Focusing on our First Nations, Métis and Inuit students

Let’s begin by confronting the brutal facts, the education system throughout Canada has failed our aboriginal students. While there may be pockets of excellence scattered across our country, there are too few examples where our aboriginal students are achieving equitable outcomes compared to their non-aboriginal counterparts. The stats are too clear for anyone to dispute this fact.

Holy Spirit Catholic School Division understands this fact and has established a three-year priority that focuses on equitable outcomes for our First Nations, Métis, and Inuit students. This priority has two global goals that ALL schools work on.

  1. By the end of 2019, the gap in achievement between First Nations, Métis, and Inuit students and non-First Nations, Métis and Inuit students will be decreased by, a minimum of, 10%.
  2. By the end of 2019, First Nations, Métis, and Inuit students will feel a better sense of belonging and all students and staff will have a greater understanding of culture, traditions and ceremonies.

The two goals are connected (as you will see) but the first, raising achievement should be the easier to accomplish. We are educators! We understand the importance of creating safe learning environments, delivering engaging curriculum, utilizing innovative teaching strategies and ensuring both support and high expectations are provided. But unfortunately, until we address goal number 2, we will have difficulty in raising the bar and closing the gap. But why?

During the recent white supremacists activities in the United States, a tweet from former President Obama went viral.

No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin or his background or his religion.

There is a part of me that feels a little ashamed (even though I’m Canadian) to be a white man when I watch movies like Mississippi Burning or A Time to Kill and witness the hate toward another human being because of skin color. But I would be arrogant to believe that Canada doesn’t have the same level of racism towards our indigenous peoples. We have a long history of hatred that can be best summed up by the words of Duncan Campbell Scott, head of the Department of Indian Affairs from 1913 -1932

I want to get rid of the Indian problem. I do not think as a matter of fact, that the country ought to continuously protect a class of people who are able to stand alone… Our objective is to continue until there is not a single Indian in Canada that has not been absorbed into the body politic and there is no Indian question, and no Indian Department, that is the whole object of this Bill.

The problem is that many Canadians think this statement is acceptable or only somewhat offensive. We don’t see ourselves as a racist nation and yet we continue to treat our aboriginal people with less dignity and respect than second class citizens. Our history, written by white men, has created a slanted and erroneous view of our indigenous peoples’ contributions to this country. We focus on the result without ever understanding the cause. We lay blame and provide “if only” remedies without ever appreciating the root cause of the misfortunes of our aboriginal people. When the Truth and Reconciliation Committee was released Justice Murray Sinclair stated, “Canada clearly participated in a period of cultural genocide.” 

The legacy of residential schools is a black mark on Canada as a nation. Yet, it continues to be a hidden mystery in our schools, either untouched or superficially taught. And although ugly, it must be taught in our schools to help Canadians better understand our aboriginal people. A number of years ago while travelling in Germany, I learned that their students were required to visit a concentration camp so that they would always know the truth and not allow history to repeat itself. Confronting the brutal facts means knowing the honest truth!

There are two parts to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and truth is the most difficult. – Darren McKee

While I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished in the last number of years in Holy Spirit Catholic School Division, I know there is still much work to be done. Our own attitudes will be challenged, our language will be questioned and our actions will be evaluated. It will be messy but our First Nations, Métis and Inuit students deserve it and Canada needs it!

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