Back to school: a history lesson

Back-to-school season has come, with teary-eyed new kindergarten parents and 25 mph zones alike.

But within Six Nations there are seven elementary schools and one high school on-reserve, which makes the education of Six Nations youth an evolving process. And with indigenous youth being the fastest growing demographic out of the indigenous population, education is a must.

In Canada, roughly 88% of First Nations schools offer some type of Indigenous language programming and 17% offer full Indigenous language immersion programming. While, approximately 91% of First Nations schools offer some type of periodic cultural activities, while 57% offer regular and on-going cultural programming. And about 92% of First Nations schools partially integrate cultural teachings into the curriculum, while 26% of schools have cultural teachings fully integrated into the curriculum.

These percentages have changed over time in part of the first indigenous-made education policy devised over thirty years ago.

In 1967, out of 60,000 indigenous students — only 200 seen university classrooms. With the number of educational successes so low, the country began to recognize the ineffectiveness of it’s indigenous education programming. Numerous problems seemed to show up and grow in the indigenous student demographic and this prompted a new policy to be born.

In 1972, the Assembly of First Nations (AFN), formerly the National Indian Brotherhood, created a policy on Indigenous education they called Indian Control of Indian Education. The policy was later adopted by the Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada, formerly the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development, as an unofficial education policy.

The policy identified the importance of local community control to improve education, the development of relevant curricula and teaching resources in Indigenous schools, the need for more Indigenous teachers and the vast importance of language instruction and Indigenous values while educating Indigenous students.

Since the presentation of this policy, several changes have occurred in time as well.

In 2014, the federal government introduced Bill C-33, the First Nations Control of First Nations Education Act. The bill along with other proposals promised funding for Indigenous education and better standards of quality for education in Indigenous schools. However, the AFN rejected it with the claim that the government had developed the bill without adequate consultation. And many critics of the act argued that it failed to reduce government involvement in First Nations education. Thus, the bill did not gather the wide support sought among Indigenous communities.

In November of 2015, the federal government announced its plan to implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). The declaration addresses Indigenous education in Articles 14 and 21, and co-vers the issues of access to education, socioeconomic conditions, Indigenous language instruction and more. Implementing UNDRIP will require new legislation and ongoing negotiations between the federal government and Indigenous nations in the future.

Each negotiation and decision tailors the education of indigenous youth, making indigenous classrooms some of the most unique.

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