Perspectives

CTF President’s Forum: First Nations, Métis and Inuit Education

By Bernie Froese-Germain
October 25, 2013
Untitled Document

The fifth annual CTF President’s Forum held in Ottawa in July was a highly successful two-day event which brought together speakers from First Nations, Métis and Inuit organizations (FNMI), government, the academic community, school boards and teacher organizations. Individual students and teachers also offered their rich and diverse perspectives. The conference was a mix of plenary sessions and table round discussions with a reflection at the end of each day’s events by Elder Gordon Williams.

This is some of what we heard in the table discussions (comments by participants are generally expressed in the words of the recorder).

Key messages regarding First Nations, Métis and Inuit education

Understanding the current realities for Aboriginal students and their families is important in order to frame policy responses to improve the educational experience for these students. A number of themes emerged from the discussions including enhancing parental and community engagement, addressing socio-economic needs, fostering relationships, raising teacher awareness and strengthening teacher capacity, supporting Aboriginal language, culture and values, and funding issues.

Comments from the first series of table discussion rounds include:

  • Residential schools destroyed the parenting skills for an entire generation; we must attempt to rebuild these skills.
  • Greater parental involvement in education will create a strong foundation on which to build student success.
  • Develop relationships and involve schools and communities in education discussions, in decision-making and in all aspects of supporting students.
  • At the school level, we have a good deal of power to take an active role in identifying and addressing challenges in Aboriginal education.
  • Many communities are burdened with serious social problems – as such education may not be perceived as the priority when dealing with pressing issues such as Aboriginal youth suicide.
  • Children should not be living in poverty – we need to address the unacceptably high level of Aboriginal child poverty.
  • Need to build capacity for supporting Aboriginal education among the teaching profession through teacher education programs and ongoing professional development.
  • Need for bridging programs to support Aboriginal students aspiring to become teachers.
  • Aboriginal history needs to be taught in a truthful and authentic manner.
  • Recognition of traditional cultural values needs to be inherent within the school’s curriculum and practices while at the same time preparing for sustainable lives in the “modern” world.
  • Resources, curriculum, pedagogy, etc. have to be culturally meaningful and relevant.
  • The loss of Aboriginal culture and language are critical issues that must be addressed.
  • Need to help children feel valued for who they are, their language and their culture, so they feel they belong.
  • Funding for Aboriginal schools is inferior to funding for provincially funded public schools – need to address this funding inequity.

Federal government role and responsibilities

Here are responses from the second series of discussion rounds which focused on federal government action and assistance to improve FNMI education.

The federal government must:

  • respect all treaties and other agreements between the Crown and Aboriginal people.
  • treat funding for Aboriginal education as an investment not an expense.
  • adequately and sustainably fund education at least to the level of provincially-funded public schools, and provide additional financing to those communities which have greater needs.
  • adequately support the social infrastructure that impacts on schools and education, including but not limited to a national child care program, reduction of income inequality, health care and other poverty reduction programs.
  • provide necessary supports, and then permit Aboriginal peoples to control their own educational system.
  • meet its responsibility to better communicate with and educate the general public on current and historical Aboriginal issues such as education funding; such an education program must serve to correct the distorted view of many Canadians regarding Aboriginal issues.
  • make connections with those they are trying to help; consultation has to be meaningful, authentic and inclusive of all Aboriginal peoples.
  • build authentic equal partnerships with provincial and territorial governments, including representation on the Council of Ministers of Education, Canada (CMEC), in order to be privy to decision making regarding First Nations, Métis and Inuit education.
  • commit to taking proactive and positive action as they have conducted enough studies and prepared enough reports.
  • ensure that any form of education accountability is based on a collaborative model, not on something imposed.

Working together to improve FNMI education

All education partners have a role to play in ensuring success for all Canadian children and youth. The question for the final series of table discussion rounds was: What can we do together to improve educational success for FNMI students?

  • All of us need to learn more about the history and culture of FNMI peoples.
  • Lobby for change within provincial curriculum starting with K-12 so that Aboriginal content is embedded in the curriculum and not treated as an add-on (indigenizing curriculum).
  • Teacher education (pre- and in-service) should include a focus on age/grade-appropriate teaching methods with respect to these issues.
  • We need to incorporate Aboriginal ways of learning and knowing to improve public education for everyone; we also need to recognize and value traditional Indigenous knowledge and skills in our post-secondary institutions.
  • Ensure the Aboriginal voice is represented at all levels, including in teacher organizations; we also need to educate the decision-makers in our respective teacher organizations.
  • As teachers are strong advocates for social justice, we need to recognize the impact that teachers and teacher organizations can have on changing practice and use that power to effect change.
  • We need to strategize using rigorous research to back up our statements.
  • We need to build stronger partnerships with Indigenous organizations such as tribal councils.
  • We need to break the silence and start having courageous conversations, recognizing that people are uncomfortable with the reality of such things as the tragic impact of the residential school system; challenging the notion that it is “their” problem.
  • It’s all about fostering relationships and making connections, teachers investing time in getting to know individual students.
  • This is a broad societal issue – while education has an important role to play the responsibility extends beyond the education system. Those with the highest needs have little access to social services.
  • The Elders have taught us that if our hearts and intentions are in the right place, it is important to act even if all the plans are not fully in place.
  • Invite the federal/provincial/territorial governments to the table to develop a plan of action for improving educational success for Indigenous Canadians with direct involvement of Indigenous peoples in every step of the process.

In his final reflection, Elder Gordon Williams stated that more advocacy and collaboration is needed at all levels. There is no lack of information regarding FNMI education; it’s more a question of putting what we already know into action. Elder Williams left us with this message: “We leave with a different perspective, a challenge to go forward and do the best we can to improve First Nations, Métis and Inuit education.”

Bernie Froese-Germain is a Researcher with the Canadian Teachers’ Federation.

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