs, youth councils, and more cooperative (rather than competitive) activities.

"Getting back to land-based education. It is important to the community culture and continuing the heritage." - Manitoba participant

How can educators help?

Manitoba respondents discussed a variety of approaches and qualities that they considered important for educators of First Nation students. Two themes stood out in particular.

Compassionate approach to teaching was one of the top themes among Manitoba respondents. As previously discussed, respondents described several qualities that teachers of First Nation students should possess, such as being caring, flexible, respectful, open-minded, empathetic, and understanding. These qualities can help teachers connect with students, especially with understanding their culture and personal situations. Some participants also described teachers as advocates for their students. This theme was highlighted in 20% of Manitoba responses.

"If a person connects to the students, chances are the students will learn and succeed." - Manitoba participant

Understanding First Nation history and culture was the other top theme from Manitoba responses on how teachers could help First Nation students. Participants stressed the importance of teachers being aware of and understanding Indigenous history, as well as what life can be like in First Nation communities. Overall, 19% of responses mentioned this theme.

"The important thing is respecting the way of life and history, knowing about it, and encouraging children to be proud of who they are." - Manitoba participant

Manitoba respondents also highlighted the following as important for teachers of First Nation students:

  • Ongoing teacher training: Teachers should be equipped with appropriate training/professional development opportunities, including training on disabilities and counselling/intervention (e.g. child abuse).
  • Community involvement: Teachers should be actively engaged in the community beyond their regular duties, such as through extracurricular activities and community events. This will help them better understand community needs/concerns and values.
  • Long-term commitment: Retaining teachers (for example for more than one year) is critical, as high turnover gives the impression that teachers do not care about their students.

Language and culture

What's currently available? What's working?

About half of Manitoba respondents indicated that either First Nation language or culture is taught in school in their community. Just over one-third noted that both are taught. In considering what they liked about how language and culture is being taught in some schools, participants highlighted a few key themes.

"A lot of our students are losing the language and culture. They need to carry on the traditions to future generations." - Manitoba participant

Preserving and promoting First Nation language and culture was by far the top theme. Several respondents noted the importance of "keeping traditions alive," as they are concerned with First Nation children not knowing their traditional language and culture. They pointed to examples of language education (such as Cree) and land-based learning (such as hunting trips) that are offered in schools, and some explained that students may not have these types of opportunities at home. Half of the responses included this theme.

"Having someone that really does know the language and culture. It brings past and present together for a clear understanding of who a First Nations person really is." - Manitoba participant

Involving Elders was the second-highest theme, with some participants describing how Elders (as well as other Indigenous community members) are involved in schools by speaking to students and participating in land-based programs. This relates to the previous theme, as Elders can help reinforce traditional language and culture for students. About 18% of responses noted this theme.

Example shared by a participant: Lord Selkirk School Division has an "Aboriginal consultant on staff to mentor and guide students on a regular basis"

Fostering cultural pride among First Nation students was another top theme. While there is overlap with one of the previous themes (Preserving and promoting First Nation language and culture), this theme focused more on the impact on students' own cultural identity. Having opportunities to learn about their traditional language or culture helps students form a stronger sense of cultural identity and encourages pride in culture. In a broader sense, this can also help build a more inclusive school environment. Overall, this theme was highlighted in 15% of responses from Manitoba participants.

In addition to exploring these themes, about 10% of responses called for more support for First Nation language and culture education. While most of these participants noted that some of these education opportunities exist, they also highlighted some critical issues, such as limited availability/funding, poor quality (for example "not taught very well"), and a lack of applicability (for example teaching only one First Nation language or culture when students have different ancestry).

What could help?

In considering a list of factors that could contribute to effective First Nation language and culture education in schools, students learning about language and culture from First Nation teachers and students taking land-based programs in schools were the highest-rated items by Manitoba respondents (89% rated them either "very important" or "important"). Using of materials with pictures of Indigenous people was the next highest-rated item, followed by the school year being flexible so students have time for cultural activities.

Early years programs and services

What’s currently available?

Just under half of Manitoba respondents with children aged 6 and under have programs and services in their community that they want their children to participate in. Furthermore, about half have supports and/or services in their community to help children begin elementary school. Aboriginal Head Start was the most popular type of support/service, as it was noted by nearly one quarter of responses. Daycare and other pre-school programs were the next most common supports/services, followed by school-based programs, community centre programs, and parental/family support.

When asked why their children had not taken part in programs and services in their community, nearly half of the responses from Manitoba participants indicated that there was a lack of available programs. Other reasons included a lack of variety (for example "most programs are geared for sports, not all children like sports") and affordability ("if so, it was a sport and it [was] too expensive.").

What could help?

Manitoba respondents identified a very wide range of supports and services that could help First Nation children prepare for and succeed at elementary school.

Parent/caregiver support and involvement was the top theme, as several respondents emphasized the impact of parents on a student's educational experience and long-term success. Respondents shared that there needs to be more support available to parents (such as classes, seminars) to help them develop essential parenting skills, but also to recognize the value of education and what is needed to help prepare their child, especially at an early age. Another aspect of this theme is providing more opportunities for parents to be connected to and involved in their child's education, such as through parent-child programs. About 16% of responses highlighted this theme.

Example shared by a participant: "The family centre at my children's school is also a place to make connections, which is important for those stay at home parents who may be struggling with depression or isolation."

Social supports was another common theme discussed by participants, which was explored in a few different ways. Some responses focused on the importance of socialization (how children should learn to play and work with others at an early age) while others centred on the need for role models, mentors, and counsellors to help encourage students. Additionally, some described this theme more broadly by highlighting the importance of students feeling welcome and safe in their school environment. About 10% of responses mentioned this theme.

Academic/education supports was another key theme from Manitoba respondents. Literacy support (such as reading programs, book clubs) was seen as especially important, as well as numeracy. Respondents suggested that mentors and tutors could help by providing more hands-on, one-on-one time with students. This theme was raised in 9% of responses.

"Children need to feel safe, welcome and supported on every level." - Manitoba participant

Early intervention programs was also a theme, as many participants explained that programs like Aboriginal Head Start and others that support early intervention and learning were important to supporting children during critical years of child development, as they prepare to start school. Around 8% of responses highlighted this theme.

First Nation education options

What’s currently available?

Less than one-quarter of Manitoba respondents indicated that First Nation students in their community have support when they move away to attend school outside of their community.

Slightly more stated that First Nation students in their community have flexible ways to take classes, such as through the internet, television, radio, and mail. However, almost half of the responses indicated that this flexibility was not available.

What works best?

A few respondents highlighted what they liked best about the flexible ways of taking classes available in their community. Examples included increasing access to certain types of learning opportunities (such as adult education, trades, mental health supports), building awareness around career options, allowing for more individualized teaching methods, helping students stay connected to their family and community, and improving the course offerings for smaller schools.

Example shared by a participant: "Small schools cannot offer all academic courses so Wapaskwa fills in' where we cannot."

However, several participants stressed how students still need support when they make use of flexible ways to learn, including one-on-one attention and financial support for tuition and books. Additionally, some respondents identified the need for community support and involvement (such as encouraging students to participate), and access to internet for students to succeed.

What could help?

In discussing what education options should be available, Manitoba respondents focused on a few key themes.

Cultural and history education was the top theme from Manitoba responses, which included traditional cultural learning opportunities such as hunting, gathering, and living off the land. Respondents also discussed the importance of First Nation students learning about their history, both in terms of their community but also Indigenous and Canadian history more broadly (such as the impact of the Indian Act). Some participants suggested that this would help build cultural proficiency. About 17% of Manitoba responses mentioned this theme.

Post-secondary options/supports was another key theme among participants, who discussed the importance of access to trades for First Nation students, particularly hands-on skilled trades schools/programs and apprenticeships. Some respondents also called for more post-secondary opportunities to be available on reserve, such as access to college and university programs or local work projects (such as maintaining/building sustainable houses). Overall, 13% of comments discussed this topic.

