SIX NATIONS— Indigenous educators from around the world gathered at Chiefswood park for the Official Opening Ceremonies for the World Indigenous Peoples Conference on Education. The tri-annual gathering is hosted in different locations around the globe but this time, Six Nations of the Grand River Territory was chosen.
Six Nations Polytechnic received $250,000 from Ontario to help host the event and, along with Tap Resources, put together the program, arranged for speakers, and entertainers from various countries and peoples.
Educators representing not only Canada’s Indigenous peoples, but also Americans Indians (USA), Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples (Australia), Maori (New Zealand), Ainu (Japan), Sami (Norway) were mingling and taking pictures of each other in a festive atmosphere of colourful traditional dress and exotic accents. But all came with a shared passion and commitment to culturally based education for all indigenous peoples.
The conference itself takes place in Toronto between July 24-28 with a full slate of seminars and workshops. But time has been set aside for sight seeing while in the area.
“The WIPCE conference is unparalleled in its inspirational impact,” said Rebecca Jamieson, President & CEO of Six Nations Polytechnic. “It is an opportunity to affirm Indigenous knowledge and cultures, share best practices and recharge your batteries with hope and commitment for the future of Indigenous people and our planet. Support from the Province of Ontario is truly significant as it demonstrates Ontario’s commitment to Indigenous knowledge and education.”
The theme of this year’s conference is “A Celebration of Resilience.” Participants were asked to discuss the role and impacts of Indigenous education in truth and reconciliation, which has become a global movement. Within the Truth and Reconciliation Calls to Action report are several recommendations that deal directly with education. WIPCE hopes to address these, among other recommendations about the preservation of Aboriginal languages and culture.
Rebecca Jamieson has recognized a commonality of indigenous people around the world, and that there is “a movement to revitalize languages and to reclaim education for purposes. We still have a long way to go.”
She believes that coming together like this is very important, “because we get strength from one another and encouragement.”
Jamieson believes the current political climate in Ontario is relatively good towards indigenous people in Ontario, bringing many opportunities that didn’t exist before. But she also recognizes how far there is yet to go.
“Ensuring that Indigenous students have access to the best quality education is one of Ontario’s highest priorities, which is why our government is proud to support this conference,” said Mitzie Hunter, Minister of Education in a release. “This also reflects our government’s commitment to working with Indigenous partners to create a better future for everyone in the province.”
It has been her experience in communicating with indigenous educators around the world that windows of opportunity open for a time and during those times, much can be done because that window can close very quickly with a change in government.
“In our community alone we are still working on language revitalization,” says Jamieson. “We need to ‘grow more speakers’, as I call it. It’s the only way to keep our languages living, right?”
There are also the pressures of the modern world facing indigenous youth she sees every day.
“Many of them are marginalized and disengaged from working and education and we have to find ways of getting them re-engaged.”
Jamieson sees a pattern that is recognizable everywhere there are indigenous people still trying to hang on to their own ways.
“With my contacts around the world, primarily in Austrailia and New Zealand, I’d say yes,” that there is a pattern that is world wide with indigenous young people especially.
Another reward that comes from such gatherings is for educators who work and live in small, remote communities, to feel a part of a much larger movement, and to know they are not alone in their struggles, Jamieson says.
Jamieson also believes that as much as Six Nations can benefit from others they may meet at the conference, that Six Nations has a role to play as a success story as well. The building and growth of Six Nations Polytechnic and other trail blazing programs are for others can take back to their communities as well.
“We branded this year the ‘Celebration of Resilience,’” says Jamieson. “Sometimes we can get caught up in anger, and I know there is good reason to be angry. But we are trying to keep our focus on the positive. The message going forward from here is, ‘change the things you can and that will make it better for us all.’”