March 23, 2021
By Dr. Ashley Sisco, Jana George, & Alisha Fowler, Sisco & Associates Consulting Services Inc. – Special to the FNWSC
First Nations have always had their own ways of gathering, protecting and using their knowledge and information. However, Canada has continuously ignored First Nations sovereignty.
Education data sovereignty is not an exception.
Data sovereignty is defined as the right to manage information in accordance with a community’s unique laws, customs and culturally-relevant practices. Data is key to self-determination because it provides evidence to influence decision-making.
Canada’s education system determines educational success and funding based on indicators such as attendance, grades, standardized tests and graduation rates. These indicators reinforce European values and undermine Indigenous worldviews. Yet, First Nations are forced to conform to these indicators in education. Funding shortages have prevented First Nations from consistently collecting the data that connects learning outcomes to community goals.
The First Nations With Schools Collective (FNWSC)— a group of eight First Nations in Ontario working together to advance shared goals in lifelong learning — is asserting data sovereignty through redefining how First Nations’ lifelong learning is measured.
For FNWSC First Nations, the purpose of education is to support individuals, family and community members in reaching their full potential, based on their individual goals. Member First Nations share common educational goals, impacts and measures, which differ from Canada. However, due to chronic federal funding shortfalls, they have not had the capacity to collect data using their own lifelong learning measures and build the comprehensive data systems comparable to provincial data systems.
Our firm, Sisco & Associates Consulting Services (SISCO), has been honoured to support the FNWSC First Nations in developing their data sovereignty capacity. Through this pilot project, the FNWSC is building on conventional student achievement measures by adding community-defined goals and indicators. The purpose of this work is for the FNWSC First Nations to be able to measure and support their learning journeys, as well as advocate for federal funding in a meaningful way for their communities.
Throughout this process, our team experienced a few “aha moments” that gave us important insight into FNWSC community values and visions for learning.
- FNWSC member First Nations define lifelong learning as an ongoing process that supports individuals in developing strengths, realizing their potentials and contributing to their communities. This is in contrast to the Canadian system, which is designed to train students to support the economy.
- For FNWSC First Nations, learning occurs from pre-birth to post-death, not solely confined to a period of someone’s life (e.g. Kindergarten to Grade 12). It is not confined to the classroom but happens everywhere, especially in the community.
- Education is all around us. It is what an individual learns from every experience in daily life. FNWSC First Nations currently collect data by areas like social services, economic development, and health separately from education because funding authorities require it this way. What we learned is that in order to understand lifelong learning this data should be collected and considered together as indicators of success.
First Nations need both adequate funding for and control over First Nations education.
If Canada is serious about reconciliation, it must respect First Nations jurisdiction to define and measure lifelong learning and uphold federal funding obligations for First Nations education.
As a next step, Canada must make space at intergovernmental tables for First Nations as sovereign Nations with self-governments of equal decision-making power.