Life skills development was also discussed by participants, as they expressed that education should help First Nation students build capacity in a variety of areas impacting their everyday lives, including financial planning/budgeting, family care (such as caring for babies, siblings), healthy cooking and living independently. About 13% of responses discussed this theme.

Working with provincial schools

What could help?

In considering a list of factors that could help contribute to student success in off-reserve schools, Manitoba respondents identified on-reserve programs to help students get ready and students feeling comfortable as most important. Over 90% of respondents rated both of these as either "very important" or "important". All of the other factors were highly rated as well, including community counsellors, programs to connect with other First Nation students, and culture and language education.

The majority of participants stressed the importance of on- and off-reserve schools having the same teaching goals for all students (89% rated it as either "very important" or "important"). In comparison, fewer respondents (76%) felt the same way about both schools having the same curriculum for all students.

Transition programming/supports was the leading theme among Manitoba respondents when asked how First Nation students could be supported when they transfer from on-reserve schools to off-reserve schools. Participants recommended helping students understand what to expect before they go to an off-reserve school, as well as helping to manage the culture shock of moving to a city. Supporting and engaging students will help them navigate and adapt to city life, especially if they are living independently. Various resources were suggested by respondents, including manuals, courses, counselling, and liaisons to help support them before, during, and after the transition. Almost one-third of responses (30%) mentioned this theme.

"Understand that the culture shock some, if not all, students face will impact their learning... Work closely with students during the transition… Listen to what the students have to say." - Manitoba participant

The following supports were also discussed by Manitoba respondents:

  • More resources/support on-reserve: While overlapping with the previous theme, this focused more on respondents' call for equity. Participants explained that there is a greater need to develop opportunities on-reserve, whether it is to keep students closer to home or to prepare them more effectively for their off-reserve transition. As a result, respondents suggested building more First Nation schools and providing the same quality of education both on- and off-reserve ("teach the same way in both places… so they are not shocked when they go off-reserve"), which also requires more funding.
  • Social and mental health support: This included mentorship and counselling programs, with a focus on helping First Nation students feel comfortable and providing the resources they need to be engaged (such as participating in activities) and succeed in school.
  • Opportunities to connect with others: This is similar to a previous theme, but it focused more on involving other First Nation students who have successfully transitioned to off-reserve schools (or had similar experiences), such as through mentorship, a "buddy" system, support groups, and shared accommodations

Saskatchewan

Who we heard from

105 individuals from Saskatchewan responded to the survey, who brought their point of view as a:

  • Parent (61%)
  • Teacher (30%)
  • Youth (2%)
  • Aunt or uncle (45%)
  • Grandparent (30%)
  • Elder (7%)

Key highlights: What we heard

What are the most important education issues for First Nation children?

  1. Quality education
  2. Funding issues
  3. Language and culture
  4. Supports for students

What are the critical factors for First Nation student success?

  1. Language and culture
  2. Qualified teachers and staff
  3. Support from family and community
  4. Extracurricular activities

Priority issues

Before providing their feedback on issues related to First Nation education, survey participants discussed their most important issues or concerns. The following chart displays the categories, or themes, of comments received.

What is the most important issue in education for First Nation children for you right now?
There were 177 distinct comments
Text description of the pie chart - Total distinct comments = 177

There were 177 distinct comments

  • Quality education: 19%
  • Funding issues: 17%
  • Language and culture: 14%
  • Other: 13%
  • Support for students: 12%
  • Equity issues: 12%
  • Qualified teachers and staff: 6%
  • Tailored education: 4%
  • Keeping students in school: 3%

Other (13%):

  • First Nations control of First Nation education
  • Racism and poverty
  • Too much politics in decision-making
  • Safe schools
  • Teacher consistency
  • Extracurricular programs
  • Lifestyle change
  • Don't promote religion
  • Children still too young for school

Quality education was the top theme from Saskatchewan respondents. Many respondents stressed the important and basic need for quality education. Respondents highlighted their concerns that students are not being well educated in reading and writing, science, math, physical education, and other subjects. A lack of quality education has many different aspects including a lack of standards for education, a lack of information about First Nation student outcomes, and administrative delays when trying to make improvements. Some participants indicated that students are not getting enough classroom hours and are being taught by unqualified teachers. Other respondents discussed how on-reserve schools did not offer as good an education as off-reserve schools, and mentioned a lack of educational resources and facilities (such as gyms, labs) on reserve. The impact of not having enough funding was also mentioned, and how this has forced some on-reserve schools to lay off teachers and to put too many students in one class.

"Children are being passed grade to grade finally when they get to high school they don't even have the proper reading levels." - Saskatchewan participant

Funding issues was also a top theme, as many respondents stated that schools on-reserve are consistently under-funded and need both more and reliable funding. Challenges with how funding is distributed, time-consuming reporting requirements, poor budgeting practices, and limits on how funding can be spent were also mentioned. Many aspects of education are negatively affected without adequate funding. Aspects highlighted by Saskatchewan respondents included the number of teachers that can be hired and retained, what sort of facilities like labs and gyms are available, what kinds of extracurricular activities a school can offer, disabilities support, and available teaching resources. Many participants also mentioned funding gap between on- and off-reserve schools, including the gap in teacher salaries. As for further education, some participants also mentioned the need for financial assistance for students to attend college or university.

Language and culture was another leading theme raised by respondents. The importance of students learning First Nation languages was clear from respondents' comments, as many emphasized that language education was the most important issue in First Nation children's education. Some respondents raised the need for more language teachers. Closely tied to the importance of language was the overall importance of First Nation culture to education, including traditional languages. Respondents discussed the need for strong cultural programming, for land-based teaching methods, the need to involve Elders in cultural education, and how learning about one's culture is tied to the growth of pride and First Nation identity. Using a curriculum that is designed with First Nation culture in mind was also mentioned by some participants who felt that the schooling of First Nation children should value Indigenous ways of knowing. Other participants mentioned how important learning history is, so that students can know where they came from ("knowing their roots"), and that teachers should be well-trained in First Nation history, culture, and traditions.

"The most important issue for First Nation children is for the students to be immersed in their cultural teachings as this becomes the foundation of their concept of self. Positive self-esteem is integral for their learning." - Saskatchewan participant

Supports for students was a theme that covered a wide range of student supports. First among them was support from home. Respondents explained that supportive caregivers who offered encouragement and stability were key to student success. Also key to this success was support from the school, including meal programs, anti-bullying support, and attention to the use of drugs and alcohol. Other key supports included resources and school supplies like computers, books, paper, and pencils, along with other learning supports like extra classes for those who need them. Schools should be supportive of students who cannot regularly attend classes, and provide access to counsellors and a graduation plan. Some participants highlighted the need for financial support for further education like college or university, along with building skills useful in the job market.

Student success

How can students be supported?

Saskatchewan respondents highlighted a number of factors to help support First Nation students, as shown in the chart below.

What makes a good school and helps First Nation students succeed?
There were 209 distinct comments made
Text description of the pie chart - Total distinct comments = 209

There were 209 distinct comments made.

  • Language and culture: 16%
  • Qualified teachers and support staff: 15%
  • Other: 15%
  • Extracurricular activities: 9%
  • Support from family and community: 9%
  • School equipment/facilities: 8%
  • Tailored education: 6%
  • Nutrition and health: 5%
  • Social support: 5%
  • Welcoming environment: 4%
  • Accessibility and learning support: 4%
  • School infrastructure: 4%

Other (15%):

  • Arts programs
  • Quality education
  • Life skills training
  • Support for finding jobs
  • Police involvement
  • Support for families
  • Understanding of opportunities
  • Reduce political decision making
  • Family services involvement
  • Community centres

Language and culture was the top theme from respondents, as many focused on the need to involve Elders in schools, by setting aside time for them to share their oral history with students, by involving them in classes, or simply by having them present at the school. The need to build First Nation culture and language into schooling was also seen as very important. Respondents suggested using a culturally relevant curriculum that celebrates First Nation heritage and includes culturally appropriate programming. Schooling should include cultural events and activities ("ribbon skirt making, moccasin making, drumming, fishing, berry picking, hunting"), teaching out on the land, all the while giving First Nation students pride in their heritage. Participants also mentioned the need to involve parents/caregivers in their children's education and for quality history teaching which would include a background on treaties.

