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Plans Being Made To Direct Our Own Education

SASKATCHEWAN INDIAN      JANUARY 15 1975      v05 n01 p08  
Two years ago the Indian leadership of this province enunciated an education policy to reclaim our right to direct the education of our children. Based on the principle of our Treaties we insisted that parental responsibility and local control of education be recognized as basic tenets in determining future education policy. The Federation of Saskatchewan Indians asserted that Indian parents seek participation and partnership with the federal government in planning for education of all types and at all levels to all status Indian people.
At that time we insisted that the moment had come for a complete reexamination of Indian education, We stated that our aim was to make education relevant to the philosophy and needs of Indian people. We wished to develop education programs that would give our children a strong sense of identity with confidence in their personal worth and ability. We believed that education should be:

As a result of the deliberations of Indian groups across Canada, the Minister of Indian Affairs in dialogue with the Indian people, reexamined the education policies of the department; and on May 24, 1973, the Minister outlined to the Standing Committee on Indian Affairs and Northern Development, the policies his department would be initiating to meet the demands of the Canadian Indian people.

The endorsement of the National Indian Brotherhood's  paper on education by the Indian and Northern Affairs Minister on February 2, 1973 offered us the "widest choice and scope for education programs."

The Minister emphatically affirmed the right of Indian people to control their educational destiny. He stated:

“We want to see native people making their own decisions and becoming fully involved in education. I know that when parents are closely and deeply involved with schools, the children get more support for their education endeavors. That kind of two-way communications makes education more useful and more effective. Only when the people are involved can the classroom reflect the culture of the students. Only when culture is taken fully into account, can education be fully rewarding.”

Furthermore, the minister recognized the need to redefine the function and role of the civil servants in the department if the transition to Indian control was to become a reality.

“According, to the extent that the band councils and local Indian education committees desire, they can assume the control of the Indian education program and can give it the direction they wish with assistance and support from the department. There will be a changing role for the department's education service from that of an administrative function to one of providing professional service under Indian direction. We are prepared to effect changes in our organization and in our procedure which will assist in implementing the National Indian Brotherhood's policy in ways acceptable to the Indian people and in cooperation with them.”

In his statement to the Standing Committee, the minister affirmed that education strategy would be determined through a process of dialogue between the Indian people and his department.

“My Department is planning a continuing dialogue with the National Indian Brotherhood, the provincial Indian associations and local band councils and education committees. Implementation will not be rushed nor forced nor otherwise brought into existence except as requested by Indian parents or bands or other local community organizations representative of Indian parents. The department desires to work constructively with Indian communities on a partnership basis which encourages full, free and frank discussion and which places major responsibility for educational decisions and directions in the hands of the Indian community concerned. The department's role will increasingly become that of a service function to which bands can turn as they feel the need for consultation, for discussion, and for provision of specialized educational services; however, the control and responsibility will rest with the bands to chart their educational cause seeking whatever assistance they require from whatever source they desire.”

To bring the new education policy into reality the government of Canada approved three Treasury Board Minutes that are of key importance in the area of subordinate legislation affecting 'Indian Control of Indian Education'. When taken in total, they authorize the virtual complete operation of education services for Indian children and adults by band councils or school committees. The three Minutes are as follows:

  1. The minister may now "enter into service contracts with school committees and band councils" in order to operate kindergartens (T.B. 708442; November 25, 1971).
  2. The minister now has the authority (T.B. 710314; March 22, 1972) to transfer money to "Indian band councils to enable them to provide post-school educational services to Indian adult residents of Canada."
  3. T.B. 715958; November 23, 1973 enabled the minister to extend his authority to bald councils "to manage in-school education programmes." As was spelled out in the request of the Treasury Board, this involved "Indian administration of tuition payments to provincial schools, the employment of teachers, the management of educational assistance programmes, the handling of education allowances to students, the provision of seasonal transportation programmes, the operation of student residences, and the responsibility for social counselling services."

These three pieces of subordinate legislation, authorizing Indian control of kindergarten, in-school and post-school programs, once and for all provides Indian people the legal rights to plan for and control the style of education for their children.

Once the authority to allow 'Indian Control of Indian Education' had become a reality the Indian people of Saskatchewan immediately moved ahead in planning education strategy to implement the policy. We felt that a new period of history was about to emerge, a time when Indian people were released from the bondage of the past, allowing us to develop a new destiny for ourselves.

