Children on the 12 reserves joining the Manitoba First Nations School System will enjoy a vastly different school life come September.
There are 70 resource teachers training to work next fall with indigenous students who've been denied for generations the same quality of education as kids in public schools.
Teachers with low pay at First Nations schools who've been looking for a job in the city and teachers who may never have considered working on a reserve school now will receive the same pay and benefits they'd get in a public school division.
There'll be new learning materials, training for teachers in indigenous languages, likely the first music and art teachers that children on 12 Manitoba First Nations have ever seen.
Come September, children on 12 Manitoba First Nations will enjoy a quality education funded at $18,000 per student — a fortune compared to the traditional federal funding that's been far below the $13,016 average in the provincial system, often cited as $4,500 less per child, or sometimes even a greater disparity.
The goal is the same kind of education every Canadian takes for granted, so that, "once a young person leaves the community, they're able to compete in society," said Lorne Keeper, executive director of the Manitoba First Nations Education Resource Centre.
Ottawa is funding the dozen schools that are forming the equivalent of a school division at roughly the same per-student rate as the public Frontier School Division.
"We have the same demographics, the same geography as Frontier," said Keeper. "We put out a call, there's going to be an opportunity for communities to come on board as a school division concept."
"We just hired a transportation person who will co-ordinate all 12 schools," said Murdock, the director of system development, a chief superintendent in all but title. There's a consultant on land-based education, and the first maintenance director these schools have ever had.
"They're training 70 resource teachers," said Murdock. If that sounds like a lot of people across 12 schools, "They're starting from a deficit."
Said Keeper: "Land-based education is important for communities. All the communities need help, and want help."
"A lot of it will go to salaries," Murdock said. "Teachers across the board are severely underpaid. Some are 40 per cent (of public school teachers) — it's amazing how low salaries are."
Overnight, reserve schools will be able to compete for scarce indigenous language teachers with city schools that have discovered offering Cree and Ojibway bilingual programs can pack classrooms.
If this sounds as though Ottawa has made First Nations an offer they can't refuse, some Manitoba reserves have held back over a crucial aspect of treaty rights, Murdock said. "People talk about treaty rights to education and local control — some people see this as giving up local control."
Of the 12, only Sagkeeng and Pinaymootang First Nation in Fairford currently have high schools. Even there, some kids go to provincial high schools.
"They haven't been able to run full high schools, because they haven't had the money to hire teachers. Many of them can't afford to hire guidance counsellors — it will probably be mandatory to hire guidance counsellors," Murdock said.
The 12 schools are mainly in the south Interlake, running from Lac Brochet to Roseau River. The MFNERC has been managing Roseau River's school for the past five years.
"I'm sure there are many schools wanting to come on board," Keeper said. "All the money stays here. They get an allocation; they decide how to spend it." The money must all be spent on education, and cannot be diverted to other community needs regardless how urgent.
Meanwhile, Johnston said the latest attempt at a long-proposed aboriginal public school division in Winnipeg doesn't seem to be getting any traction.
"I wasn't surprised that it doesn't appear that not too much came of that."
The most recent proponents didn't seek support from large organizations, he said: "Those interests weren't officially represented."
Nevertheless, he said, the demand and potential for an aboriginal public school division are there. Children of the Earth and Niji Makhwa schools could easily become the first, Johnston said."There's no shortage of interest in doing these things."