Example shared by a participant: Spaces that can include parents and incorporate culture and recreation have far high student success rates - for example St Mary's Catholic Elementary School in Saskatoon

Qualified teachers and staff was another top theme from Saskatchewan respondents. The need for qualified teachers was raised by many respondents, who stressed that teachers should have teaching experience, be well-educated, and be trained in teaching specialities like gym, home economics, and industrial arts. Teachers should also have at least the same education level as off-reserve teachers, and be able to access up-to-date professional development opportunities and resources. Participants wanted teachers who are committed to students' education and who set high standards, who can serve as role models for children, and who are willing to stay in a community rather than leave at the first chance. A lack of funding for teachers was also noted, both to hire enough of them and to offer pay high enough to attract and retain quality teachers. Some participants also mentioned the need for other qualified staff, like teachers' aides, social workers, guidance counsellors, and health workers.

"Teachers that are there for the benefit of the schools and not having taken the jobs as a last resort or planning their move back to cities." - Saskatchewan participant

Support from family and community was also a key theme, as respondents focused on the importance of support from parents or caregivers is to a child. First Nation students need parents who are committed to their success, who volunteer at school, and who give love, affection, and acknowledgement. When parents or caregivers cannot provide these things, the community must step forward and support the child. Elders can provide support, as can local First Nation and community leaders. Community support workers can help to guide families toward programs in the community.

Extracurricular activities was another main theme from participants. Making sure that First Nation students can participate in sports was a key concern, as respondents suggested that sports and recreation programs should be available in schools. More generally, respondents wanted there to be ways for students to interact with one another and to learn. This could mean student clubs, science or technology camps, or other programs held outside of class time. Field trips were also mentioned, where trips from the school could give students an opportunity for hands-on learning and exposure to the world outside of their own community. Some respondents also noted the need for funding help to pay for travel to after school events and to cover participation fees.

How can educators help?

Participants identified three themes related to how teachers can support success for First Nation students.

Knowledge and understanding of First Nation culturewas the top theme from Saskatchewan respondents. Most indicated that understanding First Nation culture, its role in the identity of First Nation people, and basing a curriculum on it are key to student success. This curriculum should not impose colonial views, and it should instead embrace First Nation culture and include cultural activities such as land-based learning. Respondents expressed that being able to speak the First Nation language of the local community was important, along with being able to teach it in class. Training in cross-cultural understanding and awareness of racism were also considered necessary. Participants wanted teachers to invite Elders to participate in classes to tell their stories and to speak about traditional ways and lifestyles. Teaching accurate history, including the impacts of treaties, residential schools, and government policies was also considered important by some respondents. A quarter of the responses mentioned this theme.

"I think that it is important for educators to learn about the background of First Nation people. The stigma and stereotypes of First nation people is live and well in this day and age." - Saskatchewan participant

Compassionate, caring approach to teaching was also a leading theme. Respondents strongly suggested that teachers must be caring, compassionate, and respectful people who have an understanding of the challenges students may face at home that may affect their ability to learn or participate in class. Teachers should believe in their students ("cheer them on") and be passionate about their jobs. Participants wanted teachers who were not racist and who would teach children to be proud of themselves. About 18% of responses included this theme.

Qualified teachers was another top theme, where participants stressed that teachers should be well-trained in modern teaching methods, prepared to work with students with disabilities, and knowledgeable of both the subject matter and First Nation culture. Teachers should be able to adapt their teaching to an individual student's needs and could use hands-on learning as a more engaging way to teach. They should also be able to effectively teach basic subjects like reading, writing, math, and science. Participants also mentioned the importance of criminal background checks and teachers belonging to professional teaching organizations. Some respondents indicated that it was important to have First Nation teachers who could serve as role models to students. Around 18% of responses highlighted this theme.

Example shared by a participant: Teachers should be part of a professional teaching group like the Saskatchewan Teacher's Federation or Saskatchewan Professional Teachers Regulatory Board.

Language and culture

What's currently available? What's working?

Almost all of Saskatchewan respondents noted that either First Nation language or culture is taught in school in their community. Over two-thirds indicated that both are taught. When considering what they liked about how language and culture is being taught in some schools, participants highlighted the following key themes.

Promoting First Nation culture was the central theme from participants, who shared that teaching First Nation culture and language means that they are being promoted and would survive into the future. Many worried about the disappearance of culture and language ("The generation I belong to is the last generation to be fluent with our language"), respondents were glad to see cultural teachings in schools, such as land-based teaching, ceremonies, smudging, and students making clothing for traditional dances, etc. In total, 18% of responses mentioned this theme.

"It gives kids a sense of identity as we know the challenges of the north-teens who already go through a cultural identity issue need to see a cultural continuity today and into the future." - Saskatchewan participant

Building pride and First Nation identity was another main theme, as respondents stressed that learning about First Nation culture and language rebuilds pride and self-esteem in First Nation students along with a sense of identity. Students learn who they are as First Nations, ("connection to their roots"), they learn about resilience and strength, and they see that their language and culture is important and valued. About 17% of responses highlighted this theme.

Involving Elders and community members was also a key theme among Saskatchewan respondents. Many were glad to see Elders participating in the teaching of language and culture to First Nation students. Respondents noted that First Nation children were very engaged by hearing oral history and stories from Elders. Teaching language and culture also brings communities together; it can involve parents and community members teaching their own language, and it provides common ground between youth and Elders. This theme was noted in 16% of responses.

"It's school wide, community and council supported, supported by school division, taught by community Elders, teachers and members so specific language, protocol, stories, history and knowledge are passed on." - Saskatchewan participant

What could help?

When considering a list of factors that could contribute to effective First Nation language and culture education in schools, having students taking land-based programs in schoolswas the highest-rated by respondents (90% rated it either "very important" or "important"). Overall, most respondents rated all factors highly, with 81% to 88% rating the following factors either "very important" or "important": students learning about language and culture from First Nation teachers, students using materials with pictures of Indigenous people, and the school year being flexible so students have time for cultural activities like hunting.

Early years programs and services

What’s currently available?

About two-thirds of Saskatchewan respondents with children aged 6 and under have programs and services in their community that they want their children to participate in. Furthermore, almost three-quarters have supports and/or services in their community to help children begin elementary school. Pre-school programming was the most popular type of support/service, and others included daycare, support services like reading or youth programs, support workers, disabilities programs, culture and language programs, and health-based programs.

When asked why their children had not taken part in programs and services in their community, one-quarter of responses from Saskatchewan responses indicated that there was a lack of available programs. Other reasons noted by participants included that the programs did not have enough space, that they were of poor quality, and scheduling reasons.

What could help?

Saskatchewan respondents suggested that there are many supports and services that could help First Nation children succeed when starting elementary school.

Qualified teachers and support staff was the most common theme from Saskatchewan participants. They explained that having certified teachers with the right training and skills was linked to student success. Participants also wanted teachers to be caring and dedicated, be willing to advocate for students, and to adapt their teaching methods to student needs. Teachers should be culturally aware and willing to stay at one school for multiple years. The need for certain support staff was expressed by many respondents, including teachers' aides, speech therapists, nutritionists, guidance counsellors, and staff to help with literacy and math. Some respondents also mentioned the need for smaller class sizes and better teaching resources. This theme was highlighted in 12% of responses.

"Educators with the training and skills to provide a space that is accessible to all children from differing backgrounds and learning orientations." - Saskatchewan participant

Aboriginal Head Start and early intervention was another main theme, with many respondents stating that Aboriginal Head Start was a key support for students starting elementary school. Participants shared that the program was very important for preparing children for school and should be run by highly-trained leaders. Some mentioned that it needed more funding to provide more spaces. Children should also be screened at an early age and any disabilities or other needs should be identified, with the necessary support provided as early as possible. This support could take the form of simple exercises ("reading, singing, playing, eating, sleeping"), early learning and reading programs, or speech therapy. About 11% of responses mentioned this theme.

