Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett says the shortage of teachers on northern and remote First Nations “has been happening for way too long.” But, she says, there’s still learning to be done about solving the problem.
Up to 200 kids in Shamattawa First Nation are out of school due to a lack of teachers, and 36 more teacher vacancies have been identified by northern Manitoba First Nations.
“I think that the way it is funded now, it’s difficult to make those comparisons because of the way that it is has been book-kept. But there is equitable funding, it’s just that the needs may be even greater,” Bennett said.
“We believe it is [equitable funding], but we still need the analysis as to how we do better,” she added.
Indigenous programming has been hampered by a two per cent cap on annual spending increases since the 1990s, while the school-age First Nations population has risen 29 per cent since 1997. Last year, those inequities were criticized by Canada’s parliamentary budget officer, who said federal funding for First Nations education was $665 million less than provincial education systems.
Reversing that cap was one of the first promises made by Justin Trudeau during last year’s election campaign, through a $2.6-billion commitment over four years to boost spending to bring on-reserve students in line with their non-Indigenous counterparts.
First Nations kids get about 30 per cent of the per-capita funding kids in provincially funded schools do, and teachers can be paid as much as 50 per cent less as a result. Paunigassi First Nation education director Roddy Owens said three applicants recently declined offers over the low pay, about $15,000-20,000 lower than what they could make down south.
Bennett said higher cost of living on reserve is also a factor, adding that “it may not even be enough, to just be equitable.”
“We want First Nations to design their own school systems, then we will fund it appropriately,” said Bennett.
Part of the solution, she said, is supporting more First Nations teachers.In order to address the shortage of teachers in places like Northern Manitoba, she pointed to the example of organizations like Teach for Canada, which try to prepare non-Indigenous teachers to go into First Nations communities and…