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Editorial: Indigenous Services Canada should use Exshaw School as its new funding model

If Indigenous Services Canada owned a pair of trousers, they would be very much aflame right now.

One of the reasons there are those in this valley working hard to ensure the Exshaw School does not have to close as a result of a changed federal funding model is because of the great educational work happening in those classrooms every single day.

A prime example of that is the recent awarding of two Exshaw School teachers with a Governor General's award for a history project they created last year that incorporated elders from the First Nation into their students' learning journey.  

Canadian Rockies Public School division operates the K-Grade 9 school, which has a 98 per cent Stoney Nakoda First Nation student population.

It is an off-reserve school that serves the citizens of the First Nation as an alternative educational choice than what is offered by Stondey Education Authority on-reserve. Between the two school systems, there is a lot of excellent work being done providing a high-quality education for Indigenous students. 

These students are the reason this has become an issue and everyone involved would do well to remind themselves that it is about them, and not a beurocratic turf war between CRPS and Indigenous Services Canada.

Last year, as ISC prepared to change how it funds Indigenous education across Canada, CRPS became aware that those changes were going to have significant negative – and unintended – consequences for the Exshaw School.

After receiving information directly from ISC about this new funding model – and looking at how the federal government has funded First Nations education at the Exshaw School since 1973 – administrators with CRPS calculated there would be a $1.6 million difference.

But officials with ISC have been disputing these claims, arguing parents and the overall community are being misled or misinformed. 

Furthermore, CRPS officials refused to attend a public town hall meeting in Morley this week facilitated by ISC to discuss this issue.

We would caution both parties to check themselves at this point in the game and refocus on the fact that this is about providing financially sustainable long-term educational programs for First Nations families.

For ISC – it would be helpful if as a federal agency you refrained from coming into communities and calling hard working, long-standing community members liars without backing it up with proof.

You're telling us this calculation and predicted funding shortfall is incorrect? Well, we are all waiting patiently for you to provide the correct numbers and clear up this uncertainty for once and all.

As for CRPS, the decision to not attend this meeting was understandably born out of frustration. However, when it comes to finding solutions to complex problems, avoiding difficult conversations only further compounds this issue for the community.

Stoney Nakoda families said loud and clear at the CRPS open house that they would like to see the school division and its representatives host or attend meetings in the First Nation. 

To then not attend the subsequent meeting held in Morley this week sent the wrong message to the families and students.

If everyone is in agreement that the Exshaw School is a high calibre educational institution and part of the reason for that has been how it was historically funded – then we would suggest the solution to this problem is clear.

The historic funding model for the Exshaw School should be considered as the new model for Indigenous student education funding across Canada.

Instead of short-changing Indigenous education, the government should commit to funding it appropriately and with all the supports that students require. 

Education is more than just a teacher in a classroom. If we, as Canadians, truly wish to engage in truth and reconciliation, we should do better and recognize an entire spectrum of educational support roles is needed.

Not because CRPS wants them, not because ISC says this is how it will be done – but because every single current and future Exshaw School students deserves better. 

Rocky Mountain Outlook

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