Support from family was also a key theme, expressed by 10% of respondents. They indicated that family support, especially support from the children's parent or caregiver(s), is necessary for student success. Caregivers should be dedicated to the education of their children. They should register the child for activities, attend school events with them, and support learning at home by reading with the child and taking them to the library. Respondents also stated that caregivers should give encouragement and praise, while providing a stable, healthy and, positive home environment.

"Parents with a commitment to the educational process. Parents willing to be educated themselves. Parents willing to accept responsibility for the success or failure of their children and adjust accordingly. Children to feel "safe" both at home and at school." - Saskatchewan participant

First Nation education options

What’s currently available?

Just over one-quarter of Saskatchewan respondents indicated that First Nation students in their community have support when they move away to attend school outside of their community. Closer to one-third stated that First Nation students in their community have flexible ways to take classes, such as through the internet, television, radio, and mail. Just under half indicated that this flexibility was not available.

What works best?

Some respondents highlighted what they liked best about flexible ways to take classes.

Flexible ways are better for more students was the most common theme from Saskatchewan responses, as it was mentioned in 28% of responses. Other themes included that good quality education is available through flexible ways of taking classes, and that flexible ways are best with in-person support.

Other respondents, however, suggested that going to class in-person, with one-on-one attention, would always be a better way to take classes.

What could help?

In discussing what education choices should be offered, Saskatchewan respondents raised several themes.

Culture, language, and history activities was the top theme. Respondents wanted to see more cultural activities in schools ("Powwow dancing, hoop dancing, bannock cooking, talking the language"), along with land-based learning and daily language classes, all of which would strengthen students' First Nation identity. Respondents also mentioned the importance of cross-cultural learning and how students should learn both traditional First Nation and Western ways of knowing. The need to learn accurate history about treaties and First Nations' role in Canada was also mentioned by some participants. About 14% of responses raised this theme.

Learning life skills was also a main theme, as many participants suggested that life skills should be taught as a subject in schools. Other recommendations for courses included money management, healthy living including cooking and sexual health, social skills, parenting skills and duties, how to deal with stress, how to set limits in relationships, how to behave in a workplace, and how to take care of a home. This theme was mentioned in 12% of responses.

"Nutritional classes along with cooking classes would be good. I believe that there are food services in some schools, maybe the kids could take part in daily food preparations. This would be good in all schools." - Saskatchewan participant

Support for further education was another key theme. Participants mentioned the need for trades programs and for other adult education choices for those who did not complete school (such as ways to upgrade, graduate from high school). For students still in school and thinking about higher education like university or college, respondents suggested that students could follow a university student through their day to learn what it was like. High school courses should also prepare students for further education. Around 11% of responses highlighted this theme.

Working with provincial schools

What could help?

In considering a list of factors that could help with student success in off-reserve schools, Saskatchewan respondents indicated that on-reserve programs to help students get ready was the most important. In total, 90% of respondents rated this as either "very important" or "important". However, all of the other factors were highly rated as well, which included students feeling comfortable, programs to connect with other First Nation students in off-reserve schools, community counsellors, culture and language education, and First Nations having a say in how off-reserve schools operate.

In addition, most participants expressed it was important for on- and off-reserve schools to have the same teaching goals for all students (86% rated it as either "very important" or "important"). A similar number of respondents (82%) felt the same way about both schools having the same curriculum for all students.

Transition programs was the main theme from Saskatchewan respondents, who had a number of ideas on how to ease the transition for First Nation students to an off-reserve/provincial school. Before the transition, students at both schools should be connected with each other, either through sports or science fairs, or student exchanges. An off-reserve teacher could also come and speak to on-reserve students. Once at the off-reserve school, a buddy system could be set up, to help students get to know their new school. Other suggestions included advance visits during the year before the transition, or studying part time on-reserve and part time off-reserve before the transition. Participants also indicated that the off-reserve school should do as much as possible to address any racism or discrimination. This theme was raised by about 18% of respondents.

"Before kids are sent to off reserve schools, there should be some kind of...introduction/ trial period to the community. Maybe a 2 week trial period to see if it's something they as kids can handle. It'll also see/show if kids are going to get into mischief." - Saskatchewan participant

Student supports was another key theme. After transferring to an off-reserve school, students need ongoing support, which could include assistance from a community liaison worker who would connect students with their parents or caregivers and their home community. Respondents also suggested that students could continue to access on-reserve programs. Off-reserve schools could be required to report on what action they are taking to support First Nation students, such as anti-bullying and mentorship programs. Other ideas included social media support and increased funding for various supports. About 18% of responses mentioned this theme.

Acceptance of First Nation culture was also a leading theme, as respondents recommended that off-reserve schools be required to build First Nation culture and language into their curriculum and teach accurate history. Some participants expressed that a balance between academic and land-based education would help, as would having an Elder at off-reserve schools. Teachers off reserve should also be required to take anti-racism and anti-oppression training. Around 10% of responses included this theme.

Alberta

Who we heard from:

160 individuals from Alberta responded to the survey, who brought their point of view as a:

  • Parent (61%)
  • Grandparent (29%)
  • Youth (5%)
  • Aunt or uncle (41%)
  • Teacher (33%)
  • Elder (6%)

Key highlights: What we heard

What are the most important education issues for First Nation children?

  1. Funding
  2. Equity
  3. Student supports
  4. Quality education

What are the critical factors for First Nation student success?

  1. Language and culture
  2. The right teachers and staff
  3. Extracurricular activities
  4. Quality teachings

Priority issues

Before providing their ideas on issues related to First Nation education, survey participants identified their most important issues or concerns. The following chart displays the categories, or themes, of comments received. As shown, several key themes emerged from participants' comments, and there was no single prevailing issue identified.

What is the most important issue in education for First Nation children for you right now?
There were 265 distinct comments
Text description of the pie chart - Total distinct comments = 265

There were 265 distinct comments.

  • Funding issues: 15%
  • Equity issues: 14%
  • Other: 14%
  • Student supports: 13%
  • Quality education: 13%
  • Language, culture, and history: 10%
  • The right teacher: 6%
  • Support from parents: 5%
  • Attendance: 4%
  • Food, water, housing: 3%
  • Tailored education and First Nation control: 4%

Other (14%):

  • Health issues
  • Poverty, intergenerational trauma
  • School infrastructure
  • Funding transparency
  • Support for families
  • Teaching First Nation culture to non-First Nations
  • Abuse of disability "coding"
  • Presence of schools
  • Respect from government
  • Teacher continuity
  • Negative impact of technology
  • Arts
  • Safety

Funding issues was the top theme from Alberta respondents. Without enough funding, teachers cannot be paid competitive salaries, and so they often do not stay at on-reserve schools. Participants indicated that more funding was needed for programs, including those related to wellness, meals, and language. Others criticised the funding model and suggested that more funding should go into core programs and less into proposal-driven approaches. Many respondents also noted a gap in funding between on-reserve schools and off-reserve/provincial schools, and some stated that this gap is discriminatory against First Nations.

Equity issues was the second most common theme. Related to the previous theme, respondents expressed that there is an unfair gap in funding, education quality, and other supports between on- and off-reserve schools. Many respondents highlighted the gap in education quality, noting that on-reserve schools should be teaching up to Alberta curriculum standards, but they are not. First Nation children do not have the same opportunity to access education as non-First Nation children. Many others focused on a gap in funding and stated that it is not fair, and that it limits the success of First Nation students.

"I think the most important issue would be having the equality of levels taught on reserve when compared to provincial schools. Right now, the level of grade 9 math on reserves is not close to the same level taught for grade 9s off reserve." - Alberta participant

Student supports was another main theme, which covers a range of supports for students. Participants indicated that mental health and wellness supports are important, noting that mental health issues must be addressed before a child can learn. The need for meal programs was also raised, as participants expressed that if students are hungry they cannot focus on learning. Other supports highlighted include anti-bullying programs, transportation (such as busses), tutors, and better technology.

