The four Maskwacis Cree Nations signed what was called a “landmark” agreement with the federal government on Friday, which would allow them to take control of First Nations education in the community.

At a ceremony at Bear Park, Chiefs from Ermineskin Cree Nation, Louis Bull Tribe, Montana First Nation and Samson Cree Nation all signed to form the Maskwacis Education Schools Commission (MESC), a single education authority that will oversee 11 schools and more than 2,300 students.

Signatories also included Jane Philpott, Minister of Indigenous Services; MESC board chair Nina Makinaw and MESC superintendent Brian Wildcat.

MESC, which will be fully operating by the 2018-19 school year, will be able to adopt Cree language and culture into the Alberta curriculum. The long-term goal is to write a curriculum of its own, that includes Treaty education, Maskwacis history and residential school history.

“This is a positive change for the community. This agreement is going to give us an opportunity to make a big difference …with building our Cree language and culture into the schools, also to help us with student achievement,” said Wildcat.

Wildcat said the agreement was also one of the final steps in reconciliation.

“This is the end result. The residential schools was something that was imposed by an external force into the community, as (Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde) said in his speech, we didn’t ask for that,” he said.

“What we’re doing here is exercising our treaty right to manage our own education system, set our own priorities to meet the needs within the communities. We want to be the best schools for the kids that come to our schools.”

Funding for Maskwacis schools is also about to change from the current policy where schools must submit grant applications for every new program they want to develop.

The new agreement comes with a 10-year commitment to full funding for Maskwacis schools that will increase total funding by 17 per cent.

“This is a complete transformation in that regard. This is a long-term agreement over 10 years and it will make sure the funding is adequate and fair. There will be funding for language and culture, there will funding for full-day kindergarten, there will be funding for on-the-land training,” Philpott said.

“The way that these schools and the board will work together to develop a curriculum and make sure there’s professional development training, all of that put together is an essential part of what will make it successful.”