Starting this fall, Kwantlen Polytechnic University will waive tuition fees for students who are members of the Kwantlen, Katzie, Semiahmoo, Musqueam, Tsawwassen, Qayqayt, or Kwikwetlem First Nations. KPU is located on the traditional and ancestral lands of these seven First Nations. Glenda Luymes of the Vancouver Sun reports that KPU is one of the first Canadian postsecondary institutions to waive tuition fees for Indigenous students, and that the practice is more common in the United States. Luymes highlights some of the other access-focused initiatives in place at BC institutions such as the University of British Columbia, Simon Fraser University, the University of the Fraser Valley, and Vancouver Island University use to reduce barriers for Indigenous students who want to pursue education. KPU’s tuition waiver announcement coincides with the release of its new reconciliation framework, xéʔelɬ KPU Pathway to Systemic Transformation.
Loyalist College has shared the name of its re-envisioned Indigenous centre: Tsi Titewaya’taró:roks. In addition to the new name—which means “we gather as a community” in Mohawk—the center has shared a new logo that tells its story of Tsi Titewaya’taró:roks. The logo consists of an outer circle depicting the Dish with One Spoon wampum agreement and an inner circle that consists of imagery that reflects different communities affiliated with the college. “Tsi Titewaya’taró:roks is a safe space for our Indigenous students and community members at Loyalist – a gathering place that feels like home,” said Loyalist Director of Indigenous Services Tewathahá:kwa Jennifer Maracle. “It is also a place of learning and celebration where our non-Indigenous staff and students can expand their cultural understanding.”
A recent report by Jaclyn Layton for Statistics Canada examines the impact of distance on First Nations, Métis, and Inuit high school completion rates. Drawing on 2016 Census data and the Remoteness Index Classification, Layton analyzed the relationship between remoteness and high school completion for First Nations, Métis, and Inuit people aged 19 to 45. Inuit were the most likely to live in remote or very remote areas (80%), followed by First Nations people (21%), and Métis people (12%); only 3% of non-Indigenous people lived in remote or very remote areas. Within each group, those who lived in an easily accessible area were more likely to have completed a high school diploma than those living in a very remote area. This access was the most important factor overall for high school completion among First Nations people, while the most important determinant for both Inuit and Métis people was living in a higher income household. “These factors are interwoven, as youth who leave home to attend high school may bear a financial and emotional cost” writes Layton. “Taken together, these results indicate that improving access to education within one’s own community is an important factor in decreasing the differences [… in] educational attainment.”
Construction has started on a new Cree bilingual school in Saskatoon. St Frances Cree Bilingual School, which has been operating in temporary spaces, will soon have a dedicated school building that will have the capacity to serve around 600 students from pre-kindergarten to grade 9 and include 70 childcare spaces. It will include a research room, a learning greenhouse, an elder’s teaching room, and a medicine lab, and will offer students meals from its nutrition kitchen. Students attending the school will be able to learn their culture and language and develop their identity in a safe and inclusive environment. Saskatoon Tribal Council Chief Mark Arcand said that the school will be the largest Cree bilingual school in Canada, if not the world. “When we put this school up, we are going to see a change in people and the kids living a quality of life because their identity is found,” said Arcand. “It’s the gift of the child that we have to focus on and it’s the gift of the child that was taken away.” The school is supported by a $45.9M investment from the Government of Saskatchewan. Construction is estimated to be complete by Fall 2025.
In a recent editorial from Canada’s National Observer, Matteo Cimellaro discusses the challenges that remote First Nations communities have finding and retaining teachers. Even schools with adequate resources and good buildings face difficulties attracting and retaining teachers. Schools in these communities face high teacher turnover because life in the north includes many challenges, such as a high cost of living, a lack of affordable fresh fruits and vegetables, or problems with teachers’ quarters. The resulting “revolving door” of teachers makes it difficult for students to build relationships with teachers or become excited about their lessons. Cimellaro describes how some leaders have called for incentives such as a loan forgiveness program that would encourage teachers to work in a remote First Nation for a number of years.
