Canada’s deans of education are sending a powerful message to their faculties. They’ve come together to endorse a vision of indigenous education that they hope will spark a sea change on campuses across the country.
“The vision is that Indigenous identities, cultures, languages, values, ways of knowing, and knowledge systems will flourish in all Canadian learning settings,” says the new Accord on Indigenous Education. The wide-ranging accord was crafted by a working group of the Association of Canadian Deans of Education and signed by prominent aboriginal leaders and deans of education June 1 during the 2010 Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences in Montreal.
The accord sets out aspirations and goals that all signatories are expected to work towards in their education programs and research initiatives. The agreement is meant to guide “program review and transformation” in education faculties across Canada. If the spirit of the accord is followed on a broad scale, it will mean indigenous values and approaches to education will play a far more prominent role in the education of Canada’s next generation of teachers.
The biggest challenges to implementing the accord will fall to today’s teachers, said Marie Battiste, academic director at the University of Saskatchewan’s Aboriginal Education Research Centre. “The education system has not included aboriginal education, indigenous peoples’ knowledge, aboriginal peoples’ protocols, and so on, and so everyone has to take it up and learn it,” she said.
The accord says that the lingering effects of colonization “have either outlawed or suppressed Indigenous knowledge systems, especially language and culture, and have contributed significantly to the low levels of educational attainment.”
It sets out goals in nine categories that the drafters hope will lead to enduring change in Canadian education systems and outcomes. The first goal is “to create and sustain respectful and welcoming learning environments that instil a sense of belonging for all learners, Indigenous and non-Indigenous, in all postsecondary programs of which faculties, colleges, schools, and departments of education are a part.”
Other goals deal with inclusion of Indigenous content in curricula for all education students, creating partnerships with Indigenous communities, recruiting more aboriginal students and faculty members, and doing research in a culturally sensitive way.
It will be no small task to implement these, but John Wiens, past-president of the Association of Canadian Deans of Education, noted that many campuses aren’t starting from scratch. For example, the faculty of education at the University of Manitoba, of which he is dean, employs four aboriginal faculty members and has a compulsory course on aboriginal perspectives (thanks to a provincial directive). The accord will encourage other schools to go a similar route; the incentive, he said, is simple: “It’s just doing the right thing.”
While the accord doesn’t include any timelines for implementing changes, it will use “moral suasion,” he added. Jo-Ann Archibald, associate dean for indigenous education and acting director of the Native Indian Teacher Education Program at the University of British Columbia, agreed that instituting timelines was never a goal.
“[The accord] becomes a vehicle for further cooperation and prioritization of particular areas that haven’t been addressed so much,” said Dr. Archibald, one of four co-chairs of the group that drafted the accord. “We know that it takes a long time to realize some of these bigger items.”
One of the aboriginal groups that will be partnering with faculties of education and a signatory to the accord is Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, an Ottawa based advocacy group for Canada’s Inuit. Mary Simon, the group’s president, said the accord will challenge people from government, academia, school boards and Indigenous groups to talk together about how to accommodate the needs of Indigenous communities and their children. “The real objective,” she said, “is to get our kids to finish school so they can be out there competing.”
The next phase, said Dr. Wiens, will see educators working on the political side to ensure that Indigenous education is a priority for provincial governments. The Council of Ministers of Education, Canada made aboriginal education a priority in 2004 and held a second summit on the issue in 2009.