Quality education was also a key theme, as respondents expressed that basic skills like reading, writing, and math must be taught at an early age. Others focused on an unfair funding gap, linking poor education quality to the lack of funds. Aside from more programs, additional funding would also allow more and better quality teachers to be hired and retained. Participants also noted that poor quality education in elementary school means that when First Nation students are sent off-reserve for high school, they find the adjustment very difficult because they are not prepared for the class work.

"The most important issue in education for First Nations children is to learn their language and culture, for it is knowing who they are and know their language then they can and will flourish in mainstream society. First Nations identity is of utmost importance." - Alberta participant

Student success

How can students be supported?

Alberta respondents highlighted a wide range of factors that help First Nation students to succeed, as shown in the chart below.

What makes a good school and helps First Nation students succeed?
There were 319 distinct comments made
Text description of the pie chart - Total distinct comments = 319

There were 319 distinct comments made

  • Other: 17%
  • Language and culture: 16%
  • The right teachers and staff: 12%
  • Extracurricular activities: 8%
  • Educational facilities and equipment: 6%
  • Quality teaching: 6%
  • Community involvement: 5%
  • Support from family: 4%
  • Social support: 4%
  • Mental health support: 4%
  • Nutrition and health: 4%
  • Funding: 3%
  • Welcoming environment: 4%
  • Engaging teaching methods: 2%
  • School infrastructure: 2%
  • Learning support: 2%
  • Transportation support: 2%

Other (17%):

  • Teach diversity
  • Equity
  • Arts programs
  • First Nations control of First Nation education
  • Support for parents
  • Help find jobs
  • Life skills training
  • Trades
  • Attendance
  • Poverty reduction
  • Teach First Nation culture to non-First Nations
  • Learn from successful schools
  • Communication between on- and off-reserve schools
  • Innovate community services
  • Prayer
  • Social workers
  • Early learning programs
  • Housing

Language and culture was the top theme from Alberta respondents, who expressed that First Nation culture and traditions should be a part of each school day. The curriculum should include "strong cultural and language programs that encourage children to take pride in their identities" along with land-based learning. Elders should be a part of the school and involved in culture and language programs (such as Cree, Mohawk).

The right teachers and staff are critical to student success. In this theme, comments described the importance of having qualified teachers who care about their students' educational success and who are willing to stay in the community. They should be willing to build solid relationships with their students and other community members. There is also a need for more support staff, including certified language and culture teachers, counsellors, and speech and language therapists.

Extracurricular activities was another main theme. Respondents focused on after school and weekend activities in sport and the arts. Clubs and youth groups were also proposed (such as LGBTQ club, safe places to talk, etc.). Field trips to explore locally or farther away were suggested to help students learn about the world.

Quality teaching was also a leading theme. Participants indicated that setting high educational standards is important in order to match the standards being set in the off-reserve/provincial schools. This includes staying on a schedule while also using a range of teaching methods to work with different students. A variety of courses must be offered, including on history, languages, other religions, along with a class on suicide, gang violence, drugs/alcohol, and sexual education. Some respondents noted that more funding would be required to offer all of these aspects.

"First Nations teachers should be hired to teach first nations children and act as role models as well. Good support services are needed: Special Education teachers, resource teachers, qualified teacher assistants, speech and language therapists, counselling for students at risk, behavior management for students." - Alberta participant

How can educators help?

Alberta respondents discussed a number of approaches and qualities that they felt were important for educators of First Nation students. Two themes stood out in particular.

Compassionate approach to teaching was the top theme. Respondents suggested that it is key to student success that teachers be caring, understanding, and sensitive to the history of residential schools and to the many challenges that First Nation children often face. A genuine desire to teach First Nation children is needed, rather than just an interest in the salary. Participants wanted teachers who will inspire and motivate students, who will develop relationships with them based on trust and respect, and who can be role models. Twenty-nine percent of responses highlighted this theme.

Knowledge of language, culture and history was the second most common theme. Many participants noted that teachers must have a strong understanding of First Nation culture, and an awareness of the historical trauma (such as residential schools) and context that have shaped today's issues. Teachers must be willing to learn more about First Nation culture and be committed to reconciliation. Some comments suggested that teachers should need to complete some form of cultural training program in order to teach. Respondents also wanted teachers to work with Elders in schools, especially in First Nation language classes. This theme was mentioned in 26% of responses.

"Being aware that all children come from different backgrounds and may not have a supportive home life." - Alberta participant

Alberta respondents also highlighted the following as important for teachers of First Nation students:

  • Qualified: Teachers should be educated and trained to teach and they must meet provincial standards to do so. They should be trained to identify emotional trauma in children. They should also have to be trained in First Nation culture.
  • Community involvement: Teachers should become a part of the community where they teach, and participate in or attend cultural and community events. This will help them connect with students and their families.

Language and culture

What's currently available? What's working?

Almost 80% of Alberta respondents indicated that either First Nation language or culture is taught in school in their community. Just over one-third noted that both are taught. In considering what they liked about how language and culture is being taught in schools, respondents highlighted a few key themes.

Promoting First Nation culture was the top theme. Respondents described how language and culture education means students participate in various cultural activities ("visiting trap lines, making medicine pouches, mitts and slippers and drums."), and in doing so keep the language and culture alive. Students also learn about their community's history, teaching them about their "roots". In total, 34% of responses mentioned this theme.

"Some of the boys have really settled down because of the elder(male) being here. Teaching them how to make drums and how to sing." - Alberta participant

Involving elders and community members was the second most common theme. Respondents described how Elders and other community members, fluent language speakers who have a strong knowledge of culture, teach and share this knowledge with others. Having local language teachers, who can relate to the area, values, beliefs, and traditions, and who can teach the local dialect, was appreciated by participants. This also allows young people to connect with Elders. About 20% of responses included this theme.

Building pride and First Nation identity was also a main theme, as respondents described how learning language and culture at school helps students develop an identity that they are proud of. Building this sense of pride can have many positive effects; students can feel more connected to their community, more motivated to go to university or college, and better prepared to succeed in life. This theme was mentioned in 18% of responses.

"When our language was lost so were our people and so was our culture lost. It is time now to start instilling this First Nations pride back into our students to help them succeed in our society and to be positive contributing members to our society. When students know who they are, success follows them." - Alberta participant

While most respondents shared what they liked about the teaching of First Nation language and culture, about 10% of responses mentioned concerns. Comments described the need for more funding to redevelop curriculum to incude conversational language (such as Cree) rather than just basic words. In addition, funding is needed for more language teachers. Some schools are also having difficulties teaching language or culture. Some try to teach only language without culture, when both should be taught together. Others may teach culture, but only do activities once a year.

What could help?

In considering a list of factors that could contribute to effective First Nation language and culture education in schools, students learning about language and culture from First Nation teachers was the was the highest-rated item by Alberta respondents (92% rated it either "very important" or "important"). The use of materials with pictures of Indigenous people was the next highest-rated item, followed by students taking land-based programs in schools, and then the school year being flexible so students have time for cultural activities.

Early years programs and services

What’s currently available?

Just under two-thirds of Alberta respondents with children aged 6 and under have programs and services in their community that they want their children to participate in. Furthermore, just under two-thirds also have supports and/or services in their community to help children begin elementary school. Aboriginal Head Start was the most popular type of support/service, as it was noted by nearly one-third of respondents. Other pre-school programs and daycare were the next most common supports/services, followed by in-school programs and other support services.

When asked why their children had not taken part in programs and services in their community, just under half of responses from Alberta participants indicated that there was a lack of available programs. Other reasons included that the parent/caregiver chose not to access the service (e.g. "I wanted to be the major influence in their lives"), and poor quality programs.

What could help?

Alberta respondents identified a wide range of supports and services that could help First Nation children prepare for and succeed at elementary school.

Parent/caregiver support and involvement was the top theme from respondents. A child's parents/caregivers are the most important support for a student's success, according to Alberta participants. Parents provide basics like warm clothing in the winter, and building structure into a child's life, like setting bed times. Without a stable home life and access to basic needs, a child will have a much harder time at elementary school. Respondents stressed that parents or other family members must be supportive and involved in the child's education. About 12% of responses included this theme.

