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Module 16: First Nation Trustees: Leading in Two Worlds

IN THIS MODULE, TRUSTEES WILL EXPLORE:
  • The dual role of the First Nation trustee
  • The unique responsibilities of the First Nation trustee
  • First Nation, Métis and Inuit students in Ontario
  • The role of all trustees on behalf of First Nation, Métis and Inuit and all students

The Dual Role of First Nation Trustees

This section describes the unique role and responsibilities of First Nation trustees and the general role and responsibilities they fulfil as a member of the district school board.

The unique role of the First Nation Trustee

The First Nation trustee has a unique responsibility to act in the best interests of First Nation students who attend schools of the district school board under a tuition or education services agreement. As outlined in Ontario Regulation 462/97, “First Nations Representation on Boards”, First Nation representation on a school board is determined first by the existence of one or more tuition agreements and then by the number of First Nation students attending the board’s schools.

Section 188 of Ontario’s Education Act permits school boards to enter into agreements with a band council, an education authority, or Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada (AANDC). The tuition or education services agreement is, on one level, a purchase-of-service contract stating that the school board will, for an agreed-upon fee, provide accommodation, instruction, and special services to First Nation students. On another level, it reflects the dialogue and relationship between the First Nation community and the board and clarifies how they will work together to provide the best possible education for First Nation students.

Education services agreements can vary, depending on the types of services and programs that the First Nation community and the board agree should be provided. Once the education services agreement is in place, the board is committed to providing the programs and services in the agreement.

Beyond the contractual obligations, the board has a general obligation to provide:

  • educational services on par with the general provincial standards;
  • an educational environment and teaching staff that respects First Nation, Métis, and Inuit cultures;
  • First Nation, Métis, and Inuit cultural-specific programs;
  • consistent and timely reporting to the First Nation education authority; and
  • First Nation involvement in schools attended by First Nation students.

Section 185 of the Education Act permits school boards to enter into agreements with a band council or First Nation education authority regarding the admission of board pupils to an elementary First Nation school. These arrangements are commonly known as reverse tuition fee agreements.

The First Nation trustee has a key role in representing the interests of the First Nation community at the school board level and ensuring that there is dialogue with the First Nation community about the work of the board and, in particular, matters affecting First Nation students.

The role of the Trustee in Ontario

Under Ontario’s Education Act, First Nation trustees who are appointed to the school board to represent the interests of the First Nation students are considered elected members of the board, with all the rights and responsibilities of the position.

The First Nation trustee shares with other members of the elected board the responsibility to:

  • govern in a manner that is responsive to its entire community;
  • act in the interests of all learners in the district;
  • advocate actively for students, their learning and their well-being in the board’s work with the community, the municipality and the province;
  • promote confidence in publicly funded education through its communications about the goals and achievements of the board.

The board is responsible for setting the overall direction for the school system through a multi-year strategic planning process that is reviewed annually. The board of trustees also provides direction through its policy processes. These include planning, developing, implementing and evaluating policy. The annual budget also reflects the approved directions of the elected board in the way resources are allocated to schools and programs.

Through the director of education, the board of trustees holds the system accountable for achieving the results established through its planning process. The elected board reports to the public and the province about system and school performance.

The First Nation trustee shares these responsibilities and contributes to the decision-making of the board.

The unique responsibilities of the First Nation Trustee

The First Nation trustee contributes to:

  • monitoring the negotiation of the education services agreement;
  • ensuring that the actions of the board reflect the education services agreement;
  • ensuring that both parties to the agreement are fulfilling their obligations;
  • ensuring that mechanisms are in place for effective accountability to the First Nation community;
  • ensuring a high-quality academic and cultural education for First Nation students; and
  • ensuring that First Nation students are free from any expression of racism and harassment as students of the board’s schools.

The First Nation trustee is also in a position to encourage the involvement of the parents and the First Nations communities in their students’ education within the schools of the district school board. This value is embedded in Ontario’s First Nation, Métis, and Inuit Education Policy Framework.

Some education services agreements also specify First Nation representation on the school board’s Special Education Advisory Committee (SEAC). Where a First Nation trustee is required by regulation to be a member of the board, the SEAC must also have a First Nation member to represent the interests of First Nation students. As well, a large number of school boards have established First Nation Advisory Committees to provide a forum for discussing First Nation education issues. In these committees, the First Nation trustee is usually the chair or co-chair, and membership includes a representative from each First Nation that has students in the board’s schools. Increasingly in boards these committees also have a responsibility to consider appropriate programs and other issues affecting Métis and Inuit students.

