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A 600km Commute

Tansi Nîtôtemtik,

Imagine being 13 years old, packing your bags, and moving away from home. You are being sent to live at a boarding house, hours away from your family and friends in a new city. Imagine that you are required to do this because you have aged out of your school system, and to attend and graduate high school you need to move to a new community. When you picture this scenario, did you imagine yourself in the year 2022?

For many First Nation students, high school means growing up quickly. According to a study by the Fraser Institute, 40% of First Nation students who live on reserve currently attend school off reserve through the provincial system.[1] First Nation students attend off-reserve schools for a variety of reasons, but most often, it is because there is no school available within their community. This infrastructure shortfall can result in some students traveling hundreds of kilometers to spend the school year boarding with another family, hours away from their parents and support system.[2]

To begin the 2022 school year Deni Sinclair, Shaylene Bruce, Shaudria Yellowback & Kingsley Yellowback all moved to Winnipeg because their First Nations do not have a secondary school program. Shaundria is 600KM from home while Deni is a 5-hour drive away. Image courtesy of:

Educational outcomes for on-reserve children attending provincially funded schools are not substantially better than those attending First Nation schools. In fact, there is a marked decline in student retention once students enroll in secondary school programs off-reserve.[3] Students cite difficulty in adapting, experiencing isolation, discrimination, and lack of acceptance and support for their unique cultural identity and circumstances as their reasons for dropping out. [4]

School mobility, the process of changing schools, is a challenging life event for any child. School mobility, even within communities, can have negative effects on a child’s academic success.[5] School mobility impacts their academic achievement because children must adapt to new environments, teachers, and combat loneliness due to the loss of peers and support groups.[6] School mobility increases the odds of repeating a grade to twice as high among students who are not required to change schools.[7] It is cited as a contributing factor to the low high school completion rates among Indigenous people.[8]

The other side of the story is that many First Nation communities end up losing not only the high school students but also their families, as many families will end up moving out of the community to be with and support their children during their high school years.[9] The lack of educational resources impacts the community’s development and growth as young families choose to leave the community, and perhaps not return.[10]

Call to Action #10 calls on the Federal Government to develop new legislation in regard to Aboriginal Education that includes a commitment to funding that will improve educational attainment levels and success rates within one generation. From this call to action, things are slowly improving. On October 27th, 2022 Poplar River First Nation announced that they would be opening a new high school, meaning that high school students will no longer have to travel outside the community to pursue their education. The new high school is a step towards achieving Call to Action #10, by creating education programs and support for both students and families within their own community.[11] Earlier this year, the community of Anacla announced the extension of the local school to grade 12. The extension will open doors not only for high school students to stay in the community, but also brings hope that families who had previously moved for their children’s education, will return back to the community.[12]

In a country where we pride ourselves on having one of the best education systems in the world, the federal government is failing our First Nation students. Going to high school is the right of every child and the federal government is not upholding its promise to fund and maintain schools for Indigenous children, resulting in children and their families who want to live on reserve being left behind.

[1] Ravina Bains, “Myths and Realities of First Nation Education” (August 2014), online: Center for Aboriginal Policy Studies <>

[2] “Out There: First Nations kids are traveling hundreds of kilometers to attend high school” (4 April 2016) online: The Doc Project: CBC

[3] Ravina Bains, “Myths and Realities of First Nations Education” (August 2014) online (pdf): Centre of Aboriginal Policy Studies

[4] “Nurturing The Learning Spirit of First Nations Students: The Report of the National Panel on First Nation Elementary and Secondary Education for Students on Reserve” (2011) online (pdf): AFN at 14.

[5] Annie Turner and Amanda Thompson, “School Mobility and educational outcomes of off-reserve First Nation students” (30 November 2015), online: StatsCan <> [School Mobility].

[6] School Mobility, ibid.

[7] School Mobility, ibid.

[8] School Mobility, ibid.

[9] Eric Plummer, “Bamfield brings in high school grades,”Ha-Shilth-Sa (7 July 2022) online: <>

[10] Michael Franklin, “B.C. school shuts doors for good because of low enrollment,” CTV News (30 June 2016) online: <>.

[11] “New School provides education closer to home for high school students in Popular River First Nation” Indian Time (27 October 2022) online: India

[12] Plummer, supra note 1.

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