Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau is promising $2.6-billion of new funding over four years that he says would help close the funding gap that separates First Nations children from other kids.

First Nations students, whose education is funded federally, get far less per capita than students in provincial systems, he said in a speech to supporters in Saskatoon.

“As a result, First Nations students are falling behind in reading, writing and numeracy, and less than half of all first nations students on reserves graduate from high school,” he said.

“Canadians know that’s just not right.”

Trudeau is promising an immediate new investment of $515 million per year in core annual funding for First Nations kids in Kindergarten through Grade 12. That would rise to over $750 million per year by the end of a Liberal government’s first term.

The Liberals are also promising a new investment of $500 million over the next three years for First Nations education infrastructure.

On top of that, they say they would make another $50 million available for the Post-Secondary Student Support Program (PSSSP), which provides financial assistance to Indigenous students in post-secondary education.

Trudeau also promised “substantial new funding to support the ability of First Nations to promote, preserve and enhance their languages and cultures.”

“Knowledge of one’s language is directly related to better physical, mental and spiritual health,” he said.

Trudeau emphasized that First Nations people would be put in control of their education, instead of having it directed by Ottawa.

The Liberal leader also said that he would invest in areas beyond education, after engaging in a “nation-to-nation dialogue,” similar to that which led to the Kelowna Accord.

The Kelowna Accord was an agreement made in 2005 between Liberal Prime Minister Paul Martin and indigenous communities that included a commitment to spend $5 billion over five years on aboriginal health, education, housing and more.

Stephen Harper’s Conservatives took control of the government in 2006 and have not fully implemented the previous government’s funding promises.

Trudeau said he was committed to “immediately reengage in a renewed, respectful and inclusive nation-to-nation Kelowna process,” because he believes “the best education system in the world means nothing if you don’t have safe drinking water or a safe place to live.”

Among the things he expects on the agenda would be issues like housing, infrastructure, health and mental health care, community safety, policing and child welfare, he said.

Asked how he would pay for the new spending, Trudeau said that leaving young people “out of Canada’s success” hurts the economy.

“If you think education is expensive, try ignorance and see how expensive that is,” he said.

When pressed again on how he would pay for the plan, Trudeau said, “the Liberal party is committed to balance the budget (but) how long it takes to do that depends on the size of the mess Mr. Harper has left behind.”

Trudeau also pointed out that he would raise taxes for the “wealthiest one per cent” and stop sending child care benefit cheques “to millionaires.”

‘A better plan,’ says AFN leader

Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde said he will work with whoever is elected on Oct. 19, but so far the Liberals’ announcement is “a better plan” than what the Conservatives have proposed.

Bellegarde said a “bilateral process” would be needed to “make sure that they get their numbers right,” but that “right now the Liberals have a better plan because the monies are immediately accessible and it's not tied into any legislation.”

The Conservatives’ proposed First Nations Control of First Nations Education Act was unsupported by chiefs because it was “unilaterally imposed” and “didn't speak to Indian control of Indian education,” according to Bellegarde.

“I would encourage the other parties as well to make similar commitments and similar announcements,” he added.