The responsibilities of individual trustees

A trustee’s job is to maintain a focus on student achievement and well-being and to participate in making decisions that benefit the entire board district while representing the interests of his or her constituents. Trustees must also interpret the views and decisions of the elected board in their reporting back to their constituents. It is important that trustees are aware of the support and advice available from the director of education and senior staff and are familiar with board policies that may apply to issues under discussion between the trustees and their constituents.

The Education Act further clarifies the responsibilities of the individual trustee or board member to:

  • carry out his or her responsibilities in a manner that assists the board in fulfilling its duties under the Education Act, and under related regulations and guidelines
  • attend and participate in meetings of the board, including meetings of board committees of which he or she is a member;
  • consult with parents, students and supporters of the board on the board’s multi-year plan
  • bring concerns of parents, students and supporters of the board to the attention of the board
  • uphold the implementation of any board resolution after it is passed by the board
  • entrust the day to day management of the board to its staff through the board’s director of education
  • maintain focus on student achievement and well-being
  • comply with the board’s Code of Conduct.

A school trustee is a member of a team – the board of trustees. Only the board of trustees has the authority to make decisions or to take action; an individual trustee in and of him or herself does not have this authority. While members of the board of trustees act as representatives of their community, they have a responsibility, as a member of the school board, to participate in policy-making and strategic planning that is in the interests of all of the school board’s students and is grounded in promoting student achievement and well-being. In this respect, every trustee of the board has a responsibility for the interests of the First Nation, Métis and Inuit students who attend the schools of the board.

First Nation, Métis and Inuit Students in Ontario

First Nation Students in Ontario

The 2011 Statistics Canada National Household Survey reports that approximately 201,100 First Nation peoples live in Ontario. Approximately 37% of Ontario’s First Nation peoples live on reserves. There are 133 distinct First Nation communities in Ontario. Outside of reserves, more than 60% of First Nation peoples live in rural or urban areas and predominantly in urban areas. The 2011 National Household Survey indicates that the overall Ontario school-age (ages 5–19) population of First Nation students is 55,185.

First Nation students who live in First Nation communities attend schools in their own communities or attend the province’s publicly-funded schools. First Nation communities operate a significant number of schools and alternative education programs and the majority of these are at the elementary level. In addition, there are currently six federally administered schools for Grades 1 to 8 in Ontario. One is on the Tyendinaga Reserve, near Belleville; the other five are on the Six Nations of the Grand River Reserve, near Brantford. Forty public and Catholic school boards in Ontario have tuition agreements with First Nation communities.

Financial responsibility for the education of First Nation students resident in First Nation communities, whether they attend publicly-funded schools or schools in First Nation communities, falls under the jurisdiction of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada (AANDC).

First Nation students who live in First Nation communities and attend schools operated by a district school board or school authority do so under an education services or tuition agreement. These agreements are legal and binding and are usually negotiated by the First Nation community and the school board.

As noted in the census data, a large percentage of First Nation students live outside a First Nation community, often in urban areas. These students may have relocated with their families to urban areas or were born in those areas. The challenge for school boards is to encourage confidential voluntary self-identification so that they will know the numbers of First Nation students in their schools and be able to plan for and allocate resources that meet their specific needs and honour their identity as First Nation children and youth. Voluntary confidential self-identification policies are developed in collaboration with First Nation communities and must respect issues of how data is collected, stored, used and shared with the First Nation community.

Métis Students in Ontario

The Statistics Canada National Household Survey reports that approximately 86,015 Métis people live in Ontario. The 2011 Survey also indicates that the overall Ontario school-age (ages 5–19) population of Métis students is 19,045.

The Métis are a distinct Aboriginal people with a unique history, culture, language and territory that includes the waterways of Ontario, surrounds the Great Lakes and spans what was known as the historic Northwest. Although there is no general agreement on criteria for an exact definition of Métis, Canada’s Métis were formally recognized as an Aboriginal people in section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982. In a unanimous decision based on a case involving the rights of a family belonging to the Sault Ste. Marie Métis community, the Supreme Court of Canada confirmed the existence of Métis communities in Canada and the constitutional protection of their existing Aboriginal rights.

