Seniority over qualifications: Ojibway language teacher replaced

THUNDER BAY – David Thompson, an indigenous language instructor of Ojibway descent, was released of his full-time job teaching high school Ojibway at Lakehead Public Schools in Thunder Bay, Ont., last week during a round of job cuts.

He was replaced by a man who specializes in business studies and has no professional qualifications in any language.

“It’s a total insult to our youth to put someone in front of the classroom to teach Ojibway, who is not Ojibway, who is not affiliated with the culture or brought up with it,” Thompson told the CBC.

Thompson wrote in a complaint that he filed with the Human Right Tribunal of Ontario that the teacher currently doing his old job is not indigenous and does not speak Ojibway. Lakehead Public Schools did not comment on the complaint yet a spokesperson directed those asking towards the board’s hiring policy.

“Fluency is a further consideration in hiring [Ojibway language teachers],” the policy states. “We invite a community elder, fluent in the language, to participate in the interview process in order to determine fluency.”

The co-chair of the board’s Aboriginal Education Advisory Committee, Dolores Wawia, told the CBC she knows of instances where non-indigenous teachers have ended up with jobs teaching indigenous languages, even if they do not speak those languages. She said she thinks there should be a rule about teaching native language by native people.

That rule does not exist right now, and the Ontario College of Teachers also does not have a rule requiring native language teachers to have any specialized language qualifications.

Thompson’s also names the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation in his complaint because, he says, the union did not to pursue his grievance against the man who got his old job and instead protected the other teacher, based on his seniority.

“The whole experience was dehumanizing,” Thompson told the CBC. “It felt not worthy of what I brought to the school board, of what I had to offer.”

Thompson said his complaint is based on what he deems systemic barriers that prevent Ojibway people from teaching their own language, culture and history within the public school system.

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