"Having parents is the most critical and secondly, having supportive family members if your parents are not in your life for whatever reason." - Alberta participant

Alberta respondents also mentioned the following as important for the success of First Nation students at elementary school:

  • Language and culture: Children should be taught their First Nation language, culture, and history. Culture should be built into the curriculum and First Nation language immersion classes should be offered. This will help the development of their First Nation identity.
  • The right teachers and staff: teachers and school staff should be qualified and certified for the work they do. Teachers should be caring and culturally sensitive. Other staff are needed as well: speech therapists, early education support workers, language instructors, and tutors.
  • Learning support: Children need literacy support to succeed at elementary school and they should have access to tutors, libraries, books, and after school programs.

First Nation education options

What’s currently available?

Just under one-third of Alberta respondents stated that First Nation students in their community have support when they move away to attend school outside of their community. Slightly over one-third stated that First Nation students in their community have flexible ways to take classes, such as through the internet, television, radio, and mail. Just under one-third stated that this flexibility was not available.

What works best?

A few respondents mentioned what they liked best about the flexible ways of taking classes available in their community. Flexible ways of taking classes let students choose what works best for them ("Flexible, can better meet students' needs in terms of course delivery, timing, support, individualized learning"), and distance options let students stay in their own communities to learn ("E-learning / distance learning help those succeed where they might not if they leave the community for the education").

Some participants noted, however, that while online and other distance learning have positive aspects, many First Nation communities do not have reliable internet connections, and distance learning is better suited for students who are self-motivated.

What could help?

In discussing what education options should be available, Alberta respondents focused on a few key themes.

Language, culture, and history education was the most popular theme, with respondents stressing that the curriculum must include First Nation language, culture, and history throughout. Students should have access to First Nation language immersion in school and to cultural activities both in and out of school. First Nation history should also be taught. These learning activities should make it easier for First Nation students to embrace their culture. Some participants noted that more funding is required to fully support language, culture, and history programs. About 21% of responses mentioned this theme.

"They need to learn traditions and culture to better understand where they come from to have a better sense of oneself." - Alberta participant

Support for finding jobs was the second highest theme. Respondents expressed that students should have the choice to take programs in school where they would get real work experience which could lead to a job after graduation. Schools should also offer guidance counsellors to provide advice to students about their future, including their career. In addition, participants noted that more funding is required to support First Nation students who choose to go to university or college. This theme was highlighted in 13% of responses.

Life skills training was also a key theme from Alberta responses. This theme covered a number of different basic skills that respondents suggested students should learn, including cooking, social skills, how to manage a home, how to manage credit, how to do taxes, how to keep a budget, etc. Other skills that respondents thought were important were problem solving, how to break cycles of addictions and violence, and how to laugh at one's self. Around 11% of responses included this theme.

Working with provincial schools

What could help?

In considering a list of factors that could help contribute to student success in off-reserve schools, 88% to 90% of Alberta respondents rated the following statements as either "very important" or "important"; students feeling comfortable, on-reserve programs to help students get ready before they go off-reserve, community counsellors, and programs to connect with other First Nation students. The other two factors, First Nation culture and languages are taught in off-reserve schools, and First Nations having a say in how off-reserve schools are run, were rated slightly lower, at 82% and 73% "very important" or "important".

The majority of participants stressed the importance of on- and off-reserve schools having the same teaching goals for all students (87% rated it as either "very important" or "important"). In comparison, fewer respondents (78%) felt the same way about both schools having the same curriculum for all students.

Example shared by a participant: When a student is transferring to an off-reserve school, one or more persons from the student's home community should be hired to help the transition. "I know from experience this is a difficult transition for a child alone. A friendly face from your home community would be welcomed."

Social supports was the top theme from Alberta respondents, who suggested that students should have the support of a mentor, a counsellor, or a community liaison worker as they transfer to an off-reserve school. Some participants expressed that the community liaison worker should also be First Nations. These supportive people can help students transition to new schools and deal with possible challenges like racism and bullying. About 20% of responses mentioned this theme.

"When a First Nation student goes to provincial school, it should not be a major problem. The provincial schools do not make the First Nation student welcome that is why they do not stay."Alberta participant

Respondents also raised the following as important for the success of First Nation students transitioning to off-reserve schools:

  • Culture and history: First Nation students' pride in their First Nation identity and heritage should be encouraged through teaching them about their culture before they transition to an off-reserve school. Cultural awareness and First Nation history, including residential schools and the "60's scoop", should be taught to all students. Off-reserve schools should have staff who are familiar with First Nation language and culture who can help First Nation students succeed in a new environment.
  • Transition programs: First Nation students transitioning to off-reserve schools need more transition support programs. These programs should help students prepare for culture shock and different expectations around attendance and behaviour.

British Columbia

Who we heard from

292 individuals from British Columbia responded to the survey, who brought their point of view as a:

  • Parent (59%)
  • Grandparent (26%)
  • Youth (5%)
  • Aunt or uncle (37%)
  • Teacher (21%)
  • Elder (10%)

Key highlights: What we heard

What are the most important education issues for First Nation children?

  1. Language, culture and history
  2. Quality education
  3. Student supports
  4. Funding

What are the critical factors for First Nation student success?

  1. Language and culture
  2. The right teachers and staff
  3. Educational equipment and facilities
  4. Extracurricular activities

Priority issues

Before providing their ideas on specific issues related to First Nation education, survey participants identified their most important issues or concerns. The following chart displays the categories, or themes, of comments received. As shown, several key themes emerged from participants' comments, and there was no single prevailing issue identified.

What is the most important issue in education for First Nation children for you right now?
There were 532 distinct comments
Text description of the pie chart - Total distinct comments = 532

There were 532 distinct comments

  • Language, culture and history: 16%
  • Other: 15%
  • Quality education: 12%
  • Student supports: 12%
  • Funding issues: 10%
  • Equity issues: 7%
  • The right teacher: 7%
  • Attendance: 5%
  • Tailored education: 4%
  • Racism, colonialism, and poverty: 3%
  • Accessibility: 3%
  • Support from parents: 2%
  • Teach to student needs: 2%
  • Further education support: 2%

Other (15%):

  • Better administration
  • Keeping teachers
  • School infrastructure
  • Food, water, housing
  • Support for families
  • Health issues
  • Connection with school
  • Adult education
  • Life skills
  • Teaching non-First Nations about First Nation culture
  • Understanding opportunities
  • Extracurricular activities
  • Teach diversity
  • Funding disbursement formula
  • Children in care policy
  • Motivation
  • Friendship centres

Language, culture, and history was the top theme from British Columbia respondents. Many respondents indicated that First Nation culture should be built into the curriculum, including traditional activities, language use, and land-based learning. Students can develop pride in their First Nation identity if they know their culture is respected and valued. Some participants expressed that First Nation language ("our hul'qumi'num language") and culture need to be promoted after years of colonialism. Respondents stated that the history of residential schools and assimilation must be taught, and their lasting effects must be understood. Greater cultural sensitivity and training is needed for teachers and staff, so that they understand their students' backgrounds. Other respondents noted that language immersion should be available.

Quality education was another main theme, as respondents stressed that First Nation students need an education that teaches them learning tools to help them succeed in the future and offers a range of academic and cultural programs. This includes courses that will let them graduate and prepare them for further education, whether that be vocational training/trades or university. Participants indicated that educational standards in schools on-reserve are too low and must be raised to at least the level of off-reserve schools, which will require more funding. Starting at a young age, students must be taught basic skills like literacy and math by high-quality teachers.

"Finding a balance between an education that preserves and enhances traditional knowledge and values, and one that provides the 21st Century skills and perspective required to empower students to contribute to and succeed in Canadian society." - British Columbia participant

Student supports was the third most common theme. Many of the comments stressed that First Nation children with disabilities, or who otherwise experience difficulties at school, need more support and one-on-one attention. This could mean more early assessments are needed to determine what challenges a student may be facing ("attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD), dyslexia" etc.), more services for early childhood education on-reserve, or afterschool or lunch time tutoring programs to help with homework or difficult courses. Respondents also discussed the need for anti-bullying programs, counsellors to provide mental health support, and meal programs.

