Saturday, April 12, 2014

Equity First, Equality After

In my last blog I shared about the importance of equitable access to education. Then I came across this image which described the issue of equity is about fairness, while equality is about sameness. Equity is about justice. We as First Nations are asking for equity, the equality will come later as we take advantage of the opportunities.

Then I came across this image this evening that really challenged me because it spoke of the importance that we take a stand. A couple of weeks ago, I called us to Take a Stand Together. Martin Luther King Jr, who was jailed for his convictions and the stand he took for equity and ultimately equality said:

Will we stand idly by and say nothing about what is happening to our First Nations funding across Canada? Protesting seems so radical, but saying nothing and doing nothing is essentially agreeing with it. Albert Einstein said, “If I were to remain silent, I'd be guilty of complicity.” So we must speak out from a place of truth smothered in grace-filled dignity, because we do not attack the man, we speak out about the injustice of the situation. 

Please watch the inspiring story of Kakenya Ntaiya: A girl who demanded school. She took a stand and it paid off.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Open Letter to Saskatchewan Chiefs and Councils

March 11, 2014

Dear Chiefs and Councils,

Yesterday, Minster Bernard Valcourt tabled the First Nations Control of First Nation Education Act.  If you didn’t have time to read it yourself, here a few highlights:

It begins with a lot of preamble giving acknowledgment for the needs of our First Nation students, but the following opening statement misses the mark right away with this: Whereas First Nations children attending schools on reserves must have access to elementary and secondary education that allows them to obtain a recognized high school diploma and to move between education systems without impediment… What’s missing from this statement is “equitable access", without the word “equitable” the government does not have to ensure that all First Nation students are given the same access to education no matter where they live. This is an important distinction because it means students living in Fond du Lac may not be given the same opportunities to access education due to their remoteness as a student from Muskoday that is just outside Prince Albert.
The second highlight is the purpose statement:  The purpose of this Act is to provide for the control by First Nations of their education systems by enabling councils of First Nations to administer schools situated on their reserves, to delegate that power to First Nation Education Authorities or to enter into tuition or administration agreements in accordance with this Act. Last time I checked, we had treaty which recognized us as a Nation, not within a nation, but a nation that reported to the Crown and lateral to the Government of Canada, not underneath. The establishment of First Nation Education Authorities infringes on our jurisdictional right to self-govern because it is being imposed through a legislative act.

Further to that, this Act excludes those regions that have entered into their own agreements for self-government through an Act of Parliament.  Section 5: This Act does not apply to (a) a First Nation that has the power to make laws with respect to elementary and secondary education under an Act of Parliament or an agreement relating to self-government that is given effect by an Act of Parliament, including a First Nation that is named in the schedule to the Mi’kmaq Education Act or the schedule to the First Nations Jurisdiction over Education in British Columbia Act; or (b) the Sechelt Indian Band established by subsection 5(1) of the Sechelt Indian Band Self-Government Act. This clearly excludes our Saskatchewan First Nations.

Then Section 43 (2) The methods of calculation must allow for the provision under sections 32 and 33 of services to each First Nation school and to persons referred to in section 7 attending such a school that are of a quality reasonably comparable to that of similar services generally offered in a similarly sized public school that is regulated under provincial legislation and is located in an analogous region. This means that our First Nations must provide the same level of service as a neighbouring provincial school of a similar size, yet may receive more funding to provide those services. I use the word service, but I think we need to careful with that word, because we offer education and learning opportunities, not a service.  The word “service” is a business or industrial term that moves our primary purpose away from what we do with our students, which is educating them for lifelong learning.

The other issue here is that they are limiting the classes, services etc. to the same level as the neighbouring provincial school.  These rural provincial schools are often no better off than the First Nation school.  They cannot attract teachers or provide all the classes and opportunities a student needs either.  What we need to ensure is equitable access to classes, supports and opportunities, similar to urban school divisions.

The final highlight comes from Section 48 (3) The regulations may incorporate by reference laws of a province, as amended from time to time, with any adaptations that the Minister considers necessary. (4) The regulations may vary from province to province. This section suggests that provincial laws can be, by reference, transferred to and enforced on First Nations. I believe we have the ability to establish our own regulations that are equal or superior to the Province, because from a First Nations worldview, we believe in educating the whole child, “mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual.” Not even the province can do this. But more importantly, they don’t have jurisdiction over our First Nations treaty territory.

