© Guardian photo by Heather Taweel
Former prime minister Paul Martin discusses an exhibit about the Mi'kmaq of Prince Edward Island before delivering the Symonds Lecture at the Confederation Centre of the Arts Thursday in Charlottetown.
Former prime minister tells Symonds Lecture audience government must do more for aboriginal children
The federal government must step up with more money to help educate aboriginal children.
That’s the message former prime minister Paul Martin brought to Charlottetown Thursday as part of his Symons Lecture Series speech at the Confederation Centre of the Arts.
He said funding for aboriginal education in some provinces is as much as 40 to 50 per cent less per capita than funds available for education of non-aboriginal children.
“What that means is that young aboriginal Canadians going to grade school, going to high school, are not given the same opportunity to go to university, they’re not given the same opportunity to graduate from high school.”
As a result of this gap in funding, aboriginal schools do not have the same resources and services, Martin said.
“First Nations across the country attending on-reserve schools can be taught by unqualified teachers, they often do not have school libraries, proper gymnasiums or science or computer labs,” he said, adding there are also few programs for students with disabilities.
“As if all this wasn’t bad enough, the physical conditions of many of the schools are so grim that most Canadian parents would not allow their children on the premises.”
He spoke passionately about pilot programs his foundation has helped to spearhead that have helped First Nations youth experience positive change in their lives and in their overall confidence as a result of access to better education.
He contrasted this to the damage done to so many children who suffered in residential schools.
He questions why Canada’s reserve schools are not receiving funding from the federal government based on need.
“When we look at the damage done in the residential schools, what we should be doing is putting all of the funding that is required into building up the aboriginal education system, to turn that around to give future generations of aboriginal children the same chance that other Canadians have,” he said.
Martin also pointed out government should be helping to better support First Nations’ education because it is their right, and also because it will benefit Canada in the long run.
He cited data showing that in 2016, 45 per cent of all students in Grade 1 in Saskatchewan will be aboriginal.
“Now, you think about underfunding the education of 45 per cent of your population. It doesn’t take a prophet to project what that’s going to do to your economy over time,” Martin said.
He is urging the federal government to increase its funding for schools and education programs on First Nations reserves.
“We’re dealing with really the largest segment of our population, in terms of the youngest and the fastest growing, and have consistently underfunded their education and you can see the results,” he said, adding P.E.I. Premier Robert Ghiz has been among those pushing for increased aboriginal support.
“It’s morally wrong and it’s economically dumb.”