Closing the rift in aboriginal education


Provincial schools are not doing enough to close the gap between aboriginal and non-aboriginal students who attend off-reserve schools according to a report published by People For Education in 2012.

The survey data shows that fewer than half of elementary schools offer any aboriginal educational opportunities outside of the core curriculum. This is despite the fact that 92 per cent of Ontario’s provincially funded elementary schools and 96 per cent of secondary schools have aboriginal students. Fifty-one per cent of elementary schools and 41 per cent of secondary schools report “none” when asked what aboriginal education opportunities they offer according to the report.

In a statement in 2012 by Annie Kidder, Executive Director of People For Education,

“It’s time that all of us paid attention to aboriginal education in our provincially funded schools,” says Annie Kidder.

“For too long, we have ignored the fact that most of Ontario’s First Nations, Métis and Inuit children attend schools in Ontario school boards. We are not serving them well, and we are not doing enough to educate all of our students about the complex relationship between aboriginal and non-aboriginal peoples in Canada, or about contemporary and historical First Nations, Métis and Inuit culture, perspectives, and experiences.”

Only recently native people have begun to speak out about their experiences in non-aboriginal schools as evident in the growing accounts of students on and off reserves. It’s a healing process for many, and a record to be learned for the dominant society to acknowledge that this educational crisis is part of a common history.

Deborah Paul, a Tyendinaga native from the Wolf Clan in North West Deseronto, grew up in Picton and attended a non-aboriginal school with her siblings in the sixties until the age of 15.Paul believes that the federal government is not doing enough to close the gap between aboriginal and non-aboriginal students in non-reserve schools and unless the District School Board of Ontario implements fundamental changes to the curriculum, racism and discrimination will never stop.

“My younger sister linda, first thing you know she’d be coming to me crying they've pulled her hair or hit her head, she’d go into the bathroom for hours washing her hands just so she doesn’t have to go back in the classroom,” says Deborah Paul.

Sixty years later, the system has failed and discrimination against aboriginals is still ongoing.

“It all falls on the federal government to educate Canadians and reduce the gap between us,” Paul says. “Until they can get their high barriers as low as the next person then everything is fine, until that happens then it will never be corrected,” Paul adds.

“The situation now in not better, my two grandchildren are dark, they have that Indian look to them and they have problems at school because of the colour of their skin and because they’re native,” Paul says.

“I don’t think the prime minister was honest with his apology in 2008. When people apologize they look you in the eye. Harper never looked at the camera when he apologized, so I don’t believe him.” Paul concluded.

Susan Dion, an Associate Professor of Aboriginal Education at York University says in People For Education press release in 2012, “Aboriginal and non-aboriginal educators need to confront the knowledge gap about Aboriginal cultures and the history of colonialism; it is important that teachers have this knowledge so aboriginal students and families can begin to experience schools as a place of belonging and respect.”

Paul’s sister Mary Clark says, “They want us to learn English and French. We have a gap because of the language I think. We learn Mohawk from native schools until grade eight and then they send us to Moira School to finish to grade 12.”Clark feels that the District School Board of Ontario is not doing enough to make them feel at home.

“Growing up in non native land was rough, everywhere I turned around people would be bickering, talking about you all the time, saying things about you, and call you names,” Clark Adds.

According to People For Education report, gaps in achievement, knowledge and resources continue to undermine aboriginal education. Challenges confronting those working within teacher education is the “prevailing and deeply embedded belief” that aboriginal education is only important for those candidates who intend to work within reserve communities.

To address these gaps, the report outlines recommendations to bring forward contemporary aboriginal issues and history of colonialism on the forefront of current proposals in education reform.

It has been two years since People For Education report first came out in 2012 and the Harper government is nowhere close to implementing any of the proposed recommendations. Currently the federal government is working on education overhaul proposal on First Nations reserves to bring the standard of aboriginal schools up to the provincial standards to try and put a stop to the growing poverty problem among native communities.



TYENDINAGA MOHAWK TERRITORY, Ont. (25/02/2014) - Deborah Paul at her home getting her hair styled by her childhood friend Joy Brant. Paul, a native from the Wolf Clan in North West Deseronto, grew up in Picton and went to a non-reserve school until the age of 15 to help her parents in the field to pick berries and strawberries. Paul believes that the federal government is not doing enough to close the gap between aboriginal and non-aboriginal students in non-reserve schools and unless the District School Board of Ontario implements fundamental changes to the curriculum, racism and discrimination will never stop.

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