Funding issues was also an important theme that was often raised as respondents mentioned other, related concerns. Many respondents stated that a lack of funding was either a partial or direct cause of many of the education-related challenges experienced by First Nation students, and that change was needed ("Equitable, sustainable and predictable funding for First Nation schools"). Many issues were mentioned where more funding is required (such as funding for counsellors, teachers' aides, health issues, disabilities support, language and culture, high-speed internet, further education, etc.), and a funding gap between on- and off-reserve/provincial schools was often raised.

"First Nations children are being marginalized and minimalized by legislative measures wrought by the government. First Nations needs are not met because the funding allocated doesn't address their immediate needs of solid housing, fresh water, organic foods and proper exercise facilities and trainers." - British Columbia participant

Student success

How can students be supported?

British Columbia respondents highlighted a number of factors that help First Nation students to succeed. One theme, Language and culture, was slightly more prevailing, as shown in the chart below.

What makes a good school and helps First Nation students succeed?
There were 648 distinct comments made
Text description of the pie chart - Total distinct comments = 648

There were 648 distinct comments made

  • Language and culture: 19%
  • Other: 19%
  • The right teachers and staff: 12%
  • Extracurricular activities: 6%
  • Educational equipment and facilities: 7%
  • Support from family and community: 9%
  • Tailored education: 6%
  • Welcoming environment: 5%
  • Nutrition programs: 5%
  • Social support: 5%
  • Learning support: 4%
  • Support from family: 4%
  • Community involvement: 4%
  • Mental health support: 3%
  • Education quality: 3%
  • School infrastructure: 2%
  • Health care support: 2%

Other (19%):

  • Disabilities supports
  • Help finding jobs, further education
  • Funding
  • Arts programs
  • Communication between school and parents
  • Outdoor learning
  • Tailored education
  • Transportation support
  • Support for parents
  • Life skills training
  • Teach First Nation culture to non-First Nations
  • Equity
  • Hands-on learning
  • Communication skills
  • Attendance
  • Early learning programs
  • Poverty reduction
  • Teach diversity
  • First Nations control of First Nation education
  • Scholarships and bursaries
  • Presence of school
  • Ask the experts

Language and culture was the most common theme, as respondents expressed that First Nation culture must be built into the curriculum, including language and cultural activities as part of classes ("language supports, traditional games, singing and dancing, field trips to cultural sites/old villages, etc."), and allowing students flexible schedules to participate in cultural activities outside of school ("gathering food, cutting firewood, canning or drying food"). Elders should have an ongoing role in school life and should be involved in teaching language and culture (such as story-telling). Many participants noted that participating in cultural activities helps First Nation students to feel welcome at school and to not feel ashamed of who they are. The need for a full understanding of Canadian history and the oppression of First Nations was also noted.

The right teachers and staff was another key theme from British Columbia respondents. Top among their concerns was that the teachers of First Nation students must be well-qualified. They should also be trained in cultural sensitivity, along with how to teach students with disabilities and mental illness. Many participants said that teachers and staff should be First Nations themselves, to provide role models for the students. Teachers should be caring, compassionate and dedicated to their students and their job. Respondents also noted the need for teachers with special training in First Nation languages, fine arts, literacy, and learning assistance.

"The most important factor in the school is the child's teacher. If the teacher is engaged and genuinely cares about his/her students then the students will experience success." - British Columbia participant

Educational equipment and facilities was also a main theme from respondents, who stated that student success depends partly on whether the school can offer quality facilities (such as a library, a garden, a playground, a gym, a lab, a kitchen, etc.) and programs that allow for "Access to equipment for the electives (such as kitchens for cooking class, sewing machines, wood work, metal work, mechanics, music instruments)". Many respondents mentioned how important the internet is for a student's education, along with other information technology like laptops. The need for enough funding to pay for these supplies and facilities was also noted by respondents.

"Extra curricular activities: Language, culture, band, choir, sports, clubs, etc. on reserve schools need a pool and a gym for the students; this helps teach them responsibility, team work, discipline, great self-esteem, independence and courage." - British Columbia participant

Extracurricular activities was another common theme. Comments focused on the need for activities that allow First Nation students to grow and learn, to spend time with one another in safe, supervised spaces, and to be physically active. Some comments noted the importance of activities that were not based only on sports. Several participants noted how field trips give students experience outside of their community, to explore and to learn.

Example shared by a participant: "We provide the students with daily breakfast and lunch programs. Our lunch program features two free salad bars per week, two hot lunches and make your own sandwich day for $2's per day. So each student only pays the cost of $6 per week, if they order on those days. We are a healthy school and we believe no child should ever feel hungry."

How can educators help?

British Columbia respondents discussed a number of approaches and qualities that they felt were important for educators of First Nation students. Two themes stood out in particular.

Example shared by a participant: A rediscovery program will greatly help the students (First Nations and non-First Nations) . This program has changed so many lives (there are a lot of people who are still alive and productive because of this program).

Knowledge of language, culture and history was one of the two main themes from participants. As discussed earlier, respondents expressed that these elements must be taught in schools, and that teachers must be able to teach them. Comments included that all teachers should have to take cultural sensitivity training and get to know the community where they will be teaching. Teachers must be flexible, willing to invite community members and Elders into the classroom to teach about culture, and willing to take the class out into the community to learn. The history of First Nations, including residential schools and their effects, must be understood. Respondents also noted the importance of having fluent First Nation language teachers in schools. Thirty percent of responses mentioned this theme.

"Should be familiar and possess an understanding of residential school impacts and need to strengthen cultural identity. Must be open to importance of traditional use knowledge. Must be open and receptive to new learning methods." - British Columbia participant

Compassionate approach to teaching was the second main theme. Respondents expressed that teachers must be caring, compassionate, open-minded, and understanding. They should have a sense of humour, empathy for their students, and a desire to learn about First Nation culture. Participants wanted teachers who could act as role models for students and who have a passion for their job, rather than teachers who are there only for the pay. About 28% of responses included this theme.

"Teachers must look at each individual child that they can become someone in their later lives whether it be teachers, doctors, lawyers, tradesmen/women, writers, actors, etc. etc. They must not label children , but give them the best teaching they can." - British Columbia participant

British Columbia respondents also highlighted the following as important for teachers of First Nation students:

  • Community involvement: Teachers should not limit themselves to teaching; they should become members of the community. They should attend community events ("like potlatches, pole raisings and other important events") and build trust with the community. Teachers should also involve the community in their classrooms, including parents and Elders.
  • Qualified: Teachers should be well-trained and certified, with an understanding of First Nation culture. They should be effective communicators, and some comments indicated they should have teaching experience. Some participants indicated that teachers should be First Nation who could be role models for students.

Language and culture

What's currently available? What's working?

Eighty percent of British Columbia respondents indicated that either First Nation language or culture is taught in school in their community. Just under one-third noted that both are taught. In considering what they liked about how language and culture is being taught in schools, respondents highlighted a few key themes.

Involving elders and community members was the top theme from respondents, who explained how Elders, local First Nation teachers, and other community members teach language and culture, and as they do so they build community relationships ("Whole community comes together and supports one another"). Respondents valued how language and culture is taught by local people who are connected to the community, know their own family history, and have a passion for sharing this knowledge. About 29% of responses included this theme.

"Elders provide the continuity between traditional culture and language and the present realities that the kids in school are faced with." - British Columbia participant

Promoting First Nation culture was the second most common theme. Comments described how children can learn their language and culture, what was taken from their parents during the residential school era, and maintain it for future generations. Participants were glad to see First Nation language and culture kept alive ("to save a culture"). Some respondents noted how teaching First Nation language and culture to non-First Nations was also positive. In total, 22% of responses mentioned this theme.

