Two news stories caught my attention recently. In Ontario, budget cuts led to an Indigenous-language instructor with Ojibway roots being replaced by a teacher with no Indigenous background or language skills. Closer to home, a Saskatchewan school board cut Indigenous student retention workers.
The stories made me think two things: 1) Really? And 2) REALLY!?
During my career, I’ve worked in a number of areas related to education – from policy development to advocating to advising. I learned that education used to be a tool of oppression; today it can be a tool of empowerment.
At a time when reconciliation is the target, education is the low-hanging fruit. There is no more powerful tool for empowering people and building long-term prosperity for the economy. If people want to make amends for historical wrongs, investing in Indigenous education is a start.
Some who resist the reconciliation discussion are quick to argue: “I didn’t create the problem.” Well, no, and I didn’t ask to be subjected to racism. But we both inherited the issues we’re dealing with today.
To fix it, we need to learn, plan and build. We need to actively change the way we think and act. Change doesn’t have to equate to misery, anger and frustration. It can be liberating and empowering.
And it starts with inclusion. It means having Indigenous people in the classroom, meeting room and community hall. It’s recognizing the value of having all voices heard. It’s acknowledging that ignoring or excluding people will have a long-term impact on the bottom line.
There is no road map to reconciliation. But we know that having non-Indigenous decision makers, policymakers and teachers tell us they “know the best way for you to do things” won’t work. We’ve tried that.
Now let’s try it with Indigenous voices at the table and create a system that works for all.