On Friday, Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Assembly of First Nations National Chief Shawn A-in-chut Atleo made a very promising announcement regarding a new plan to transform First Nations education. This landmark agreement should lead to significant investments in First Nations education for students in kindergarten through to grade 12.
I was heartened to hear the news. The unequal access to resources is a pressing issue for this country’s First Nations people, and is one that by association impacts all Canadians.
Author and professor Irshad Manji succinctly describes education as “the unleashing of the permission to ask questions.” Recognizing the value of education – and vowing to make a flawed system better – is one of the most effective things we can do to improve lives. Forgive the cliché, but education really does open up a world of possibility. It allows individuals and communities alike to rewrite the future with a different rulebook. It tears down barriers and levels the playing field.
Knowing that young people in First Nations communities will be getting improved access to education is an important step for this country to be taking. It publicly acknowledges the inequality that has kept too many from graduating from high school or carrying on to post-secondary education.
Certainly, by enhancing education in the primary, middle and high school years, the great hope is that more Aboriginal young people step forward to take their rightful places in our universities and colleges. Community outreach and mentorship activities will help reinforce the pleasures of learning.
Too many First Nations communities are struggling with food security, access to education and training, and a lack of employment opportunities. These same communities also grapple with an unfair share of poverty, addictions and mental health issues.
I hope very much that Friday’s announcement will not only help today’s students achieve their potential, but also generations of young people to come. As we create our vision for Canada’s future, it is absolutely crucial that their voices be heard. Queen’s is committed to doing what it can to help make this so.