Time to tackle First Nations education
Sunchild School students have been talking about wanting a high school football team since the school opened 16 years ago.
But fielding 12 players was impossible for the school, located on the Sunchild First Nation in the eastern foothills of the Rocky Mountains in northwest Central Alberta.
That will change when the Sunchild Bison kick off their first season in the Alberta 6 A Side Football League at Frank Maddock High School in Drayton Valley at 4 p.m. today.
The Bison will compete in the Hunter South Division with Edson, Jasper, Hinton and Drayton Valley. The team’s first home game against the Hinton Wolfpack is on Thursday, Oct. 4.
About 18 to 24 students in Grade 8 to 12, including one girl, will make history when they don the Bison jersey this season.
As Canada’s first and only First Nation high school football team, the Bison are a great opportunity for First Nation students to get involved in sport and build community spirit at the Sunchild First Nation, a community with about 1,280 band members.
The benefits of competing in high school sports include better health habits, better marks, a better chance to complete college or university and better earning potential as adults. However, studies are quick to point out that those benefits are dependent on a competitor’s individual circumstances.
When it comes to funding for First Nations education, there is a lot of room for improvement of the Sunchild students’ circumstances.
Late last year, the Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples called for a complete overhaul of Canada’s problematic First Nations education system.
Census data from 2006 suggests more than 40 per cent of aboriginal Canadians aged 15 and older did not earn a high-school diploma, double the rate of their non-aboriginal peers.
The federal government responded earlier this year by announcing that it would launch consultations soon to craft a First Nations Education Act by 2014.
The act’s goal would be to address teacher certification, school accreditation and curriculum, among other issues, on reserve schools.
The joint panel that recommended the creation of the act also urged the federal government close the funding gap between provincial and reserve schools.
Assembly of First Nations National Chief Shawn Atleo has estimated that First Nations need at least $500 million annually to bring the schools in their communities up to provincial standards.
The federal government earmarked $275 million over three years for aboriginal education in its March budget. That’s a gap of $1.225 billion for those of you keeping score.
Closing that gap and bringing First Nations schools up to provincial schools should be one of the federal government’s top priorities because aboriginal Canadians are the fastest growing segment of our population.
That fact, coupled with Canada’s looming labour shortage, means aboriginal Canadians are on the verge of becoming key drivers of Canada’s economy. Without a substantial investment, neither their skills nor their education will be up to the task of boosting the nation’s productivity.
Sunchild School is lining up for the snap and has its eye fixed firmly on its goal of providing better education and extra-curricular activities for its students.
Here is hoping the federal government will step up and throw a few blocks against the obstacles along the way to help the school’s students reach the end zone and achieve their full potential.
Cameron Kennedy is an Advocate editor.