Eenchokay Birchstick School in the Pikangikum First Nation recently celebrated its largest ever graduating class, as well as the launch of a partnership with Queen’s University that will give students the opportunity to pursue postsecondary study within their own community. 41 people of various ages graduated from the school, including mother-and-daughter pair Geraldine Peters and Lakota Peters, Chief’s Award winner Jordin Turtle, and valedictorian Denzel Quill. Pikangikum First Nation’s Chief Shirley Keeper shared a song with the graduates about overcoming adversity with the hope of planting a song in their hearts: “Not to stop today, but to keep going, using the words in that song.” After the graduation ceremony, the school signed a memorandum of understanding with Queen’s that will enable graduates to pursue a Bachelor of Education program while staying in their community. The partners hope to prepare future teachers who are fluent in Ojibway with the goal of one day having the school staffed with teachers who are completely bilingual in Ojibway and English.
Five schools and postsecondary institutions across Canada have announced new Indigenous centres and outdoor learning spaces. Bishop’s University announced that it would be breaking ground on the new Kwigw8mna centre this summer. The name means “our (and everyone’s) house,” and the centre will include spaces for Indigenous students, as well as a gallery highlighting Abenaki history. Lambton College recently dedicated the site of an $8M Indigenous outdoor gathering space which will be built in a clearing on campus. In Thunder Bay, St Pius X School unveiled a new medicine garden that was collaboratively created by Grades 1, 4, 5, and 6 students in the Ojibwe language class. Oriole Park Elementary in Red Deer formally opened the Oriole Park Outdoor Learning and Indigenous Gardens, which includes a wheelchair-accessible garden box and a concrete medicine wheel. Kelowna Secondary School Indigenous Academy students planned an outdoor learning space in consultation with local Indigenous elders and have launched a fundraising campaign to make the space a reality.
The University of British Columbia, the Musqueam Language and Culture Department, and the Syilx Okanagan Nation collaboratively created a new font capable of typesetting Salish languages. The years-long project stemmed from UBC’s need to respectfully express hən̓q̓əmin̓əm̓, the traditional language of the Musqueam peoples, and nsyilxcən, the language of Syilx Okanagan language, in a written form. UBC previously used First Nations Unicode, which can accurately represent words in hən̓q̓əmin̓əm̓ and nsyilxcən, but looks different from the current institutional font Whitney. The final font, called Whitney Salishan, was developed through four years of extensive collaborative work and will be used on campus in Syilx language research and education, as well as by the Musqueam and Syilx peoples as they work to revitalize their languages. “The process of building this relationship and creating this typeface is an important part of a holistic approach to reconciliation and healing, not just for UBC, but for the entire Musqueam community and beyond,” says Larry Grant, manager of Musqueam Language and Culture Department.
The Université du Québec en Abitibi-Témiscamingue has unveiled its territorial recognition principle, which acknowledges that the university is located within Nitakinan. Nitakinan is the Algonquin term designating the Abitibi-Témiscamingue and Outaouais regions. The principle was developed by a Territorial Recognition Committee in consultation with Indigenous communities. The principle acknowledges that the educational institution is “part of a system stemming from colonisation” and commits to taking concrete actions towards reconciliation, especially through education and research. “The territorial recognition statement was conceived so that it could be brought to life through concrete actions, as part of a broader process of decolonization and reconciliation,” said UQAT Strategic Advisor, Reconciliation and Indigenous Education, Mamawi Mikimodan (Working Together) Service Janet Mark. “Actions can be deployed in a number of ways, as some are institutional in nature, while others are more individual in scope, allowing everyone to act on different scales.”
Several schools launched new initiatives and hosted events in celebration of National Indigenous Peoples Day last week. McGill University raised the Hiawatha Wampum Belt Flag for the day to celebrate Indigenous heritage and culture. The Ottawa-Carleton District School Board skipped the playing of the national anthem and instead read a message recognizing National Indigenous Peoples Day and celebrating the first peoples of Turtle Island. In Toronto, around 1,000 students were invited to an event at the Scotiabank Arena to celebrate Indigenous cultures and learn about reconciliation. Lethbridge College hosted a round dance, unveiled a scholarship for Blackfoot students, and announcing the Aiitsi’poyoip Blackfoot Speaking Award which encourages students to preserve their Blackfoot language abilities. Students at Centennial Secondary School in Coquitlam unveiled a mosaic created collaboratively by students and faculty members. The artwork was developed in response to the news of unmarked graves at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School, and many of the tiles memorialize children who went missing while at residential school.