The four Maskwacis bands are taking collaboration to a new level by working with Alberta Education on a new initiative aimed at bringing equal funding to First Nations students while keeping true to the Cree culture.
A letter of intent with the province was signed Tuesday, June 21, the National Aboriginal Day at the Ermineskin Junior/Senior High School that sets the stage for a joint school board to lay the ground for a curriculum for all Maskwacis students.
Minister of Education David Eggen said there is a new spirit of collaboration and anticipation for what is to come with this letter of intent. Eventually a memorandum of understanding will be signed, according to the minister, to ensure equal funding for all students in the province. He added that no child should receive anything but the best education available to them.
“It won’t be an easy route but there is a new spirit of collaboration,” said Eggen.
The four chiefs at Maskwacis are equally as excited for what is to come. For Ermineskin Chief Randy Ermineskin the hope is that teachers and students are at the forefront of the plans. “It’s important that we embark on something new.”
Samson Chief Kurt Buffalo suggested that implementing the goals will be challenging but that collaboration of planners helped make this possible. Louis Bull Chief Irvine Bull added that this will help create a continuation of the Cree culture and language.
“We must continue to speak it for our future generations,” said Bull.
For Montana Chief Darryl Strongman bringing education to the forefront for Maskwacis children is important. He said equal education was one of the treaty promises to First Nations people. “It’s all on behalf of the children of Maskwacis,” said Strongman of the endeavour.
The need for Cree education
This new measure has been a few years in the making with the Nipisihkopahk Education Authority (NEA) and Miyo Wahkohtowin Education (MWE) working with two levels of government: Alberta Education and Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC).
Working behind the scenes are superintendents Brian Wildcat, for MWE (Ermineskin) and Kevin Wells for NEA (Samson). A few years ago the pair looked at ways they could amalgamate efforts to bring better funding and programming for students.
Eventually principals from all the schools and board directors became involved in the process. As discussions continued, INAC became involved by providing some seed money to begin planning with a one-day conference for all four chiefs and councils, explained Wells. This put the idea in motion.
Involving the province was the next step in that collaboration.
“We’ve been working on the letter of intent since the fall, on the actual wording of it,” explained Wildcat.
Federal funding for First Nations students is approximately one-third less than provincial funding for students outside of the reserve and has not been changed for 15 years, said Wildcat. “That’s why we fell so far behind.”
That inequity can add a lot of money to be missed out on.
To help realize how one education system can work for the four bands, INAC provided research funds to help develop the idea. Alberta Education joined in on the process.
“The province has said, ‘We’ve got some expertise as well,’” said Wells.
Enhancements could be financial to help close the funding gap and/or to create a First Nations curriculum that includes their language and culture in the programming but meets provincial requirements.
“We’re trying to create a Maskwacis/Cree system…and make it a system that’s appropriate for the community,” said Wildcat.
Eventually consultation with stakeholders in Maskwacis will also be part of the planning. Sometime after the new year Wildcat expects governance of the education authority will be outlined and then a management structure after that. From there a business case, including how it should be funded, will be presented to INAC.
There are two aspects to the plan: working with both the federal guidelines and the provincial diploma curriculum. Eventually the two are expected to be merged in the course of the implementation.
INAC is working closely with the two as a collaborative framework was already in the planning stages. “Right away the collaboration started and it’s based entirely on trust,” said Wildcat.
The ultimate goal of the whole scheme is to ensure students have balanced education while keeping the Cree language and culture together.