Academic journal article McGill Journal of Education (Online)

The Absentee Minister of Education of Canada: The Canadian Federal Government's Constitutional Role in First Nations Education

Academic journal article McGill Journal of Education (Online)

The Absentee Minister of Education of Canada: The Canadian Federal Government's Constitutional Role in First Nations Education

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT. In Canada, education is generally referred to as being the exclusive constitutional responsibility of the provinces and territories. However, the federal government has a constitutional responsibility. This responsibility comes from the Constitution Act 1982 and Treaties 1 - 11 between the Crown (i.e., The Government of Canada) and First Nations throughout Canada. It is very difficult to find any mention of the federal government's constitutional education responsibilities in the literature or documents. This has allowed the federal government to downplay their educational responsibilities throughout Canada and the world. This paper examines the federal government's constitutional responsibilities in First Nations education and makes recommendations.

L'absence d'un ministre d'Éducationducationducation canadiencanadien : le rôle constitutionnel du gouvernement fédéral dandans l'éducationéducationéducation des premères nationnations

RÉSUMÉ. Au Canada, l'éducation est généralement considérée comme une responsabilité exclusive des provinces et des territoires. Or, le gouvernement fédéral possède une responsabilité constitutionnelle. Celle-ci émane de l'Acte constitutionnel de 1982 et des traités 1 - 11 ratifiés entre la Couronne (le gouvernement du Canada) et les Premières Nations à travers le Canada. Malgré cela, il est extrêmement ardu de déceler une quelconque mention des responsabilités constitutionnelles du gouvernement fédéral en matière d'éducation dans la littérature ou des documents. Cette situation a permis au gouvernement fédéral de minimiser leurs responsabilités en éducation au Canada et sur le plan international. Cet article analyse donc les responsabilités constitutionnelles du palier fédéral relativement à l'éducation des populations autochtones et formule des recommandations.

"The airport" was the response my 3-4 year old daughter gave when asked "Where does granny live?" My wife and I laughed and then thought about her response. In her mind, the response made sense. We drove to the airport to pick up granny and dropped her off there when she left. There was no reason for my daughter to think differently.

My daughter's response came back to me while reviewing the federal role in education in Canada. Textbook writers (Naested, Potvin & Waldron, 2004; Winzer, 2002), researchers (Dworet & Bennett, 2002), and newspaper columnists (Ibbitson, 2005) clearly state that education in Canada is solely the prerogative of the provinces. The Canadian Teachers Federation (2010) references the British North American Act, 1867 (later renamed Constitution Act 1867) to proclaim that "In Canada, education does not fall within the scope of federal jurisdiction - it is the singular responsibility of each province and territory" (p. 1). The Council of Ministers of Education, Canada (CMEC) an educational body that represents provincial and territorial ministers of education in Canada continue the misinformation on education in Canada. In CMEC (2008a) education in Canada is described as being "the responsibility of each province and territory" (p. 1). Earlier, the CMEC (2001) noted "in Canada, as we stressed earlier, the provinces and territories are responsible for all levels of education" (p. 9). Recently, Senator Sibbeston, a member of Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples, during proceedings on issues concerning First Nations education clearly demonstrated his lack of awareness of the federal government's constitutional responsibilities in education by stating that "The federal government is not in the education business" and "Education is in the provincial domain" (Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples, 2010a, p. 6). Richards and Scott (2009) had similar thoughts regarding the federal role in education when they state that "education is a provincial responsibility, " (p. 53).

These textbook writers, researchers, newspaper columnists, politicians, researchers and the CMEC give very little, if any attention or mention to the federal role in education. …

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