Indigenous people are the future of the NWT. The process that began with the devolution of governing powers from Ottawa in the 1970s will continue until the sound and fury of colonization fades into the history books of this Indigenous majority jurisdiction.
There is no doubt that European settlers’ callous disregard for the Indigenous people they encountered has slashed deep wounds in the body and minds of generations of people. But when will it be time for the scales of social justice to be balanced?
Many believe today’s children could indeed be the first generation that has a fighting chance to grow up taking advantage of all the tools laid at their feet to build a successful life for themselves. How will they do this?
Education is the key. Not just from the lessons learned in classrooms but the help being provided to young children before they can even read or write. Despite all the problems rolling it out, this is the praiseworthy goal of the GNWT’s junior kindergarten program coming to all communities that have a school this fall.
In October 2013, the territorial government issued another one of its glossy, colorful and long-winded reports, this one entitled NWT Education Renewal and Innovation Framework: Directions for Change.
Among the 66 pages of dense verbiage were some shiny nuggets of insight into the state of the struggling education system and some direction for the future.
The report explained there are “disturbing differences across the territory between small and larger schools,” and that the territory struggles in comparison to the rest of Canada. “This data points to a very strong link between low academic achievement and poverty.”
As part of a vicious cycle, poverty produces children that might not have enjoyed a happy time in the womb, don’t get adequate sleep or nutrition and have less-than-positive role models around them. This sets them up to struggle at school, fail to get a good education – or don’t even graduate high school – and they end up in the same type of impoverished lifestyle as they experienced.
In last week’s News/North, (“Less gossip, more action needed”), Gwich’in Tribal Council president Bobbie Jo Greenland-Morgan, president of the, said many youth today seem to show little ambition to achieve.
In that story, she relayed hearing from high-school students about their desire to live on income assistance as an adult. She said the lure of welfare seems stronger and doesn’t carry the same stigma she remembers from her elders.
“The mentality it’s not looked at as a last-resort thing anymore,” said Greenland-Morgan. “For some, it’s almost looked at as the government owes it to me. It’s free money.”
Indigenous organizations with straight-talking leadership such as the one that represents Gwich’in beneficiaries in the Mackenzie-Delta will play a key role in changing the life view held by some of today’s youth.
There are jobs to be had – its sad and unnecessary the GNWT must boost immigration to satisfy workforce needs – and leaders that are needed. There is no such thing as “free money” – it’s called welfare and is a social safety net – as that kind of attitude not only hinders personal growth and achievement but hobbles entire communities and the NWT as a whole.
In that 2013 education renewal framework, then education, culture and employment minister Jackson Lafferty stated: “I believe in years to come we will look back at this moment, with its combination of strategic initiatives, and see it as a turning point in the success of our youth and our territory.”
We hope Lafferty’s words do come true. We hope students entering school this fall can find success and not only help all of us head into the future, but also tend to previous generations still wracked from the effects of colonization.