We call upon the federal government to eliminate the discrepancy in federal education funding for First Nations children being educated on reserves and those First Nations children being educated off reserves.

Indigenous Watchdog Status Update

Current StatusOct. 4, 2021STALLED
Previous StatusSept. 5, 2021STALLED

Why “Stalled”?

The government response still does not directly address funding for education for Indigenous students who are off-reserve

Only 69% of the $2.6B in Budget 2016 of funding dedicated specifically to Primary and Secondary schools is available from 2016 through 2019. The $815M for post-secondary support included in Budget 2019 (5 years for First Nations and 10 years for Métis and Inuit plus an additional $61.8M per year after for the Métis and Inuit is actually LESS than the previous budget allocations for 2017 and 2018 of $90M per year.

Jan. 21, 2019 – The Government of Canada and the AFN announce new policy and funding approach for First Nations K-12 education on reserve to take effect as of April 1, 2019 to support First Nations control of First Nations education, and ensures more predictable and sufficient funding.

Federal Spending on Primary and Secondary Education on First Nations Reserves

Parliamentary Budget Officer

In Canada, education is largely a provincial domain. The notable exception is education for First Nations students living on reserve. This responsibility falls squarely with the Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs (INAC).  After comparing and analyzing data on federal and provincial education spending, PBO found evidence that INAC funding mechanisms:

  • do not adequately take into account important cost drivers for band-operated schools;
  • favour students living on reserves who attend provincial schools; and
  • put band-operated schools in remote northern regions at significant disadvantage.

The funding shortfall – the difference between INAC funding and funding that would occur under the provincial formula — is the result of INAC not adequately costing for operating small schools in remote northern regions. In addition, band schools face higher costs because of:

  • higher incidence of socio-economic disadvantage;
  • commitments to provide culturally relevant instruction in indigenous languages; and
  • large numbers of students for whom English or French is a second language.
  • The incidence of children requiring special education support is also higher.

PBO estimates that in the medium term, new investments in education program spending announced in Budget 2016 could begin to address funding shortfalls for band-operated schools.

High and Low PBO Estimates of Funding Shortfalls to Band-operated Schools and Recent Budget Announcements:

  • Actual 2016 Budget: $2,600.8B
  • Low PBO Estimate: $1,799.4B
  • High PBO Estimate: $3,520.3

Federal Budgets for First Nations Education

Budget 2016
Budget 2016 20162017201820192020Total
Addressing Immediate Funding Needs35.885.5143.6206.7276.0747.6
Language and Culture55.
Literacy and Numeracy20.
Special Needs115.5115.5115.5115.5115.5577.5
Implementing Transformation46.691.4132.8234.3319.0824.1
Innovation, Research, Measurement & Evaluation7.
Martin Family Initiative6.
Administrative Costs1.

1st Term: $1,799.8 = 69% of budget: 31% after 2019 election


Budget 2017
  • $90M per year for 2 years for Post Secondary Education Support
  • $25M per year for 5 years for Indspire scholarships
Budget 2019

Budget 2019 announced $824 million over 10 years, starting in fiscal year 2019 to 2020, and $61.8 million ongoing in support of Indigenous post-secondary education. This includes:

  • $327.5 million over 5 years to support First Nations post-secondary students and the development of regional education strategies
  • $125.5 million over 10 years and $21.8 million ongoing to support an Inuit-led post-secondary strategy
  • $362.0 million over 10 years and $40 million ongoing to support a Métis-Nation strategy

This is considerably less than the $90M in annual pre-pandemic funding for Post Secondary Support Program.

Budget 2021

Budget 2021 proposes to invest $1.2 billion over five years, and $181.8 million ongoing, including:

  • $112 million in 2021-22 to extend COVID-19 support so children on reserve can continue to attend school safely, including PPE for students and staff, laptops to support online learning, and more teachers and other critical staff.
  • $726 million over five years, starting in 2021-22, and $181.8 million ongoing:
    • to enhance funding formulas in critical areas such as student transportation;
    • ensure funding for First Nations schools remains predictable from year to year; and
    • increase First Nations control over First Nations education by concluding more Regional Education Agreements.
  • $350 million over five years, starting in 2021-22, to expand access to adult education by supporting First Nations people on reserve who wish to return to high school in their communities and complete their high school education.

