Quotes re Unequal Service

The inequality in special education services between First Nations and non-First Nations communities is well documented. This disparity in service levels has been discussed in a number of reports and academic papers. Key passages from some of those materials are excerpted below:

“The per pupil amount approach to funding for special education adopted by INAC does not reflect the incidence of high needs or the costs of particular supports, including educational assistants, that some students need.”1

“In 2008 First Nations students with special needs attending schools on reserves (i.e., First Nations) throughout Canada did not have available to them the level of special education services found in provincial school systems.”2

“At no time has INAC provided adequate funding to provide a provincial/territorial level of special education services for First Nations schools.”3

“As of 2004, INAC reported that it would be investing $101 million in special education for First Nations students nationally … the amount being provided is reflective of service levels well below current provincial norms when the very high incidence rates in First Nations student populations is taken into consideration, and is well below any reasonable estimate of overall assessment and service need in First Nations communities.”4

“Changes are needed to current funding levels if First Nations students are to have a chance to ‘catch up’ with mainstream Canadian students, and catch up in a way that respects and reinforces their identity as Aboriginal persons.”5

“…the entire spectrum of educationally relevant handicaps and exceptionalities needs to be funded adequately and appropriately, taking due account of dramatically higher incidence levels of such conditions in general, and especially of some of the most costly types of handicaps and exceptionalities in the First Nations population. Indeed, the lack until very recently of any funding of special education services for First Nations students studying in their home communities can only be described as scandalous, given the adoption and funding of mandatory special education services founded on the principle of an appropriate education at public expense for all children by every province in Canada during or before, the early 1980s.”6

“…the slightly more than $100 million per year being invested by INAC in First Nations special education remains, in our view, disproportionately small in comparison to needs …”7

“…nothing existed – or exists today in most First Nations – which could be compared to the guaranteed right to appropriate education at public expense in provincial education systems. This tragic status quo in special education continues to be a blight on First Nations education.”8

“…the Indian Act accords no rights to appropriate education to any First Nations students, much less to First Nations students with special needs.”9

“Other citizens of Canada who send their children with special needs to schools can turn to provincial education laws to ensure that their children receive special education programs and services. However, First Nations parents on reserves do not have this option.”10

“Diseconomy of scale factors, particularly small school and class sizes and dispersion over geographical space of schools (we assume a quasi- school board model) require funding that is adequate and appropriate. … Teacher salaries and benefits need to be comparable to provincial remuneration levels.”11

“Despite many years and countless policies, commitments, proposals, studies, and reports, First Nations schools and students lack a comprehensive system of special education throughout Canada.”12

“The First Nations schools are expected to provide the provincial level of special education services but are not given provincial levels of special education funding.”13

“We respectfully request that the matter of education funding for First Nations students with special needs be re-opened and that funding be restructured to recognize the real costs of providing First Nations students with the support to which they are entitled. [Aboriginal Affairs’] mandate includes ensuring that First Nations receive services comparable to those available to other Canadian residents. Equitable treatment for students with special needs is one of these services.”14

“Some of the more startling gaps in the education provided to First Nation students found by the Panel were: … Absence of any meaningful or functioning special needs system to support the quick assessment and diagnosis of special needs and to provide effective supports for children with special needs, including a requirement for an individual learning plan, consistent resources (trained teaching assistants, personal support workers), or therapeutic supports such as speech pathology, occupational therapy, and modifications to the school curriculum or teaching methods to allow the child to learn and prosper and reach their full potential.”15 


  1. President of the Ontario Public School Boards’ Association, Letter dated 2006 []
  2. Ron Phillips, “Special Education in First Nations Schools in Canada: Policies of Cost Containment” Alberta Journal of Educational Research, Vol. 56, No. 1, Spring 2010, 72-81, at 72 []
  3. Phillips, ibid. at 77 []
  4. Jerry Paquette and Gérald Falon, First Nations Education Policy in Canada, Progress of Gridlock (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2010) at 231; see also: Jerry Paquette and William J. Smith, “Equal Educational Opportunity for Native Students: Funding the Dream,” Canadian Journal of Native Education (2001) vol. 25, no. 2, pg. 129 (stating, at pg. 138: “the federal government needs to invest more than a quarter of a billion dollars annually in special education services for on-reserve status-Indian students across Canada”). []
  5. Paquette, ibid. at 115 []
  6. Paquette, ibid. at 113 []
  7. Paquette, ibid. at 114 []
  8. Paquette, ibid. at 229-130 []
  9. Paquette, ibid. at 228 []
  10. Ron Phillips, “Special Education in First Nations Schools in Canada: Policies of Cost Containment” Alberta Journal of Educational Research, Vol. 56, No. 1, Spring 2010, 72-81, at 76 []
  11. Jerry Paquette and Gérald Falon, First Nations Education Policy in Canada, Progress of Gridlock (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2010) at 115 []
  12. Ron Phillips, “Special Education in First Nations Schools in Canada: Policies of Cost Containment” Alberta Journal of Educational Research, Vol. 56, No. 1, Spring 2010, 72-81, at 77 []
  13. Ron Phillips, Forgotten and Ignored: Special Education in First Nations Schools in Canada, Canadian Journal of Educational Administration and Policy, Issue 106, June 7, 2010, at 21 []
  14. President of the Ontario Public School Boards’ Association, Letter dated 2006 []
  15. Report of the National Panel on First Nation Elementary and Secondary Education for Students on Reserve []