"Children keep their culture and hopefully continue learning at the end of their life in school." - British Columbia participant

Building pride and First Nation identity was another key theme, as participants highlighted how First Nation language and culture teachings build self-worth and a strong identity, empowering First Nation students. Comments also described how, for familes who have had members go through the residential school system, and who have lost cultural aspects of their lives, having language and culture taught to them can help "heal these wounds". This theme was highlighted in 18% of responses

What could help?

In considering a list of factors that could contribute to effective First Nation language and culture education in schools, students learning about language and culture from First Nation teachers was the was the highest-rated item by British Columbia respondents (92% rated it either "very important" or "important"). The use of materials with pictures of Indigenous people was the next highest-rated item, followed by students taking land-based programs in schools, and then the school year being flexible so students have time for cultural activities.

Early years programs and services

What’s currently available?

Just over two-thirds of British Columbia respondents with children aged 6 and under have programs and services in their community that they want their children to participate in. Furthermore, just under two-thirds have supports and/or services in their community to help children begin elementary school. Pre-school programming, specifically Aboriginal Head Start On Reserve, Language Nest, and StrongStart, was the most popular type of support/service, as it was noted by nearly one-fifth of respondents. Support services and then other pre-school programs were the next most common supports/services, followed by daycare and health/nutrition programs.

When asked why their children had not taken part in programs and services in their community, one-third of responses from British Columbia participants indicated that there was a lack of available programs. Other reasons included scheduling reasons ( "Daycare center is closed more than it is open!"), and poor quality programs ("Do not feel the programs are offered in an inclusive safe climate").

What could help?

British Columbia respondents identified a very wide range of supports and services that could help First Nation children prepare for and succeed at elementary school.

Parent/caregiver support and involvement was the most common theme from participants, who noted that parents should be supportive and engaged in their children's education. Respondents suggested that healthy, stable, loving homes ("Proper bed times, healthy eating, developing good homework habits") are key to success at elementary school. Respondents suggested that parents can volunteer at the school, and take pride in their children's successes. About 12% of responses mentioned this theme.

Example shared by a participant: "Parents who are skilled at building a learning foundation at home - HIPPY Canada has an excellent model that helps intergenerational residential school survivors to engage with their children in a health way."

Learning supports was another main theme. Literacy programs were suggested by many respondents, especially those that included one-on-one support, or involved the child's parents or caregivers. Comments also mentioned support programs for vocabulary, math, and behavioural issues. Parents could also use support in reading, math, and vocabulary so they could better help their children. This theme was highlighted in 9% of responses.

Nutrition programs was also a key theme where respondents explained that children who have healthy meals, which they may not get at home, will be more successful at school. Whole, healthy foods which provide the nutrition children need were highlighted. Around 8% of responses included this theme.

"Because so many of the Aboriginal People live near or below the poverty line, there needs to nutritional programs so that children are going hungry. Good nutrition leads to good health which leads to better learning abilities." - British Columbia participant

First Nation education options

What’s currently available?

One-third of British Columbia respondents indicated that First Nation students in their community have support when they move away to attend school outside of their community.

Slightly over one-third stated that First Nation students in their community have flexible ways to take classes, such as through the internet, television, radio, and mail. About the same number stated that this flexibility was not available.

What works best?

A few respondents mentioned what they liked best about the flexible ways of taking classes available in their community, such as an increased choice of learning programs and courses ("Classes that would otherwise be unavailable can be delivered in remote areas."). Students can also choose how they want to learn (Learning at own pace. Allows student to have choices that best fit their situation.").

Example shared by a participant: "We had a teacher FaceTime her lesson to the kids it was amazing :)"

Some participants noted, however, that while online and other distance learning have positive aspects, difficulties around internet access can make it impossible, and a lack of in-person attention can be a challenge for some students.

What could help?

In discussing what education options should be available, British Columbia respondents focused on a few key themes.

Cultural and history education was the top theme from British Columbia responses, which included a wide range of First Nation culture-related activities and topics. Respondents explained that students should be able to go to cultural camps or participate in a wide variety of traditional practices ("Hands on to cultural preparations for food, fishing, hunting, games."). Comments also described how First Nation students should be able to freely learn about First Nation language, culture, and history from Elders in the community, from teachers at school, or online by distance education ("Have prepared stories in app form for them to read anytime."). The need for funding to make cultural programs available was also highlighted. This theme was mentioned in 18% of responses.

"Funding should be made available for First Nations students to go on field trips into the old village sites, to gather food, to make regalia, to sing, to immerse themselves in their culture, not just read about this in books, but to participate with Elders and mentors on all of their culture." - British Columbia participant

Further education or job-related training was the second most common theme. Participants indicated that First Nation students should have easy access to co-operative education or apprenticeship programs when looking for a job. Upgrading should be available for adults who did not complete high school. For students who want to attend university, schools should build partnerships with universities and information sessions should be held on-reserve. About 12% of responses included this theme.

Example shared by a participant: The University and College Entrance Preparation Program (UCEP) "offered in our community and this promotes success for our students."

Online distance learning was another main theme, as respondents focused on the need for reliable, high-speed internet access and computers to allow students to make use of online courses and programs. Some participants suggested that a computer lab or centre should be available on-reserve so that students could take distance courses. Access to online video-conference ability was also mentioned. Around 11% of responses highlighted this theme.

Working with provincial schools

What could help?

In considering a list of factors that could help contribute to student success in off-reserve schools, over 90% of British Columbia respondents rated the following statements as either "very important" or "important"; students feeling comfortable, on-reserve programs to help students get ready before they go off-reserve, community counsellors, and programs to connect with other First Nation students. The other two factors, First Nation culture and languages are taught in off-reserve schools, and First Nations having a say in how off-reserve schools are run, were rated slightly lower, at 87% and 83% "very important" or "important".

The majority of participants stressed the importance of on- and off-reserve schools having the same teaching goals for all students (84% rated it as either "very important" or "important"). In comparison, fewer respondents (72%) felt the same way about both schools having the same curriculum for all students.

Social supports was the top theme from British Columbia respondents when asked how First Nation students could be supported when they switch from on-reserve schools to off-reserve schools. Respondents shared that students in this situation should have access to a supportive person at their new school. This person could be a teacher in the school, a counsellor, an Indigenous liaison worker, a mentor, an Elder, or another student who serves as a buddy through an organized buddy program. This supportive person can serve as a role model and as someone to go to for help and advice. This theme was mentioned by 22% of responses.

Transition programs was also a main theme. Respondents commented that transition programs can help students to get used to their new school mostly by giving them information about their new surroundings: information on the area near the school, public transportation, where to get food, where and how to access support programs, etc. Transition programs should also help students to deal with culture shock, and help them to get used to living off-reserve with non-First Nation people. About 14% of responses included this theme.

"There needs to be some sort of transition between the two. It can be overwhelming to come from a small school where you know everyone, and enter a school with a thousand children, many different classrooms and different teachers for every subject." - British Columbia participant

Advance participation was another key theme that included ideas about slowly showing a First Nation student what their new school and its location will be like and how to adapt to it. This could mean advance visits, perhaps starting a year in advance, during which the student could meet teachers, and get to know the school. Participants described how students could also participate in social events or sports with students from the off-reserve school before the transition. Around 11% of responses highlighted this theme.

Yukon, Northwest Territories, Nunavut

Eleven respondents from the North (Yukon, Northwest Territories, Nunavut) provided their perspectives, though many education services in the North are provided or funded by territorial governments.

When asked what the most important education issues were for First Nation children, respondents from the North expressed that Indigenous language ("traditional Inuinnaqtun language") should be taught through all grades of school, and that language and culture issues are very important. Other responses included that more local control over education is needed, that greater efforts should be made to increase student attendance, and that there should be a greater emphasis on early childhood education.

When asked what makes a good school and helps First Nation students succeed, once again language and culture was the top theme. Respondents indicated that these parts of education are most important to student success ("Culture is healing, stabilizes, builds strong connections") and should include language programs, time on the land, and contact with Elders. The quality of education was also mentioned, and that communities need more than basic academic classes. Suggested courses included carpentry, cooking, welding, computer coding, and information on relationships and sexual health. Other respondents noted that teachers should want to teach, and that parents should be involved in their children's education.

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