Supporting Indigenous Post-secondary Education

The pandemic continues to affect Indigenous post-secondary students and institutions. To help Indigenous students complete their studies and ensure that Indigenous-led post-secondary institutions can provide online services and continue to implement health and safety measures:

  • Budget 2021 proposes to provide $150.6 million over two years, starting in 2021-22, to support Indigenous students through the Post-Secondary Student Support Program and the Inuit and Métis Nation Post-Secondary Education Strategies. Many students are facing financial difficulty during the pandemic, as young people have suffered some of the worst job losses. This support would help offset lost income that many Indigenous students rely on to pay for tuition, books, housing, and other living expenses. The federal government knows that young people need support to get through this crisis so they can complete their education and succeed in their chosen fields. (The $75.3M per year in support is actually LESS than the pre-pandemic support of $90M per year)
  • Budget 2021 also proposes to provide $26.4 million, in 2021-22, through the Post-Secondary Partnerships Program and the Inuit and Métis Nation Post-Secondary Education Strategies to support Indigenous postsecondary institutions during COVID-19.
Federal K-12 Primary and Secondary School Budgets 2013-14 vs 2016-17
Elementary & Secondary Education Program2013-14%2016-17%
Instructional Services$948M60$1,032M53.2
Student Support Services$142M9$162.888.4
Proposal-Based Programs$158M10$234.6212.1
Targeted Programs (Special Ed)$126M8$250.1312.9
Operations and Maintenance$112M7$120.226.2
Band Support Funding, Empl. Benefits, Ed. related est.$92M6$127.976.6
Total Education Budget$1,582100$1,93999.4
Per Capita Funding$15,290$19,010
Government Funding Gap Top-Ups
British Columbia

Dec. 18, 2018 – The ministry is increasing funding to support Indigenous students, bringing the total funding to $89.6 million this year — a $14.7 million increase over last year and a 29% increase over the 2016-17 school year.

Feb. 7, 2020 – Part one of a two-phase plan to improve the way education is delivered in B.C.  following the completion of a comprehensive review that examined ways to ensure every child has equal and consistent access to a quality education. As part of the equity recommendations, Indigenous students will continue to benefit from targeted funding for culturally appropriate support and services. There will also be added accountability through formal processes, so Indigenous parents, communities and governments can provide input into how educational services are delivered to their children. This builds upon ongoing work to prioritize Indigenous students, including a 30% increase in funding since 2016-17.

The Ministry of Education will work collaboratively with school boards and other partners to implement improved public accountability, including ensuring school districts:

  • ensure strategic plans and financial decisions are focused on improving student outcomes and meeting all students’ needs, including inclusive education, Indigenous education, students from low-income families and other vulnerable students.

June 4, 2020 – The Ministry of Children and Family Development is also investing $30 million over three years to help cover monthly living expenses while children and youth in care finish high school or attend post-secondary, life skills and/or rehabilitation programs up to their 27th birthday. “Indigenous children who have aged out of care now have the opportunity to attend any of the 25 public post-secondary institutions, Native Education College or 10 union trades-training providers tuition-free through the Provincial Tuition Waiver Program


July 19, 2019 – Métis Nation–Saskatchewan President Glen McCallum and Minister of Education Dr. Earl Cook announced a new 10-year, $89 million post-secondary fund specifically for Métis students. The new post-secondary fund provides direct financial support for Métis post-secondary students in the form of tuition, books and living allowance. In addition, the fund will support student services and increase education governance capacity at the post-secondary level.

April 7, 2020 – The “Following Their Voices” initiative has been successful in improving First Nations, Métis and Inuit student credit attainment and grad rates at the 34 Saskatchewan schools that are participating in initiative. Since FTV has been put into place in these classrooms, positive outcomes of the initiative include:

  • a 20% increase in credit attainment; and
  • an 11.8% increase in three-year graduation rates.

