Three historical education agreements signed at James Smith

Photo by Wayne Hanna The table of dignitaries at the signing ceremony for three historical education service agreements on Thursday, May 25 at James Smith.

Three historical education agreements were signed at Bernard Constant Community School on James Smith Cree Nation during a Pow Wow on Thursday, May 25.

The three Education Agreements formalized a partnership with the East Central First Nations Education Partnership (ECFNEP), Indigenous Services Canada, the North East School Division (NESD) and the Saskatchewan Rivers Public School Division (SRPSD).

The Agreements commit all the parties to work together to improve education outcomes for youth at the Chakastaypasin Band, James Smith Cree Nation and the Peter Chapman Band and for students of the three First Nations that attend off-reserve schools in nearby school divisions.

“By the end of this entire process, I can relate our relationship to a braid of sweetgrass,” Randy Constant, Director of Education for the East Central First Nations Education Partnership said in a press release. “Like the three strands that make up the braid of sweetgrass, so too do these Education Services Agreements serve the needs of our students and community stakeholders. This renewed relationship will bring forth understanding and sustainability as we move together in our educational pursuit.”

ECFNEP board chair Camillia Sanderson, NESD vice chair of trustees Marla Walton, and Sask. Rivers board chair Darlene Rowden all signed the agreement, as did the education directors of all three divisions and the staff responsible for finances.

The Education Services Agreements serve as both a tuition agreement and a formal Partnership between these entities, with the goal of providing an increased quality of education and services and adding transparency to the financial side of things.

Sask. Rivers education director Robert Bratvold was one of the signees. He said the signings were very significant.

“I think we’ve had long and strong relationships with lots of First Nations communities, but this is the first one where we formalized it into an education services agreement,” Bratvold explained. “It’s important because through the process we built lots of strong relationships and understanding and found lots of mutual goals and targets.”

Bratvold said one important part is the work that all parties are doing for education of youth on James Smith.

“The actual agreement addresses lots of different things around the kinds of services that we provide as a school vision, the kinds of ways we manage those, and then plans for our organizations to meet regularly,” he added.

“People talk about these as tuition agreements, and this includes elements of that, but it’s far broader than that. One of the most important things, I think, within it is that reciprocity. We’ve got provincial students who are interested in attending the community school on James Smith Cree Nation, then there’s a capacity for us to organize for that too.”

Bernard Constant School is a half-hour north of Kinistino where a Sask. Rivers School is located. Between 10 and 20 students from James Smith attend the school every year.

“Maybe their parents are working somewhere or whatever, so they come to our school in this area and so this reciprocity was important,” Bratvold explained.

He added that if students want to go in the other direction they have that ability. Bratvold said it broadens educational opportunities.

To have the signing take place at the Pow Wow was important to Bratvold.

“I think the, the signing of it was significant in terms of it was part of a ceremonial piece. It started with the elders and lifting the pipes and the ceremony and then they followed with the Pow Wow,” he said.

The NESD and Sask Rivers have committed to several matters in these agreements to improve the experience of the First Nations students attending their schools, including support for students with special needs, the creation of a formal First Nations and Métis Advisory Council, or an Elder’s Council, and annual or as needed meetings between the School Divisions and the ECFNEP to discuss any issues and events.

“The North East School Division is proud to mark a significant milestone for our organization. The Education Services Agreement represent a partnership with the East Central First Nations Education Partnership that began with a need to find equitable ways to support families and resulted in uncovering collaborative and strategic plans for the NESD to strengthen our ability to decolonize,” Lair said. “We are grateful for the sharing and the time spent with the ECFNEP.”

Through these agreements, a strong working relationship has been formed, which can only lead to more improvements to the education of the youth in these communities.

The Education Authority Agreement was signed by Sanderson and Constant of the East Central First Nations Education Partnership (ECFNEP) and by Rob Harvey, Regional Director General of the Saskatchewan Region of Indigenous Services Canada (ISC).

The Agreement signed between the ECFNEP and ISC maintains the Treaty Right to Education. The Agreement has a term of five years which commences on July 1, 2023, and expires on July 1, 2028, unless extended or terminated earlier.

Through this Agreement, the ECFNEP will continue to create a professional and independent First Nations Education System for students, that will improve student outcomes, and at a minimum, meet or exceed provincial standards. Canada will provide consistent and stable funding that will give the ECFNEP the right and ability to decide the direction and quality of education for their students and make tuition agreements with other school divisions.