Making Aboriginal education a priority!
Aboriginal education has long been neglected by the Canadian government. Despite a rise in the educational level of Aboriginal people, there are still striking discrepancies between the educational level of aboriginal Canadians and that of non-Aboriginals. Gaps in curricula across Canada today make Aboriginal education initiatives more necessary and important than ever. Of note, the Canadian government has committed to enhancing the First Nations Education Infrastructure Fund for 2016-2017.
The Canadian Teachers’ Federation (CTF) and its Member
organizations have initiated various actions to encourage and support Aboriginal
people with regard to education, including the development of tools,
publications and initiatives related to Aboriginal education. These help Member
organizations to better address their members’ needs and to better inform and
educate parents and communities. Below are some of the many activities conducted by CTF
and its Member organizations.
In 2007, the House of Commons adopted Jordan’s Principle, a child‑first principle stating that jurisdictional disputes related to the payment of health expenses must not impede the provision of services to Aboriginal children. This principle was adopted after the death of Jordan River Anderson, an Aboriginal child with a severe neuromuscular disorder. Jordan died in hospital at the age of 5, without having spent a single day in the family home. Neither the federal nor the provincial government wanted to pay for his at-home care. When Jordan died, the dispute was still unresolved. Sadly, Jordan’s Principle, designed to ensure First Nations children receive equitable access to health care, was never fully implemented. However, in a historic decision issued on January 26, 2016, the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal found the Canadian government guilty of discrimination against Aboriginal children and their families, and ordered the full implementation of Jordan’s Principle.
Every child should be entitled to a quality education and a supportive learning environment. Initiatives like Shannen’s Dream, a campaign set up in response to the efforts of a young Aboriginal woman, Shannen Koostachin, are therefore all the more important. Such initiatives ensure that the educational needs and rights of Aboriginal children and youth are heard and respected. Shannen Koostachin was a young Aboriginal activist who dreamed that Aboriginal children would have access to safe and comfortable schools, and to a culturally relevant education. After the only school in her community of Attawapiskat was closed because of contaminated ground, portable trailers were put up instead. For over nine years, students had to attend school in these portable classrooms that were becoming more and more run down. The federal government had promised a new school, but did not keep its promise. Tired of waiting, Shannen decided to do something and launched the Attawapiskat School Campaign. Unfortunately Shannen died tragically shortly afterwards in a car accident without being able to see her dream come true. But the campaign continued under the name Shannen’s Dream, and the new school opened in August 2014. Shannen’s Dream reminds us of the importance of supporting Aboriginal communities and youth, and of investing in their education.
Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario
The Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO) has implemented several initiatives for its members, supporting Aboriginal education and Aboriginal students, including workshops, tools to incorporate Aboriginal content in the curriculum, brochures, symposiums, and leadership opportunities for First Nations, Métis and Inuit women. (See the article by Rachel Mischene in this issue of Perspectives.) For more information, visit the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario website.
Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation
In addition to supporting Saskatoon Public Schools’ objective to help Aboriginal students to develop skills in contemporary and traditional music, song, dance and storytelling through mentoring and performance, the Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation (STF) has implemented many initiatives in support of Aboriginal students. Renée Carrière, a science teacher from STF, started to incorporate aspects of Aboriginal culture into her class to engage students and increase success rates. STF also provides teachers with professional development opportunities on how to incorporate Aboriginal education in the classroom. Saskatchewan teachers and school administrators took part in the “We Are All Treaty People” project established by the Government of Saskatchewan and the Office of the Treaty Commissioner to incorporate the teaching of treaties in K-12 curriculum. See the Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation website for more information.
Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association
Each year, the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association (OECTA) hosts a workshop on human rights before its annual general meeting. The 2016 workshop focused on the blanket exercise from KAIROS to raise participants’ awareness of the history of Aboriginal rights. For more information, visit the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association website.
The Manitoba Teachers’ Society
With the help of retired teacher Mark Blieske, the Lockport School in St. Andrews, Manitoba, hosted a workshop called Tillikum Lens/Paddles Across Canada. This initiative led by the Tillikum Lens Project aims to motivate and inspire Aboriginal students by showing them the power of photography to tell their story. Visit The Manitoba Teachers’ Society website to learn more about its initiatives and activities.
The Alberta Teachers’ Association
In addition to supporting First Nations, Métis and Inuit education, The Alberta Teachers’ Association holds an annual conference, the Annual Diversity, Equity and Human Rights Conference for Locals. It also offers subsidies in support of diversity, equity and human rights. Visit The Alberta Teachers’ Association website for more information.
Yukon Teachers’ Association
The Yukon Teachers’ Association supports Aboriginal education by providing teachers with the tools they need to better help their students, including access to the Yukon Native Language Centre, which offers linguistic training to teachers. The Association is also working to ensure that the new curriculum coming into effect in June 2016 will respect and represent the Yukon context and the perspectives of Yukon’s First Nations. The Association also supports Aboriginal students in their schooling through Indspire, a charitable organization that offers scholarships to Aboriginal students. Visit the Yukon Teachers’ Association website for more information.
Northwest Territories Teachers’ Association
The Northwest Territories Teachers’ Association has put in place an initiative called On the Land, which includes all kinds of programs designed to provide students with the opportunity to learn not only in class but also outside the school, in the community. Activities differ according to the teachers who offer them, and may consist in hunting, fishing, canoeing, trapping, etc. The Association also runs an annual compulsory workshop for teachers, designed to raise teachers’ awareness of Aboriginal culture in the Northwest Territories.
In addition, the Northwest Territories, Nunavut and Yukon have incorporated the issue of residential schools into the Grade 10 curriculum from the perspective of their respective Aboriginal peoples. Visit the Northwest Territories Teachers’ Association website for more information.
Canadian Teachers’ Federation
The Canadian Teachers’ Federation (CTF) has carried out a project that supports Aboriginal education. In partnership with Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights, CTF led the collaborative project Speak Truth to Power (STTP) Canada with the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, the Assembly of First Nations and the Inuit Tapiirit Kanatami. STTP Canada is a teacher tool designed to facilitate learning about human rights. Its lesson plans feature Canadian human rights defenders, including Aboriginal leaders: Wilton Littlechild (on the theme of truth and reconciliation), Mary Simon (on the theme of cultural identity and education) and Tim Thompson (on the theme of equitable education for all). Some lesson plans are also written in Aboriginal languages. In addition, together with the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation Commission, CTF is producing a classroom discussion booklet to help students better understand the history of residential schools. The booklet is to be published in the fall of 2016.
The above initiatives and activities are only a sample of what CTF and its Member organizations do to promote Aboriginal education, especially among teachers and students. This important work supports the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s calls to action in education.