Under the direction of Indian people, Indian Control of Indian Education emerged at James Smith, Sturgeon Lake, Little Pine-Poundmaker, File Hills Bands, Muskeg Lake, Red Pheasant and Thunderchild Bands. At the same time, Indian people took control over the operation and management of student residences throughout the province. Also a number of bands in Saskatchewan arc now in the planning stage to develop Indian-controlled schools on the reserves.

The philosophy, the direction and the programs that have been initiated at this time have developed in spite of the undermining and deliberate stall tactics of the department. The Executive of the Federation in their evaluation' of the performance of the civil servants have no alternative but to conclude that the majority of the civil servants are committed to the education policy initiated in the ’White Paper’. District, Regional and Ottawa officials have placed themselves in an adversary position; rather than being the advocates of the policy of the government of Canada, the civil servants have enclosed themselves in self-imposed regulations, restrictive to the development of Indian Control of Indian Education. District superintendents, Regional officials and the Ottawa civil servants have viewed the recent development with deep reservations. The initiatives by us to determine the nature and direction or education, the civil servants consider as being new problems for them. Passiveness and apathy on our part is defined by officials as Indian people demonstrating responsibility whereas illustrations of our determination and insistence are considered by them as being provocative Indian actions.

The problem that we are faced with is not in regard to the policy of the government of Canada, but with the manner and nature that civil servants interpret the policy of the minister. It is apparent that the civil servants of the department are making arbitrary judgements about the policy of Indian Control of Indian Education'-even to the paradoxical extent of making regulations inconsistent with the policy.

Our objection is that there was to be a process of bilateral decision-making on developing an education strategy, but up to this point we have seen on a repetitive basis that government officials are making judgements in their own interest or act as a legislature without the dialogue with the Indian people.

This process of unilateral decision-making contrary to the 'spirit of intent' of the minister's policy is creating an atmosphere of mistrust between the department and Indian people and is in no small part responsible for the feeling of anger and frustration of many of our Chiefs, councils and school committees.

To illustrate the scope and nature of the arbitrary decision of the department's personnel the following documentation is provided:

a) Joint Planning
The Federation of Saskatchewan Indians have insisted and initiated a number of proposals that provided for a process of joint planning; but as of date not one of the committees have resolved the problems for which they were established to undertake:

i) Treasury Board Submission
Mr. G. K. Gooderham, Acting Director of Education, indicated that he was receptive to the concept of developing a Treasury Board Submission to accommodate the Thunderchild band council's education program. A joint-planning committee was set up and a Treasury Board Submission was developed by the first week in August. Since that time, Mr. Gooderham has done nothing to bring this matter to a completion.

July 10, 1974, representatives of the Federation met with Mr. G. K. Gooderham, Mr. P. McGillivray and Regional education staff and agreed to form a joint-planning committee to draft an architectural agreement that provided for Indian bands' participation in giving direction to capital construction projects. Since that meeting only one committee meeting has been held which established guidelines to the approach of planning of the agreement. Although a draft proposal for consideration has been developed by the Federation at least six weeks ago, no response to the draft has been provided by the department. In fact, we have not been able to co-ordinate a date for a meeting to discuss the draft.

Furthermore, in blatant and open violation of the stated policy of the government of Canada, the frame of reference of the committee headquarters officials in the department have drafted a document entitled “Guidelines Related to the Band Control of Education Programs.”

Officials state the document is a draft position paper, however, District and Regional officials are implementing its procedure as if they were official government policy. These actions are clearly illegal and are in violation of the agreements between Indian bands and the government of Canada.

The next effect has been that your civil servants have seriously undermined your authority and threatened your personal and political credibility.

ii) Cultural College Funding
In April of 1974, P. Lesaux, Assistant Deputy Minister, met with the Executive of the Federation to consider funding for the Saskatchewan Indian Cultural College. At the meeting the budget of $1,413,958 was agreed upon, and Mr. Lesaux indicated that he saw no problem in obtaining approval for that amount. Some time later the Executive received information that the budget had been approved at 51,004,930 for Saskatchewan on a basis of a per capital entitlement grant of $22. The Executive was angered over the fact that

Plans Being Made To Direct Our Own Education

SASKATCHEWAN INDIAN      JANUARY 15 1975      v05 n01 p09  

at no time was the "per capital entitlement grant" procedure discussed with them in spite of previous knowledge on the part of the Assistant Deputy Minister as to the procedure of the allocation of monies.