So that brings me to our need for help from you, as Chief and Council. At Credenda, we are equally as concerned as you about the educational needs of our students. We have offered courses and classes to First Nation students all across the province who did not have equitable access to course offerings at the local school level.  We were able to have this paid for by AANDC. Now they want to suggest that we are a service provider that does not qualify for core funding.  So who loses again? The students!  Credenda students have a 74% success rate, so they have demonstrated that they can achieve. We have offered 4900+ credits to students since 2005. That is a lot of students getting the necessary courses and credits to supplement their high school program and graduate.

We have been contacting other Chief’s and Councils across the region asking for their support in signing a BCR in support of our program. The AANDC RDG, Anna Fontaine, told us that if we have the support of our First Nations, they will reconsider our funding situation. AANDC wants to cut off our funding and have us establish service agreements with each First Nation and First Nation Educational Authority and have them pay for the classes. But AANDC will not be providing more money to the First Nations to cover these costs. So they are ripping us all off once again.

I’m supplying you with a BCR of Support that has been prepared in advance by us outlining the challenges. We stand with you in this fight for our rights, and we are asking you for your help.


Vincent Hill
Executive Director

Link to Bill C 33

BCR of Support

WHEREAS: Credenda Virtual High School is a provincially accredited online First Nation educational institution with charitable organization status; 

AND WHEREAS: Credenda has received approximately $12M in funding from Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada (AANDC) since 2005 as part of the New Paths for Education strategic plan for long term investment in education, which has been showing significant results;

AND WHEREAS: Credenda has offered over 4900 student classes to First Nation students across Saskatchewan since 2005 with an average success rate of 75% (low of 68%, high of 83%);

AND WHEREAS: The proposed First Nation Control of First Nation Education Act, scheduled to be introduced into legislation September 2014, has been delayed until 2016;

AND WHEREAS: based upon the upcoming proposed First Nation Control of First Nation Education Act, AANDC has unilaterally determined to terminate Credenda’s funding agreement as of June 2014 and is subsequently requiring First Nations to pay directly for classes; 

AND WHEREAS: No additional funds are being redirected to First Nations to accommodate such costs until after 2016, adding additional costs on top of the shortfall First Nations education is already currently experiencing;

AND WHEREAS: Academic achievement would be impacted negatively creating a wider gap from an already low national graduation rate of 39% among First Nation students (compared to 88% nationally for all students); 

THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED THATCredenda receive continued funding from Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada as per their prior Contribution Funding Agreements (CFA’s) of 2011 - 2013 in order to continue to operate.


WHEREAS: Credenda Virtual High School was first created in 2005 to address the shortage of math, science, and literacy subjects, with accredited, certified teachers able to deliver the necessary courses to northern Saskatchewan First Nations students;

AND WHEREAS: It is abundantly clear the shortfall does not only exist in the maths, sciences, and literacy areas, but in all areas, including the humanities and other core Saskatchewan courses;

AND WHEREAS: The 2011-2012 and 2012-2013 Credenda Contribution Funding Agreements made provision to fund all classes at the Grade 7-12 levels due to the ever existing and increasing need;

AND WHEREAS: The Saskatchewan Regional Office of AANDC unilaterally developed and imposed the VIRTUAL HIGH SCHOOLS MANAGEMENT REGIME for 2013-2014, changing how Credenda was funded and restricting funding to only the maths, sciences, and literacy;

AND WHEREAS: All First Nations students, regardless of where they are located, deserve equitable access to courses and resources to ensure their success as they move forward in life;

AND WHEREAS: AANDC, through various means, funds other virtual high schools across Canada (Wapaskwa Virtual Collegiate in Manitoba, Kewaytinook Internet High School in Ontario, SC Cyber in Alberta);

AND WHEREAS: AANDC does not restrict the funding for other virtual high schools to only maths, sciences and literacy classes;

AND WHEREAS: Credenda Virtual High School is a provincially accredited online First Nation school with charitable organization status; 

