First Nations Education: Increasing First Nations PSE Attainment
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In the culmination of what was previously an endless stream of barriers put before the Indigenous peoples of Canada, the federal government is finally addressing the need to establish a fundamentally different relationship with the country’s First Nations population. To do this, the Prime Minister of Canada has committed to work with the Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs to forge a Government-to-Government relationship with First Nations. Together they will make moves to close the numerous and persisting socio-economic gaps that exist between First Nations and the general Canadian public, and to establish a reformed and improved fiscal relationship. Moving forward to effect real and positive change for First Nations will require a great deal of transformation in the approaches currently being taken in key areas such as health and wellness, child welfare, justice, and education.2 It is important to note that the reforms needed are not superficial; a 2015 report issued by the Assembly of First Nations highlighted that in the past 18 months four separate international human rights organizations demonstrated that Canada was in violation of its human rights obligations by failing to address the gaps in socio-economic outcomes experienced by its Indigenous population.3 While the areas affecting First Nations in Canada are far-reaching and substantial in number, it is important to analyze each issue deliberately and with meaningful attention to detail. Most importantly, however, the highest value must be placed on recommendations and insights provided by members of First Nations communities themselves as they are best suited to determine what solutions will work best in their individual circumstances. For the purposes of this paper, it is the need for reforms in First Nations’ education that will be considered. More specifically, the gap in enrolment and retention in post-secondary institutions between First Nations’ and the general Canadian public will be examined, with a particular focus on highlighting the practices and innovations that have yielded positive outcomes in recent years at post-secondary institutions in Canada. Prior to turning the attention to those best practices, however, some consideration must be given to understanding the reasons why improving post-secondary education outcomes for First Nations is so imperative, and, importantly, to articulating the severity of the situation at this point so as to further encourage the attempts that have been made thus far. To do this, the concept of education as a socio-economic indicator will be explored, followed by a consideration of the value of reaching the level of post-secondary education for First Nations in comparison with the general Canadian public. The persisting gaps experienced by First Nations that are fostered by the education system at different levels will be highlighted, followed by a review of the best practices and innovations being used at post-secondary institutions within Canada. The report will conclude with a number of recommendations for improvement in several key problem areas. Finally, a note on terminology that will be used over the course of this report: With the absence of available data for some topics concerning First Nations people, there are times when the report refers to data collected that is, instead, describing a trend within the Indigenous population more generally. This will be evident by use of the word ‘Indigenous,’ or by explicitly specifying that the information is describing First Nations people if it is. Further, with the focus of this report on exploring methods to increase enrolment and retention in post-secondary education, the terms ‘post-secondary education’ and ‘tertiary education’ will be used interchangeably.