Are We Making Progress? New Evidence on Aboriginal Education Outcomes in Provincial and Reserve Schools

24 Pages Posted: 2 May 2014

See all articles by John Richards

John Richards

Simon Fraser University (SFU)

Date Written: April 30, 2014


This Commentary summarizes new evidence on Aboriginal education from the National Household Survey (NHS) that accompanied the 2011 census. There is some good news: young adults aged 20-24 at the time of the census who identified as North American Indian/First Nation and were living off-reserve, and those who identified as Métis, had considerably lower rates of incomplete secondary studies in 2011 than at the time of the previous census in 2006. The good news needs to be qualified. First, the incomplete secondary studies statistic for the off-reserve Indian/FN population is still three times the rate for young non-Aboriginals (30 percent relative to 10 percent) and the Métis rate is twice as high (20 percent relative to 10 percent). The report card for the provincial school systems might be “making progress, need to do better.” The second and more serious qualification is that the rate of incomplete secondary studies remains extremely high (58 percent) for young Indian/FN living on-reserve, and has declined little since 2006. While there is great variation in student performance among the 500 on-reserve schools across Canada, their overall report card is “inadequate, need to make major improvements.” National averages hide provincial variations. The six provinces from Quebec to British Columbia are home to almost 90 percent of Canada’s Aboriginal population. In Manitoba, the incomplete rate among young Indian/FN adults living on-reserve is 12.3 points above the national average (which is 58.0 percent); the BC rate is 17.3 points below the national average – a 30 point range. Outcomes in British Columbia and Ontario are uniformly better than the national average for all Aboriginal groups; in the Prairie provinces they are generally worse. Outcomes in Quebec are mixed: worse than average for Indian/FN on-reserve, better than average for Indian/FN off-reserve. In 2011, the federal government launched a major initiative intended to provide a legislative framework for organizing reserve schools and for enabling creation of reserve-based equivalents of provincial school districts. One motivation was the persistence of consistently low on-reserve high-school completion rates. BC’s policy innovations over the last two decades have not been a panacea, but the province’s above-average on-reserve education outcomes are another motivation. At time of writing (April 2014), Ottawa has tabled legislation, the First Nations Control of First Nations Education Act (Bill C-33). The AFN has lent qualified support to the legislation; many chiefs have voiced opposition, and the bill’s fate is uncertain. In the author’s opinion, Bill C-33 is an important legislative advance and deserves broad Parliamentary support.

Keywords: Social Policy, Education Paper

JEL Classification: I20, I24, I25, I28

Suggested Citation

Richards, John, Are We Making Progress? New Evidence on Aboriginal Education Outcomes in Provincial and Reserve Schools (April 30, 2014). C.D. Howe Institute Commentary No. 408, Available at SSRN: or

John Richards (Contact Author)

Simon Fraser University (SFU) ( email )

8888 University Drive
Burnaby, British Columbia V5A 1S6

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