It is most apparent that in spite of assurance from the minister that "the department desires to work constructively with Indian communities on a partnership basis which encourages full, free and frank discussion," this has not taken place. In the area of joint planning, representatives from the Federation have been continually frustrated by the delayed tactics and lack of sincere commitment by department's personnel. The policy of partnership has remained at a rhetorical level and does not exist in reality.

b) Administration
Problems in the area of administration fall under four headings: decentralization of funds, lack of response to letters and band council resolutions, lack of guidance and support to bands who are evolving their own administrative procedures, and incompatibility between Indian Affairs records and actual facts.

i) The problem in decentralizing funds to bands who are involved in on-going Programs is particularly upsetting. On many occasions bands find themselves approaching pay periods without any indication from district civil servants that the commitments to employees and suppliers are going to be met. The effect of this on employees' morale is that their efficiency and degree of dedication to the job is lowered because they become uncertain as to whether they should continue to work for the band or not. In addition, band administrators who find themselves in the position of having to hire fellow Indians without feeling secure in the knowledge that they will be able to meet payroll requirements, irrespective of the importance or need for the work to carry on, begin to lose confidence in themselves and their work; to say nothing of the animosity which this situation creates between reserve neighbours. One example of this situation is that James Smith administrators were forced to go to Saskatoon to assist departmental personnel to complete the band payroll in order to be sure that their commitments would be met, and all this at the last moment. In addition, Little Pine-Poundmaker administrators have been forced to make many such "money runs" to Regina. Needless to say, this kind of expenditure of human energy and automotive resources would be unnecessary if civil servants exercise common sense in meeting such deadlines. Furthermore, the credibility of the Indian Administrator is lowered in the eyes of the firms with whom he deals when there is protracted delay in paying legitimate bills.

The consistency and extend of these problems can only be interpreted as a deliberate attempt to frustrate the initiative of Indian bands.  Furthermore, it is a provincially established fact concurred by Indian bands, provincial school boards and. Saskatchewan businessmen that financial management ability by the department has yet to be discovered.

ii) Lack of response on the part of District civil servants to band Administrator's letters and band council resolutions is particularly distressing. Indian administrators feel that once a written request disappears through the portals of the local office, it may never been seen or heard of again. The result of this lack of feedback is that either the project comes to a halt or that band administrators push on, sometimes creating confusion for civil savants who suddenly venture upon the project and who do not know what is occurring or why. For example, Muskeg Lake received approval for an adult education program and so proceeded on that basis. At a later date, they were informed that the final payment would not be provided because the condition of final evaluation had not been met, something of which the band had not been made aware. Similarly, Thunderchild Band had instructed Indian Affairs to cease tuition payments to the Turtleford School Unit. However, at this moment, Turtleford School officials state that Department of Indian Affairs personnel have assured them that payments would continue, this without notifying- the band that their request had been denied.

iii) A third problem is the incompatibility which sometimes exists between department' records and actual facts. One example of this is the instance in which the documents of the James Smith Band showed that approximately 20 per cent larger staff was in operation than the records of Indian Affairs indicated. This type of inconsistency seems to arise because District officials tend to accept programs "in principle", but do not take the follow-up action of identifying the man-years involved or the mechanism for systematic decentralization of funds.

iv) Fourthly, District officials tend to show lack of support and guidance to bands who are attempting to evolve their own school systems. In effect, they seem to take the attitude, "If you want to do it, go ahead, but don't expect any help from us." This lack of support has precipitated the present situation in which approximately 1,000 children are still not in school.

c) Policy Interpretation
A major cause of the frustration of Indian people is the arbitrary and inconsistent policy decisions made by the civil servants of the department.

i) Capital Agreement
The department officials have indicated to the Thunderchild band council that no approval for their education program would be forthcoming until there was a resolution to the present capital agreement between the Department of Indian Affairs and the Turtleford School Unit.

The department while holding firm to this decision for Thunderchild, agreed to provide facilities for the James Smith Band and the Sturgeon Lake Band, and interpreted the capital agreement for File Hills Band and Red Pheasant Band in a most liberal manner.

It is obvious that this inconsistent interpretation of the 'Capital Agreement' policy has created much frustration for individual bands in developing strategy for education planning.

