By: Dr. Cynthia Wesley-Esquimaux
Education in the Indigenous community has gone through many distinct renditions, some appropriate and even requested by leadership, but unfortunately, most not so much. Indigenous people have always understood the value of education and had their own forms of education, which centred the knowledge base of their children in the environments and societies in which they lived. Leadership also understood the value as settlement rapidly increased around them that their children would need the tools to navigate encroachment on their lands, the imposition of new ways of thinking, and that Euro-Canadian education would provide those new understandings.
Indigenous peoples have had to grapple with forced change through missionization, forced change through government intervention, and forced change through Indian residential and day schools across Canada. All left a legacy of distrust and inter-generational trauma they are still trying to resolve. Each has had a different kind of effect, mostly negative.
The Truth and Reconciliation has tabled seven calls to action – these actions will include the development of a joint strategy to eliminate educational and employment gaps between Aboriginal peoples and other Canadians and to cooperatively develop culturally appropriate curriculum for Indigenous schools and programming in provincial schools.
Providing an equitable solution doesn’t necessarily mean providing the very same education for everyone, everywhere. We have observed the difficulty Aboriginal children have had with western models of education. They need a curriculum that provides the science, technology, math and engineering to compete in a modern world, but they also need the humanities to help their own people heal from historic loss. Perhaps more than anything they need the foundational restoration of their languages and cultures. Let’s hope the provincial and federal governments fully understand and support the rebuilding of Indigenous governments, educations, and pride.
Today, in 2016, we’re hopeful things will change yet again, but this time in a direction that will help to solve the high rates of dropping out, inspire a diversity of degree paths, and ensure Aboriginal youth can join the building of a better Canada.
Dr. Cynthia Wesley-Esquimaux is the Vice Provost (Aboriginal Initiatives) at Lakehead University, Thunder Bay & Orillia. She also serves as an Adjunct Asst. Professor for the Faculty of Anthropology and as a Research Affiliate of the Centre for Health Care Ethics. Her research and academic writing is directed towards understanding the continuing transmission of historic inter-generational trauma and unresolved grief primarily within the Aboriginal community.