Following Their Voices offers support to teachers as they build strong and positive relationships with First Nations, Métis and Inuit students.  This is achieved by changing student-teacher relationships and interactions, changing how teachers instruct and what the classroom or learning environment looks and feels like. The initiative partners with provincial and First Nation schools to provide ongoing training and support to school-based teams and teachers.  In addition, a broad representation of Saskatchewan First Nations and Métis Elders and Knowledge Keepers representing all the Indigenous language groups in the province provide ongoing engagement, advice and guidance.


Oct. 23, 2018 – The Manitoba First Nation Education Resource Centre has been helping the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs (AMC) and First Nations leadership analyze funding requirements for First Nation schools to show the true cost of meeting the educational needs of First Nations in Manitoba. Today, Chiefs from across the province are gathering in Thompson for a Chiefs Assembly on First Nations education. The Committee has been developing a Made-in-Manitoba regional funding formula and agreement. The AMC asserts that any education funding formula must include dollars for language and culture and other unique First Nations costs, such as increased levels of resources for transportation and Private Home Placement.


Aug. 23, 2017 – $4.67M from federal government over 3 years plus $5.5M from Ontario for 2017-18 funding in response to First Nations youth safety crisis in Nishnawbe Aski Nation (NAN) territory in Northern Ontario where students must attend high school in Thunder Bay. Some actions being taken as a result of federal investment, in coordination with NAN will include, among others:

Federal Actions

  • Coordinated on call workers programming for students to centralize the best means to respond to and support all NAN community students in Thunder Bay.
  • Increased accommodation rates to match provincial rates and access safe accommodation;
  • Boarding home pilot program so that organizations who know their students can arrange for their housing needs; and
  • An urban-living curriculum to talk about health, safety and succeeding in school away from home. Some actions being taken as a result of provincial investment, in coordination with NAN will include, among others:

Provincial Actions

  • Support for immediate steps to address the safety and wellness of the youth attending school away from their home communities
  • Enhancing existing education options for high school students who wish to continue their education in their communities and providing additional supports for staff and students
  • Ensuring resources are available to accommodate students who wish to continue their education in other urban centres.

Sept. 17, 2019 – Announced the creation of a transparent process – Reciprocal Education Approach (REA) – that will allow all First Nation students to seamlessly access educational pursuits without delay, which will come into effect September 1, 2019 to ensure eligible First Nation students and their families are supported by a consistent and transparent process when they choose to study at a publicly funded school or a First Nation-operated school.

Nov. 13, 2020 – Government is providing $13.5M over 3 years to support First Nation, Métis, Inuit, and urban Indigenous education partners. This funding will provide certainty for school boards while ensuring safe learning environments for Indigenous students – either in person, or through remote and alternative learning options.

  • Safe transitions for students from Nishnawbe Aski Nation and remote communities
  • Land-Based and Elder Programming for First Nation students relocating to larger, urban centers to attend High School so they may access traditional and cultural supports
  • Advancing recommendations from the Seven Youth Inquest including: training and supports for Boarding Home Parents to ensure students have a safe learning environment away from their home communities; culturally-safe learning to support students in completing their Ontario Secondary School Diploma.
  • Creating/Promoting a culturally rich alternative learning program for Métis students through the “River Program,” in partnership with Limestone District School Board, where students participate in ceremonies and other cultural activities and are provided ongoing cultural teachings and support from local Elders and knowledge keepers.
  • Capacity building for the Tungasuvvingat Inuit (TI) to increase access to culturally appropriate supports and resources for Inuit students by strengthening school board relationships, engagement with community members, and improving access to Inuit-specific curriculum resources for all learners. This program also supports Inuit language promotion and explores ways Inuktut can be implemented and strengthened within both the Ontario education system and through services in the Ottawa area.