The term “Métis” in section 35 of the Constitution does not encompass all individuals with mixed First Nation and European heritage; rather, it refers to “distinctive peoples who, in addition to their mixed ancestry, developed their own customs, way of life, and recognizable group identity separate from their Indian or Inuit and European forebears.” The Court did not set out a comprehensive definition of Métis for all purposes. It did, however, set out the basic means to identify Métis rights-holders. The Court identified three broad factors – self-identification, ancestral connection to the historic Métis community, and community acceptance:

  • Self-identification - the individual must self-identify as a member of a Métis community. It is not enough to self-identify as Métis, that identification must have an ongoing connection to a historic Métis community.
  • Ancestral Connection - Métis rights-holders must have some proof of ancestral connection to the historic Métis community whose collective rights they are exercising.
  • Community Acceptance - there must be proof of acceptance by the modern community. Membership in a Métis political organization may be relevant but the membership requirements of the organization and its role in the Métis community must also be put into evidence. The evidence must be “objectively verifiable.” That means that there must be documented proof and a fair process for community acceptance.

The Court said that the Métis were included as one of the “aboriginal peoples of Canada” to recognize them, to value distinctive Métis cultures, and to enhance their survival.

The Métis Nation of Ontario Education & Training (MNOET) Branch is in its early stages of development. It is actively building on existing infrastructure and, through province-wide outreach to Métis communities, learners and parents, offers a growing range of education and training related supports and services, participates in curriculum review and development and provides programming that supports the success of Métis students. Through input into curriculum and through the provision of learning supports, the goal of the MNOET is to narrow the achievement gap, improving Métis education outcomes at the grade level and through graduation rates. This will be achieved through enhanced Métis content in Ontario curricula, ensuring that investments in Aboriginal education meet the needs of Métis learners, and supporting the engagement of Métis parents and the community in local schools and larger education issues.

As with First Nation students, all school boards in Ontario have a voluntary confidential self-identification policy that applies equally to Métis and Inuit students and is developed in consultation with Métis and Inuit communities.

Inuit Students

There were 2,035 Inuit in Ontario according to 2006 Census figures. The Statistics Canada 2011 National Household Survey indicates that the overall Ontario school-age (ages 5–19) population of Inuit students is 1,055. The majority of these students live in the Ottawa area and attend Ottawa schools. Across Canada, about 45,000 Inuit, approximately 75% of the entire Inuit population, live in 53 communities in: Nunatsiavut (Labrador); Nunavik (Quebec); Nunavut; and the Inuvialuit Settlement Region of the Northwest Territories. Each of these four Inuit groups has settled land claims. These Inuit regions cover one-third of Canada’s land mass.

The word “Inuit” means “the people” in the Inuit language Inuktitut and is the term by which Inuit refer to themselves. Inuit are the Aboriginal people of Arctic Canada. To understand some of the challenges facing Inuit families in the area of education, it is necessary to review some of the rapid social changes that have occurred in the past 50 years. As recently as the 1950s, the majority of Inuit peoples lived primarily in small semi-nomadic groups relying on the resources of the land and sea for sustenance. During the 1950s, Inuit were being relocated from their homes to resettle in communities where their children were assimilated into the Canadian education system, either in residential schools or in schools built in northern communities during the 60s.

At school, speaking Inuktitut was actively discouraged. Attendance at school was enforced by the RCMP. The curricula followed southern Canadian mainstream models. Further disruptions to learning resulted when families moved into communities from outpost camps to maintain contact with their children. Many Inuit parents and Elders, particularly in small communities, could not comprehend why their able-bodied older children, their helpers, had to sit about in school learning nothing useful for their lives, as they saw it. As soon as children were of legal age to leave school, many families encouraged their children to join their parents in hunting and maintaining their families.

This extremely rapid change has had a significant impact on Inuit children and families. Their adjustment to school life and successes in school are a testament to the resilience of the community. For example, the major Inuit language, Inuktitut, is one of the strongest Aboriginal languages in Canada, and 59% of Ontario’s Inuit students complete high school.

