First Nation education service providers received the highest grades in the Aboriginal Legal Services 2017 Report Card on Recommendations from the First Nations Youth Inquest. Keewaytinook Okimakanak received 85 per cent, Matawa Learning Centre received 82 per cent and Northern Nishnawbe Education Council and Dennis Franklin Cromarty First Nations High School received 80 per cent.
“All of them essentially received As and they are the high achievers among the parties,” says Jonathan Rudin, one of the Aboriginal Legal Services counsel for the families of Jethro Anderson, Reggie Bushie, Robyn Harper, Kyle Morrisseau, Paul Panacheese and Jordan Wabasse. “This is encouraging because these are the organizations that are actually providing the education services to the students. It is obviously very important and significant that they embraced the recommendations so thoroughly that they have the best grades. Just as examples, all the education authorities are now providing significant orientations to new students.”
Rudin says the education authorities are also providing new and enhanced programs on alcohol and substance abuse issues and partnering with organizations in Thunder Bay to provide more and a better range of services for their students.
“One of the challenges however that the education service providers have is that many of the things they were asked to do require funding,” Rudin says. “And this is one of the challenges that we faced in rating this — while the education providers have done what they need to do it doesn’t necessarily mean the recommendations themselves are complete because funding has to be found from the relevant authority to allow them stable funding to permanently put these initiatives in place.”
Norma Kejick, executive director of NNEC, says her organization did what they could with the resources they had to implement the short-term recommendations directed at them.
“But in order for us to continue to implement the short-term recommendations, we need reliable, sustainable funding and that still hasn’t come through from Canada,” Kejick says. “We need more funding for the living centre. There is the feasibility study that we received money for that we will be working with Canada. On the feasibility study, we have included two schools, Pelican Falls First Nations High School and Dennis Franklin Cromarty First Nations High School, and the need for the residence will be part of that feasibility study. Canada has committed to funding for that study to be done.”
Sharon Angeconeb, principal of DFC, is disappointed with the 67 per cent overall ranking from the Aboriginal Legal Services report. The overall ranking included the Thunder Bay Police Services’ 79 per cent ranking, City of Thunder Bay’s 67 per cent ranking, Ontario’s 67 per cent ranking, Nishnawbe Aski Nations’s 65 per cent ranking and Canada’s 51 per cent ranking.
“I do feel saddened for the families of the seven students who passed,” Angeconeb says. “I was hoping that we could have done more, but we do have limited resources. But on behalf of the school, we continue to do what we can with the resources that we have. And I hope too that we will do better next year.”
Norm Gale, Thunder Bay’s city manager, says the City of Thunder Bay is “absolutely committed” to the 31 recommendations for the city from the Seven Youth Inquest as well as the broader Indigenous issues within the community.
“Thunder Bay City Council unanimously directed us to respond in the way we did with tangible things in the 31 recommendations,” Gale says. “It’s part of a broader effort by the City of Thunder Bay to deal with the broader implications of Indigenous issues that we face. The City of Thunder Bay has been working for some time, not just on the 31 recommendations, but other issues. Right now, for example, we are looking at waterway safety and cameras and lights on our waterways and also in our downtowns. That is a substantial project that requires significant financial investment, regardless of what one thinks of the utility of the idea. Nishnawbe Aski Nation brought that to us separately and we are looking at it now in good faith.”
Gale says the city has been “working with strong partnerships” with Fort William First Nation, Nishnawbe Aski Nation and Matawa First Nations.
“An example is the recent announcement of, pending council approval, of transferring Grandview Lodge to Matawa for their educational purposes,” Gales says. “The City of Thunder Bay, at the direction of Thunder Bay City Council, is energetic and enthusiastic about responding to the recommendations and we are producing results.”
NAN, the federal government and the provincial government also released a joint response after the Aboriginal Legal Services report was released.
“NAN has developed a plan of action to respond to the student safety crisis,” the statement says. “The governments of Canada and Ontario are supporting that plan with a federal investment of $4.67 million annually for the coming three years and a provincial investment of $5.5 million for the 2017-18 school year to address the immediate needs of NAN students. This funding is in addition to specific funding for priority needs for these students that is already in the hands of communities for the September 2017 school year, bringing the total amount of new federal funding for students who leave their communities to $14.3 million. The goal of this funding is to ensure that students will have safe and healthy school choices in an environment that offers culturally relevant and appropriate learning in the immediate term.”
Some of the actions supported by the federal investment are coordinated on-call workers programming, increased accommodations rates, a boarding home pilot program and an urban-living curriculum to talk about health, safety and succeeding in school away from home.
Some of the actions supported by the provincial investment are addressing the safety and wellness of youth attending school away from their home communities, enhancing existing education options for high school students who wish to continue their education in their communities and ensuring resources are available to accommodate students who wish to continue their education in other urban centres.
“This funding meets the short-term priorities established by our Emergency Education Task Force, and we are encouraged by the response of our provincial and federal treaty partners for immediate action to improve safety and education outcomes for our students,” says Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler. “This is a tremendous accomplishment in such a short period of time, and I thank everyone involved for pulling together to ensure that our students are able to pursue their education in a safe and supportive environment.”