May 14, 2021Indigenous Services Canada – Grand Council Treaty #3, Canada and Ontario successfully concluded the negotiation of a tripartite education Memorandum of Understanding (MOU)with federal funding of $1.16M and Ontario funding of $360K. The MOU will foster mutual understanding and respect, and will help preserve, support and revitalize the language, culture and identity of Treaty #3 First Nations by supporting First Nations control of education to improve student success for First Nations youth in Northwestern Ontario.

Today’s ceremony…will pave the way for a better educational system for over 1,300 First Nations students who live in Treaty #3 territory. Currently, 17 First Nations in Ontario have signed the agreement. The MOU is flexible and allows other First Nations in Treaty #3 to join in the future should they choose to do so.

Through this agreement, the parties have committed to address efforts to improve education outcomes by focusing on early learning, culturally appropriate education resources, professional development, relationship building and transitioning between First Nations and provincially operated schools.


Oct. 19, 2018 – The First Nations Education Council (FNEC) wishes to begin working closely with new CAQ government over the next four years,

  • The FNEC is an association that is based on the collective strength of its 22 member communities that leads them towards the common goal of offering quality education to all First Nations children.
  • The FNEC helps ensure the academic success of more than 4,600 students attending band schools, as well as many other students enrolled at provincial schools.

In 2011, the FNEC established the Kiuna Institution, the first postsecondary establishment founded by and for First Nations.


June 4, 2021 – The Government of Yukon and the Chiefs Committee on Education (CCOE) announce the finalization of the Yukon First Nation School Board Framework Agreement. Signatories to the agreement, representing 10 Yukon First Nations and the Government of Yukon, seek to address long-standing concerns about unacceptable education outcomes for First Nations students. They also commit to provide high-quality and culturally-appropriate education systems for these students based on an Indigenous world view.

New Policy and Funding Approach for First Nations Education

Jan. 21, 2019 – The Government of Canada and the AFN announce new policy and funding approach for First Nations K-12 education on reserve to take effect as of April 1, 2019 to support First Nations control of First Nations education, and ensures more predictable and sufficient funding that will better support the needs of First Nations students on-reserve. As of April 1, 2019, the new funding approach:

  • replaces outdated proposal-based programs with improved access to predictable core funding
  • ensures base funding is comparable to provincial systems across the country while working towards additional funding agreements based on need to better account for factors such as remoteness, school size, language, and socio-economic conditions
  • provides First Nations schools with $1,500 per student, per year, to support language and culture programming
  • provides new resources which will support full-time kindergarten in every First Nations school for children aged 4 and 5
  • ensures special education funding is more predictable, with fewer application-based requirements


Inuit Tapariit Kanatami Education Funding Position

Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami Pre-Budget Submission 2019: Education Recommendations

6. Post-secondary education: Higher levels of educational attainment are linked to greater social and economic outcomes yet only 14 percent of Inuit have a college or university degree compared to 42 percent of non-Indigenous Canadians. Targeted federal investment in post-secondary education is needed to help close this gap and enhance Inuit earnings, employment, health and wellness.12 ITK submitted a funding proposal to Indigenous Services Canada in September 2018 entitled Inuit Post-Secondary Education: Raising Education Rates that targets the areas required to remedy the multi- faceted barriers to post-secondary educational attainment among Inuit that were documented through the post-secondary program review undertaken by the department following Budget 2017. In order to remedy these challenges ITK is seeking a federal investment of $415 million over 10 years plus $2 million for a ramp-up year (2019-2020), with full implementation to begin in 2020-2021.

7. Inuktut language: ITK is engaged in the co-development of national First Nations, Inuit, and Metis languages legislation with the Government of Canada. Through this initiative we seek to close gaps in resourcing for Inuktut across Inuit Nunangat, especially for the regions of Nunavik and Nunatsiavut that do not currently enjoy federal or provincial financial support for Inuktut.

Budget 2019 should address these issues and invest in priorities identified by Inuit that lay the groundwork for this important bill, including through the following:

Per-pupil Inuktut funding for K-12 language of instruction in the Inuvialuit Settlement Region, Nunavut, Nunavik, and Nunatsiavut, that achieves equivalency in per pupil spending for French and English.

