Thursday, May 19, 2011

Aboriginal history and education need to change in Canada

By Tanya Talaga Toronto Star, May 18, 2011 
The lack of proper school for First Nations children is “immoral discrimination” that flies in the face of Canadian values, says former prime minister Paul Martin.
A proposed student residence for northern native children forced to move hundreds of kilometres from home should be backed by the federal government, Martin said in an interview with the Star.
Since 2000, seven First Nations children who have relocated to Thunder Bay to go to school have been found dead in local rivers.
“You should not take out a 14-year-old kid, from a community of 300 people, and then plunk them down in a boarding house in Thunder Bay, where they are all by themselves,” Martin said from Montreal.
Six of the seven students went to Dennis Franklin Cromarty High School, a First Nations-run school funded by Indian and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC).
In an effort to better care for these kids, the school wants to build a residence that can house at least 125 students
Yesterday, as a muniscule drop in his announcement of his new Cabinet, the Prime Minister changed the name of the federal Ministry responsible for First Nations peoples and their families from "Indian and Northern Affairs" to "Aboriginals and Northern Affairs" in order to reflect the inclusion of Inuit, non-status Indians, and Metis. However, the move has caused ripples among the leaders of Aboriginal people.
By Bill Curry, Globe and Mail, May 18, 2011
Anishinabek Nation leader Patrick Madahbee issued a statement on Wednesday accusing the Conservatives of “slighting first nations citizens” with the name change.

Shawn Atleo, national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, said that while “Indian” is not the preferred term for some first nations, many still use it and it is important in terms of protecting rights.
“It’s a little bit like a double-edged sword,” he said. “If this discussion helps us to get to a better level of understanding, then it’s something that would perhaps prove helpful. But understandably, first nations greet changes most quickly with suspicion about what it might mean, in an adverse or a negative way, so I think it’s incumbent on me to go ahead and find out exactly what’s intended.”
For decades, nevertheless, in the Canadian way of doing things, First Nations young people have been either poorly and inapropriately (meaning abusively) been educated in residential schools, or more recently, moved to totally foreign communities where they have been housed in albeit well-meaning unofficial 'foster' homes while they attended "white-man's" schools. For well over twenty years, I was one of their teachers, in schools in North Bay, where students mainly from the shores of James and Hudson Bay's attended secondary school.
In the school, as I recall, there was an aboriginal counsellor whose office was always open to the students living away from home. And there were few if any negative incidents around the years of my experience. But that's primarily because these students were isolated, shy, withdrawn for the most part and sceptical of both the culture and the education. They were expected to learn English along with the rest of the normal curriculum, and there were no courses, even extra-curricular courses or opportunities, for them to learn their own culture, history, dialect and community values.
We were "assimilating" them into the white-man's culture, as they would often say, whether they agreed with the policy and practice or not.
And the process, as the former Prime Minister says, needs to stop.
The Canadian government's history with aboriginal people is scarred by indifference, patronising condescension, even, it could be argued, a form of institutional racism. Good intentions, often even fairly administered, can and do still smack of a kind of superiority and a kind of demeaning second-class status.
And, to their credit, many young aboriginals have decided to make their own way through such a maze into the corridors of post-secondary education, securing degrees in many fields including law, education, and criminology, as well as social work and community development.
If the name change in yesterday's Cabinet announcement leads to any kind of diluting of the rights and opportunities of Aboriginal people, there is a growing number of educated and articulate aboriginal leaders who will advocate in ways we have not yet seen or heard, to block such moves.
However, the new directions of the relationship between the government of Canada and the Aboriginal people must include clean drinking water, full access to health care, job and leadership opportunities and education that starts with the design by their own community leaders, in their own communities, where they can and will take legitimate pride and ownership of their traditions, their values and their growing opportunity to provide needed lessons for the "white" culture in both community building and environmental attitudes and protection.
These are not handicapped people, and it is long part time for us to stop treating them as handicapped and as second class citizens.

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