In a recently released report on virtual learning in Canada, Nipissing First Nation educator and acting vice-principal at Nbisiing Secondary School Jenn O’Driscoll penned a section about online learning’s impact on Indigenous youth. O’Driscoll shared her perspective on how Indigenous youth experienced and responded to virtual learning and related challenges. O’Driscoll said that, in Ontario, only 17% of on-reserve households have high-speed internet, and absenteeism rates grew during the first shift to online learning. There were also barriers to delivering some parts of the curriculum, such as traditional knowledge. Students who had traditionally succeeded with their studies faced fewer challenges with the switch to online learning, but those who already had been struggling did worse because they were less likely to ask for help. “Tech is going to be a part of Indigenous education and kids need to learn how to navigate technology and use technology, but I would say strictly virtual learning is not the ideal for Indigenous education,” said O’Driscoll.
Kawenni:io/Gaweni:yo Private School, a school which is located on Six Nations of the Grand River, has gone 35 years without having a permanent school building and is in urgent need of more space. CBC reports that the school, which offers the critically endangered Cayuga and Mohawk languages from kindergarten to Grade 12, ranks 21st out of the 40 schools in Ontario that need to be built or repaired. School board members are requesting $15-$20M to build a space which would include a gymnasium, Longhouse, library, space for elders, and two wings for classrooms in order to increase its capacity to 125 students. Kawenni:io/Gaweni:yo principal Dr Tehota’kerá:tonh Green is calling for the Six Nations Confederacy Council to be allowed to use the Six Nations Trust funds for the community, which could include building the new school. “We’re not asking for anything that isn’t already ours,” said Green.
Yellowhead Tribal College has announced that its Indigenous Social Work Diploma (ISWD) program has received full accreditation from the Alberta College of Social Workers (ACSW). The ISWD program underwent a rigorous self-evaluation as well as an independent peer review, and demonstrated compliance with ACSW’s accreditation standards. The process was underway for several years, with a site visit occurring in March 2021. “This achievement is evidence of the hard work and sacrifice of past and present program leaders, staff, and students over many years – as well as their outstanding competence, and commitment to excellence,” said Yellowhead Tribal Council CEO Laverne Arcand. “It opens doors of opportunity for our students and graduates; and enables us to serve our peoples more and more effectively.”
Communities are celebrating the graduations and accomplishments of Indigenous students. Little Red River Cree Nation recently celebrated the achievements of 10 women who graduated from IHE Interior Heavy Operator Equipment School with heavy equipment operator certificates. Students completed the 13-week program through a remote mobile program. “I [hope] to inspire other women to do whatever they want to do,” said graduate Lakeisha Metsikassus. Wikwemikong Tourism also celebrated the graduation of students from its inaugural cultural guide training program. Students gained training in the industry and from local knowledge carriers to ensure that they were prepared to respectfully give cultural tourism experiences and provide education to visitors and community members. The Cowichan Valley School District has seen a rise in high school graduation for Indigenous students, with rates jumping from 54% to 64% over the 2020/2021 school year.
The Government of Manitoba has announced funding for programs for Indigenous students and youth. MB will be investing $275K in a pilot project that will integrate elder involvement into 33 schools. The program, which was developed with MB elder and knowledge keeper input, will provide a variety of supports to both Indigenous and non-Indigenous students, such as mentorship programs, lessons on culture, and language and traditional knowledge. “Elders, grandparents, relatives and community members can teach us many things, including the language, the corrective history and the Indigenous ways of knowing, as well as about our relationship with the environment,” said Lorie Henderson, co-superintendent of the School District of Mystery Lake. “This program is an excellent opportunity for meaningful learning experiences for students and staff, and will bring us closer together.” MB and the Government of Canada have also recently provided $350K to the Thunderbird Partnership Foundation to support the Buffalo Riders program, which will provide early interventions for Indigenous youth who are at risk of substance use and addiction in communities across the province.
Educational institutions across Canada are hosting workshops and other events to support Indigenous communities and culture. St Thomas Aquinas high school in Kenora, Ontario hosted a ribbon skirt making workshop to help Indigenous students feel welcome. Students learned how to make their own ribbon skirt that they can wear to feasts and programs. At the College of New Caledonia’s Quesnel Campus, students and employees have been working on the Traditional Plant Growing Project, which aims to grow a variety of traditional plants from seed and teach others how to grow the plants. Wildcrafter Sharon Primeau taught local students about traditional plant use, and CNC shared the harvest with the ?Esdilagh Nation. In Behchokǫ̀, Northwest Territories, a group of students are learning traditional tanning skills in order to better understand Tłı̨chǫ culture. Under the guidance of three instructors, students have learned how to work caribou hides and make drums. “Once everything is done, they can even do the back handle for the drum, with babiche,” said instructor Alice J Mantla. “That’s where all the magic beat comes from for winning the hand game or drum dance. It’s powerful, really powerful to our ancestors.”
The Government of Ontario and the Kinoomaadziwin Education Body (KEB) have signed an agreement that will see ON providing $7.9M to support Anishinabek student achievement and well-being. The three-year partnership and investment will fund the implementation of the Master Education Agreement. The agreement will support Anishinabek students by improving access to culturally relevant resources and supports, supporting transitions between First Nation and provincially-funded schools, enhancing collaboration between the Anishinabek Education system and provincially-funded school boards, and supporting the advancement of Anishinabek language and culture. “Through this partnership, we are ensuring that Anishinabek students are supported with learning opportunities that will help ensure students graduate high school, pursue higher learning, and get access to good-paying jobs,” said ON Minister of Education Stephen Lecce.
The University of Regina, the Indigenous Peoples Health Research Centre at the First Nations University of Canada, and the Jim Pattison Children’s Hospital have received $1.27M from the Government of Canada to support a pilot project that will provide virtual health care services to people in northern First Nations communities. The pilot project will receive funding for 5 years, and will provide culturally safe and community-directed pediatric health care to communities that do not have access to pediatric specialists. Researchers will conduct virtual clinical visits using tablets, which are expected to be convenient and portable. “Developing a virtual health system in First Nations communities that is guided by community engagement allows the focus to be on caregiver engagement and customizing software,” said URegina adjunct nursing professor Dr Gregory Hansen. “We hope that more communities will sign on once we get started.”
The Government of the Northwest Territories has announced that it has signed an agreement with the Government of British Columbia to use the BC curriculum for junior kindergarten to Grade 12. BC’s curriculum is competencies-based and best aligned with NWT’s education priorities, and will be phased in over the next few years. The change means that the Alberta curriculum will no longer be used in the NWT. “British Columbia’s redesigned curriculum aims to personalize learning, making it more student-centered and flexible,” said NWT Education Minister RJ Simpson. “With an emphasis on Indigenous knowledge and a focus on literacy and numeracy skills, I am confident that this curriculum will benefit all of the NWT’s JK-12 students.”
“It’s time for universities to either honour the commitments made in their land acknowledgements, or to drop them altogether and acknowledge that they are in fact deeply colonial institutions incapable of meaningful reconciliation,” writes Western University Political Science Professor Christopher Alcantara. Alcantara argues that though it is now common for institutions to use land acknowledgments, some Indigenous voices have criticized institutions for not putting their words to action and institutions need to respond to criticisms by making sure that they are putting action behind their acknowledgments. The author says meaningful reconciliation could mean paying rent or making a financial gift to the Indigenous communities displaced by universities, requesting formal permission before bringing in guest speakers, or waiving tuition for Indigenous students from the communities.