Investment in the provision of Inuktut language services, as well as revitalization, maintenance, and promotion activities, in Nunavik and Nunatsiavut, through bilateral agreements with Makivik Corporation and the Nunatsiavut Government.

AFN Resolutions for Education Reform

AFN Resolution 16/2016Honourable Process to Develop Recommendations to support First Nations Education Reform

Directed the AFN to facilitate an honourable process between First Nations and Indigenous Services Canada. This process included full and meaningful regional First Nation participation to develop recommendations for reforming First Nation education which respects existing regional models and initiatives.

AFN resolution 65/2017 – New interim funding approach for First Nations Education

Outlines the draft funding proposal (co-developed by First Nations) and a Memorandum to Cabinet. The resolution further reaffirms First Nations’ inherent and Treaty rights to education, and insists that jurisdiction over First Nation education remains with each First Nation.

Federal Statistics: First Nations K-12 Education: 2016 – 17

On a per capita basis, INAC (now ISC) provided about $19,010 per FTE student in 2016-2017 for K-12 education operating expenditures. This calculation does not include an investment of an additional $165 million in First Nations education infrastructure for capital projects, targeted projects, and salary or administration expenses on reserve.

First Nations K-12 Education Operating Expenditures: Funding Breakdown per FTE 2016-17

Total K-12 Op. Exp. ($M)$248.1$319.9$324.5$382.7$418.4$167.7$68.8$1,938.7
Total FTE students12,50716,90219,41821,02420,7228,1713,240101,984
Per Capita Funding$19,838$18,924$16,709$18,201$20,193$20,526$21,232$19,010


First Nations K-12 Education: Number of FTE students by type of school (2016-17)

BCAlta.Sask.Man.Ont.P.Q.AtlanticAll% of total
FN Operated Schools4,6399,75215,83415,14312,8846,2301,66166,14265%
Provincial Schools7,1436,8383,5565,6935,9151,5971,53632,27832%
Private/Ind. Schools72524328189525344442,0972%
Federal Schools701,3983,2401,4681%
Total FTE Students12,47216,90219,41821,02420,7228,1713,240101,984100%
FTE = Full-Time Equivalents


Primary and Secondary Schools on Reserve

Province# of Schools<100101-500501-10001000+includes HS
Quality Education Backgrounder – January 23, 2018: Ministry of Indigenous Services

Current Challenge

Significant infrastructure needs for school construction, repair and maintenance on reserve

Point of Progress Since November 2015

140 First Nation education projects are completed or underway. These projects, ranging from school repairs to the building of new schools, benefit more than 120 First Nation communities and 176,000 people.

Official Federal Government Response: Sept. 5, 2019

To help address the education attainment gap, the Government of Canada has made significant investments, totaling $2.6 billion over 5 years for primary and secondary education on reserve. This includes funding to address immediate needs and to keep pace with cost growth over the medium term, as well as investments in language and cultural programming and literacy and numeracy.

The Government of Canada has worked closely with various First Nations partners to implement an inclusive and comprehensive engagement process on First Nations kindergarten to grade 12 education on reserve, including investing $3.6 million to support community-level discussions. The engagements were led by First Nations organizations and provided community members with the opportunity to share their views on how to improve First Nations student success.

On January 21, 2019, a new co-developed policy and improved funding approach to better support the needs of First Nations students on-reserve was announced. As of April 1, 2019, the new funding approach:

  • replaces outdated proposal-based programs with improved access to predictable core funding
  • ensures base funding is comparable to provincial systems across the country while working towards additional funding agreements based on need to better account for factors such as remoteness, school size, language, and socio-economic conditions
  • provides First Nations schools with $1,500 per student, per year, to support language and culture programming
  • provides new resources which will support full-time kindergarten in every First Nations school for children aged 4 and 5
  • ensures special education funding is more predictable, with fewer application-based requirements