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Picking Up the Pieces: A School Community-Based Approach to First Nations Education Renewal (September 2014)

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Across Canada there have been numerous recent examples of incidents where the political and ideological interests of provincial governments have run counter to the mandates of school districts. In this pan-Canadian study, focus groups were conducted with school board trustees and school district superintendents to examine the relationships between districts and provincial governments. Preliminary data suggest that the significance of the school district apparatus in Canada has diminished as provincial governments have enacted an aggressive centralization agenda. We theorize that in a politicized environment, the values, reward systems, and accountabilities against which school board superintendents and trustees operate are likely to differ substantively from those of politicians and bureaucrats, thereby creating a policy environment that is antagonistic to local governance.
Indigenous methodologies have been silenced and obscured by the Western scientific means of knowledge production. In a challenge to this colonist rejection of Indigenous knowledge, Anishinaabe researcher Kathy Absolon examines the academic work of eleven Indigenous scholars who utilize Indigenous world views in their search for knowing. Through an examination not only of their work but also of their experience in producing that work, Kaandossiwin describes how Indigenous researchers re-theorize and re-create methodologies. Understanding Indigenous methodologies as guided by Indigenous paradigms, world views, principles, processes and contexts. Absolon argues that they are wholistic, relational, inter-relational and interdependent with Indigenous philosophies, beliefs and ways of life. In exploring the ways Indigenous re-searchers use Indigenous methodologies within mainstream academia, Kaandossiwin renders these methods visible and helps guard other ways of knowing from colonial repression.
Poor education outcomes for Aboriginals in Canada have long been a source of concern for Aboriginal leaders and the provincial and federal governments. Notably, sixty percent of young Aboriginal adults living on reserves in Canada lack high-school certification. As a result, they face severely limited employment opportunities off-reserve, and limited opportunities on-reserve. Among young Canadians not living on a reserve, those who identify as Indian-First Nation have better education outcomes than those on-reserve, but they are weaker than outcomes for Metis. In general, non-Aboriginals achieve the best outcomes. This Commentary undertakes a suggestive, but far-from-definitive, exercise in assessing the role of education policies and institutions in Aboriginal K-12 outcomes. It disaggregates the young adult Aboriginal population (ages 20-24 at the time of the 2006 census) into subgroups defined by province, location within a province (urban vs. rural and on- vs. off-reserve) and by Aboriginal identity group (non-Aboriginal, Metis, Indian-First Nation). After allowance for the impact of school location and employment rate as a proxy for family characteristics, this examination finds that British Columbia has achieved considerably better K-12 outcomes than the five other provinces, Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta, with large Aboriginal cohorts. The Commentary discusses three institutional and policy differences between British Columbia and other provinces that may explain its superior outcomes: i) more comprehensive and regular monitoring of Aboriginal student performance in the core competencies of reading, writing and mathematics; ii) incentives for provincial school districts to innovate and consult with local Aboriginal leaders; and iii) the encompassing nature of First Nation institutions providing secondary services to reserve schools.
With the growing strength of minority voices in recent decades has come much impassioned discussion of residential schools, the institutions where attendance by Native children was compulsory as recently as the 1960s. Former students have come forward in increasing numbers to describe the psychological and physical abuse they suffered in these schools, and many view the system as an experiment in cultural genocide. In this first comprehensive history of these institutions, J.R. Miller explores the motives of all three agents in the story. He looks at the separate experiences and agendas of the government officials who authorized the schools, the missionaries who taught in them, and the students who attended them. Starting with the foundations of residential schooling in seventeenth-century New France, Miller traces the modern version of the institution that was created in the 1880s, and, finally, describes the phasing-out of the schools in the 1960s. He looks at instruction, work and recreation, care and abuse, and the growing resistance to the system on the part of students and their families. Based on extensive interviews as well as archival research, Miller's history is particularly rich in Native accounts of the school system. This book is an absolute first in its comprehensive treatment of this subject. J.R. Miller has written a new chapter in the history of relations between indigenous and immigrant peoples in Canada. Co-winner of the 1996 Saskatchewan Book Award for nonfiction. Winner of the 1996 John Wesley Dafoe Foundation competition for Distinguished Writing by Canadians Named an 'Outstanding Book on the subject of human rights in North America' by the Gustavus Myer Center for the Study of Human Rights in North America.
This paper reviews the meaning and content of various First-Nation self-government discourses that have emerged over the last 40 years. Based on a detailed thematic analysis of policy papers, reports, and self-governance agreements on this issue of First-Nations control of education, this paper presents a coherent and defensible understanding of the current state of First-Nations rights to control education while mapping institutional arrangements or internal principles of organization for self-determination that have emerged over time in discourse on First-Nations rights and education in Canada.