05/06/2014 02:40 EDT | Updated 07/06/2014 05:59 EDT

First Nations education needs action now, says Cindy Blackstock

Reports of the dismal conditions related to inequitable education funding on reserves keep pouring in. Ceiling tiles are falling in on students, there's no money for books or computers. 

Children are being taught special education in furnace rooms or attending school in shifts due to over-crowded conditions. On-reserve teachers are taking up second jobs just to make ends meet.

Meanwhile, back in Ottawa, the federal government promises new money for education starting two years from now and then tells First Nations they have to agree to a very controversial piece of legislation in order to get the funds.

When the expected controversy reaches a boiling point, the federal government puts the whole bill and the money on hold. It is no wonder why last year the prestigious KidsRights Foundation ranked Canada 60th in terms of rights. 

Aboriginal Affairs Minister Valcourt recently said, “I am disturbed that they would play politics on the backs of First Nation children.” That is a bit rich coming from a government that has been in power for eight years and only promises desperately needed education funds after the next election. 

Moreover, that statement lies in direct contrast with the government’s actions at the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal where it is vigorously defending inequitable child welfare funding on reserves even though government documents and officials confirm the under-funding and its tragic links to children going into foster care unnecessarily. 

This whole mess leaves me with one key question – if children really are a top priority for the federal government then why are they holding back the money?

Adam, a Grade 3 student at Kashechewan First Nation wants to know that too. He writes, “When I grow up I want to be a police officer because I will put bad guys in jail. I like school because we do art and recess. I need school because I need to learn. You promised native people to get a school – its not fair for native people to lose school. I need to go to college to be a police officer.”

Canadians of every political stripe are fair-minded people who love children so its time we stop letting the federal government get away with these excuses while children suffer.

The children deserve proper funding for education, health and child welfare on reserves while they still have a childhood.