Shared Responsibility for First Nation, Métis and Inuit Education In Ontario Schools

The Role of School Boards

Beyond the contractual obligations boards have under education services agreements, the opportunity is available to them to play a significant role in developing education programs that meet the unique needs of First Nations, Métis and Inuit students at both the elementary and secondary levels. The opportunity also exists to consult with and involve First Nations, Métis and Inuit leaders in their local communities to create education programs for all students which highlight the benefits for them, their communities and society as a whole, of learning experiences that draw on the rich cultures, histories, perspectives and world views of First Nation, Métis, and Inuit peoples. The Ontario First Nation, Métis and Inuit Education Policy Framework introduced in 2007 provides the strategic policy context within which the Ministry of Education, school boards, schools, and First Nation, Métis and Inuit partners and communities are working together to improve the academic achievement of Aboriginal students.

The role of all trustees, not just First Nation trustees, is to help create the vision and set the strategic direction that will guide the board and its schools. As the representative of First Nation students, the First Nation trustee is in a unique position to ensure that First Nation culture is part of that vision and that the strategic direction of the board includes the interests of First Nation peoples.

First Nation, Métis and Inuit communities are interested in finding ways to promote and support the success and well-being of their children. All trustees have a role in representing First Nation, Métis and Inuit students and their families at the board table and beyond to ensure their voices are heard and to promote student success and well-being.

Ontario’s First Nation, Métis, and Inuit Education Policy Framework

The Ministry of Education released its First Nation, Métis, and Inuit Education Policy Framework in 2007. This Framework sets out objectives and strategies designed to meet two primary challenges by the year 2016 – to improve achievement among First Nation, Métis, and Inuit students and to close the gap between Aboriginal and all students.

The introduction to the Framework describes its directions as follows:

“The strategies outlined in the framework are based on a holistic and integrated approach to improving Aboriginal student outcomes. The overriding issues affecting Aboriginal student achievement are a lack of awareness among teachers of the particular learning styles of Aboriginal students, and a lack of understanding within schools and school boards of First Nation, Métis, and Inuit cultures, histories, and perspectives. Factors that contribute to student success include teaching strategies that are appropriate to Aboriginal learner needs, curriculum that reflects First Nation, Métis, and Inuit cultures and perspectives, effective counselling and outreach, and a school environment that encourages Aboriginal student and parent engagement. It is also important for educators to understand the First Nations perspective on the school system, which has been strongly affected by residential school experiences and has resulted in intergenerational mistrust of the education system. It is essential that First Nation, Métis, and Inuit students are engaged and feel welcome in school, and that they see themselves and their cultures in the curriculum and the school community.” (p.6)

On March 5, 2014, the ministry released the Ontario First Nation, Métis and Inuit Education Policy Framework Implementation Plan to build on the Aboriginal Education Strategy. The plan builds on progress to date in the implementation of the Framework and guides the work of ministry and school boards in meeting two primary objectives by year 2016: to improve student achievement and well-being among First Nation, Métis and Inuit students; and to close the achievement gap between Aboriginal students and all students.

Since it was released in 2007, intensive and successful efforts, supported by Ministry funding, have been made in school boards across the province to move towards the realization of the objectives of the Framework. A holistic and integrated approach is required in order to improve outcomes for First Nation, Métis and Inuit students. Factors that contribute to student success include teaching strategies that are appropriate to First Nation, Métis and Inuit learner needs, curriculum that reflects First Nation, Métis and Inuit cultures and perspectives, effective counselling and outreach, and a school environment that encourages First Nation, Métis and Inuit student and family engagement.

Conclusion

While the First Nation trustee has a unique role in working for the best interests of First Nation students attending Ontario schools, there is the parallel role of serving as a member of the school board to promote student success and well-being for all the students of the board. The First Nation trustee’s fellow board members equally have a responsibility for all students including First Nations, Métis and Inuit students. Together they can work to ensure that the cultures, histories, perspectives and world views of First Nation, Métis, and Inuit peoples are fully represented in the teaching and learning environments throughout the board, thereby enriching the education experience for all students.

References

Demographic data: http://www12.statcan.gc.ca/nhs-enm/2011/as-sa/99–011-x/99–011-x2011001-eng.cfm

Statistics Canada 2006: https://www12.statcan.gc.ca/census-recensement/2006/rt-td/ap-pa-eng.cfm

A Solid Foundation: Second progress Report on the Ontario First Nation, Métis and Inuit Education Policy Framework. http://www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/aboriginal/ASolidFoundation.pdf