Parents, students and allies arrived at the Toronto office of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada (AANDC) Thursday morning because Six Nations schools still aren’t receiving the necessary funding and supplies guaranteed under treaty agreements.
Under Article 91, Section 24 of the British North America Act of 1867, the federal government has education funding responsibilities.
“And that means all of us are affected,” said Steve Watson, retired staff member, Canadian Auto Workers Union. “Not just Six Nations people. Not just indigenous people.”
Teachers and parents are photocopying supplies because the curriculum ordered last spring still hasn’t arrived.
“And their photocopiers may be repossessed because this government isn’t paying the bills,” said Watson.
Supply teachers haven’t been paid since August. Hot water has been cut off.
“Is that the message we want to send to indigenous children in this country?” asked Watson. “Is that how we want to show how we care about their rights?”
On Monday and Friday last week, parents, residents and Six Nations politicians demanded answers from the Brantford office of AANDC and Brant Conservative MP Phil McColeman.
They were told that they would get answers from Peter Jones, Director of Education AANDC.
“But we haven’t heard any yet,” said Watson. “And nobody who is responsible has come out to give us any credible information.”
Protesters want those supplies now. Not more lies and broken promises.
Several years ago, when retired Six Nations teacher Claudine Van Every worked for the Six Nations Education Commission, the group looked at taking over education funding from the federal government.
Six Nations and Tyendinaga are the only two reserves in Ontario who still receive funding directly from the federal government.
“And the reason why is that Indian Affairs wanted to provide us significantly less funding that our local off-reserve schools have received,” said Van Every, who has two grandchildren in Six Nations elementary schools.
“A small French school board in Northern Ontario with approximately the same number of students received more than twice of what we are being offered to take over our education.”
Van Every said all the Six Nations elementary schools are struggling to get supplies and textbooks for students.
Several teachers in those schools wanted to attend Thursday’s rally in Toronto but were afraid that if they appeared it might cost them their jobs.
Six Nations resident Rhonda Martin has two children in elementary school on the reserve and two in high school off-reserve.
“There probably isn’t one school out there off the reserve that is lacking for school supplies,” said Martin, who pulled her daughter out of school and brought her to Thursday’s rally so she could learn from the experience.
“Give us what you owe us. Give us back our land. Give us back our money that you took from us. And we’ll look after our own damn schools.”
Another mother had to buy her daughter a sketchbook so she could attend art class. “That shouldn’t happen,” she said.
“Why are we paying for our children’s education in a public school?”
Especially since most Six Nations residents live under the poverty line. Then they’re forced to pay out-of-pocket for fundraisers, school lunches, school trips, book orders and after school programs like football or lacrosse.
So why are they also made to pay for pencils, paper and textbooks?
Her daughter’s class has one textbook from last year’s curriculum that gets photocopied so all the children can have something to read.
“Where are the textbooks from this year’s curriculum?” she asked. “And what happens when the school supplies run out?”
Wray Maracle, Six Nations band councillor, said the federal government is offering $7 million dollars less than what Six Nations needs to take back the educational system.
“Every year the money is slow to flow to Six Nations because we are one of the last communities to take over the education system,” he said.
“And they are now pressuring us, using the children to force us to take it over and we are still waiting for them to come up with the proper funding.”
Retired University of Guelph professor Michael Keefer reminded protesters that today’s underfunding issues for Six Nations schoolchildren will impact their ability to access post secondary education in the future.
“At that university we’ve been proud to have First Nations students, some of whom have taken advanced degrees,” said Keefer.
“But there have been all too few of those students. And what we are witnessing now, because of this government’s action, is a choking off of the access of future students to higher education and to the kinds of qualifications they could acquire to benefit their people.”
Then it was the children’s time to have their say.
“I’m here to set things straight for children like me in Six Nations because they don’t have their school curriculum,” said one 11-year-old girl.
“They don’t have their textbooks. All they got was pen and paper from our own money.”
Soon after, Six Nations resident Wes Elliott told the crowd about a request made to send a four person delegation into the Toronto AANDC office.
“They said Claudine Van Every cannot come up,” he said. “Even though she represents us and knows the most about the lack of funding.
“So you can see the inequality right here, right now. The racist regime.”