AND WHEREAS: All courses offered by Provincial and First Nations accredited schools are funded without restrictions or exceptions; 

AND WHEREAS: To date in 2013-2014, Credenda has offered over 300 classes, without funding, to First Nation students in need of courses that fell outside of the AANDC approved subjects areas;

THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED THATwe request that Credenda, as a First Nation school, be funded by Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada for ALL classes provided as per prior Contribution Funding Agreements, as the other virtual high schools are funded and as other First Nation and Provincial schools are funded.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Husky Energy Aboriginal Awards

Aboriginal Education Awards

Husky believes that education is paramount in developing and sustaining a successful community.
Husky awards bursaries to six new recipients each year. The bursaries are as follows:
Number of Bursaries 
Award per School Year
University (maximum four years of funding)
Community/Technical College (maximum two years of funding)
Secondary School (maximum one year of funding)

The bursaries are awarded to each recipient during the last week of August. Once selected, each recipient receives a bursary each year until the program of study is completed, provided that the criteria for the Educational Awards Program is met (i.e., one year for a secondary diploma, two years for a college/technical school diploma or four years for a university degree).
Recipients do not reapply for their bursaries in subsequent years. They must, however, provide Aboriginal Affairs with an official transcript of their marks for their previous year of study and a letter of acceptance or proof of full-time registration from their selected educational institution for the upcoming school year, by August 15.
Students who have received a bursary for secondary school and have successfully completed their program must re-apply for a bursary to pursue a two-year college, technical school program, or university program. Two-year college or technical school program graduates must re-apply for a bursary if they wish to continue their education in a university program.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Be Humble, Stay Humble...

It's hard in the state of conflict, or in the midst of fighting an uphill battle with no end in sight, to be humble. Over the past few weeks, I've been sharing about our funding challenges. It's frustrating beyond belief at times. In all this, yet, I feel pressed to ensure that my character is intact. One of those essential aspects of anybody's character during any crisis is humility.

As Robin Sharma shares that "the art of winning lives in never feeling that we've won." While we wage a war of justice, ensuring that schools like ours exist to provide equitable access to education for our First Nation students across Canada, we must constantly set aside ourselves for the good of others. We are called to a place of selflessness that our contemporary society seems to know little about with so much emphasis on "me" and little on "us." I'm having to examine my motives daily as to my role in this battle. This crisis that First Nations face across Canada requires the collective "we" to pull us together. It's not a time for one person to rise to the forefront for all attention to be focussed on him or her. It's about remaining humble in spirit and thinking about how this will affect others if things don't change. A position of inaction is often about self-protection and worried about what might happen to me if I get involved. A position of action puts others best interest before ourselves no matter the consequence. This is hard, because instinctively human nature reacts to protect ourselves from harm. And the truth of the matter is that if the government policies of the day are implemented cutting funding everywhere to our First Nations, many are going to suffer, both directly and indirectly.

What are we to do? As Sharma says, "Stay humble." But I say, in order to Stay Humble, we must first "Be Humble." This is not about being humiliated, but exercising an attitude of selflessness and humility that thinks about our needs less and puts others needs ahead of ourselves. It is an essential virtue for the good of all people. During this time of funding struggles, we have been so honoured to see the outpouring of support from people all around the country. Many chiefs I have spoken to have offered their support to help us with this battle by signing BCR's of support, to which I say "Thank You." Many people have shared our blogs on Twitter, Linkedin, Google+, to which I say "Thank You." We have had numerous letters of support written by our students, to which I say, "Thank you."

We are deeply grateful, and humbled by your support and help in getting the message out there. There are days when we feel like one more obstacle put in front of us makes us feel we should just throw in the towel. But your support buoys us and we say, "Thank you."

I was reminded recently of the importance of practicing perseverance, when I watched the following TedTalk by Boyd Varty. He reflects on the struggle of Nelson Mandela in South Africa and the great depth of character possessed. Now, I'm no Mandela, but if I could possess even a measure of his passion and zeal for justice, truth, commitment all rooted in humility, I should be so grateful. I've included the video in this blog for your viewing pleasure. But in all this, let's be humble, and stay humble. In the end, it will be worth it.

Thanks for listening.