Opening Statement to the Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples

Indian and Northern Affairs Canada—Education Program and Post-Secondary Student Support

(Chapter 5—November 2004 Report of the Auditor General)

12 May 2010

Sheila Fraser, FCA
Auditor General of Canada

Mr. Chair, thank you for this opportunity to discuss our Office’s work related to First Nations Education. With me today are Ronnie Campbell, Assistant Auditor General, and Frank Barrett, the Principal responsible for our work in Indian and Northern Affairs Canada, or INAC.

Education is critical to improving the social and economic strength of First Nations individuals to a level enjoyed by other Canadians. Numerous studies have stressed the importance and benefits of post-secondary education. The Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples linked it to capacity building, human resource development, and self-government. The importance of capacity building has been raised in our past audits. In 2006, we noted that the federal government's success in implementing many of our recommendations has depended in large part on the capacity of the First Nations to implement programs in their own communities.

We have not conducted work on First Nations education since 2004. In 2000, we audited INAC’s program to provide elementary and secondary education to First Nations. Among other observations, we found that the Department could not demonstrate whether it was meeting its stated objective to assist First Nations students living on reserves in achieving their education needs and aspirations. We also found a significant gap in educational achievement between Indian students and non-Indian students. The education gap refers to the proportion of First Nations people living on reserves over the age of 15 with at least a high school diploma, compared with the proportion in the overall Canadian population. We recommended that an action plan be implemented to close the gap.

In 2004, we followed up on recommendations and observations from our 2000 audit and also included the Post-Secondary Student Support Program in our audit scope. We found that the situation had not improved since 2000. By 2004, the education gap had not narrowed, and the time estimated to close that gap had actually increased from 27 to 28 years.

Despite its commitments, we found that the Department had made limited progress in the way it supported, administered, and reported on its Elementary and Secondary Education Program for students living on reserves. The Department still had not defined its role and responsibilities with respect to education.

Our 2004 audit also found significant weaknesses in the Department’s Post-Secondary Student Support Program. We reported that the way INAC allocated funds to First Nations did not ensure equitable access to as many students as possible, and the Department did not know whether those funds had been used for the purpose intended. As with its Elementary and Secondary Education Program, the Department had not clearly defined its roles and responsibilities.

We have not conducted any additional audit work in this area since 2004. However, in 2009 INAC conducted two internal audits of these programs—one on the Elementary and Secondary Education Program and another on the Post-Secondary Student Support Program. These audits identified several of the same weaknesses that our audit had found five years earlier.

We are beginning a follow-up audit that will include First Nations education. We will re-visit some of our observations and look at INAC’s progress in implementing some of our past recommendations. We plan to table this chapter in April 2011 and would be pleased to appear at this committee to discuss our findings.

Mr. Chair, that concludes my opening statement. We would be pleased to answer the Committee’s questions.