The department's interpreting of the policy "no duplication of services" has allowed bands to use existing facilities on reserves to accommodate students. Many bands have opted for temporary facilities, using houses as schoolrooms. The department officials approved in writing Thunderchild's request to use existing temporary facilities on September 4, 1974. The Thunderchild Band immediately contracted teaching staff and support staff in order to operate their program, but on September 11, 1974, the Thunderchild Band received orders from Ottawa not to proceed with their education programs as they "did not want to subject students to inferior buildings".

What is most ironic in this situation is that the department through the support of church-operated schools on the reserves have duplicated services without question, and even against the expressed desire of Indian bands for sectarian schools.

Today, Thunderchild is asked to follow a government statement in regard to "duplication of services" as a result of the Department of Indian Affairs signing an agreement with the Turtleford School Unit, an agreement that the band was not a party to, or in agreement with.

What is obvious in the Thunderchild's decision is the arbitrary manner in which this decision was made by the Department. Rather than allowing the band council to determine the direction of education for their children, the department is determining 'what is right'.

ii) Program Policies
On numerous occasions the department has developed policies inconsistent from one district to another. The North Battleford District provided for the possibility of the development of a school program up to Grade XII, whereas the Qu'Appelle-Touchwoods-File Hills District stated that government policy prevented Indian bands from offering a high school program.

In another situation one band consultant was approved only if he would be principal of the school, whereas another band was provided a consultant along with a principal and a vice-principal.

iii) Transfer of Schools from provincial Jurisdiction
The La Range Band and the Peter Ballantyne Band have submitted documentation to Ottawa indicating their desire to take over the responsibility of operating two schools now under provincial jurisdiction. The fact that these committees in which the bands desire to transfer to federal jurisdiction are 80 per cent Treaty Indians makes it obvious that control of these schools should be in the hands of the Indian people.

Furthermore, in consideration of the policy that the transfer of school could occur only with the wishes of the Indian bands, the decision not to allow the transfer of these schools from provincial jurisdiction, the Federation considers as being in contradiction to government policy and anabrogation of the Treaty rights of the Indian people.

iv) Curtailment of Programs
On August 26, 1974,0. N. Zakreski, Regional Director for the Saskatchewan Region, unilaterally indicated to his staff that monies would be cancelled for adult education programs on reserves, noon-lunch programs, reduction of education assistance and a moratorium on band staffing.

The Executive of the Federation regards the directive most gravely. We have observed the continual growth of the Department of Indian Affairs, the increase of their personnel's salaries, and the increase of administration costs and yet the only alternative pursued by the department to reduce costs was to attack those programs that fundamentally effect the success of Indian children in the school system.

The department continues to pay without question the provincial tuition payments, which have escalated between 20 per cent and 100 per cent. Only the Federal schools are asked to trim their budgets.

Furthermore, Mr. Zakreski's decision was basal upon illegal authority. The letter was based on his concern over budget control and ignored the agreement between the National Indian Brotherhood and the minister.

v) Student Residence
At this time, only Indian Student Residences are under Indian Boards. There is an agreement between the Federation and the department, 1972, which provided for the appointment of two Indian Student Residence administrators per year; but, at this time, only two persons have been appointed, rather than six.

The dialogue is dead, the thoughts that a new approach was to be developed, that the concept that Indian people were to be freed from past bandages has been but a false hope.

To develop our control of education, we have been forced into psychological warfare games. In every reserve where we have expressed desire to establish a reserve school, the department attempts to divide our people. Guidance Counsellors articulate discouragement's to our plans working on the minority reserve people who are questioning the developments. On a continual basis programs have been approved and then some months later are arbitrarily curtailed by the department.  The continual refusal by the district superintendents to communicate to us, have resulted in some Indian leaders being placed in a position of frustration and feelings of failure.

We will no longer tolerate the humiliation that our leaders have been forced to live. We will unite to work for the right of the Indian leaders to develop programs that effect the destiny of Indian people. We will work to continue the programs that have been successful as a result of our agonizing struggle to control our education. The task has been hard, but the rewards have made the battle worthwhile.

EDITORS NOTE: The above brief was presented to Indian Affairs Minister Judd Buchanan at a meeting October 11, 1974. At that time the minister did not respond. The minister has not displayed any intentions of listening to the recommendations for the solving of existing problems, but has announced that be has no intention of duplicating services already provided for joint schools.