Approximately 10 people participated in the public meeting held by Education, Culture and Employment Minister Caroline Cochrane in Inuvik to discuss the foundational review of Aurora College June 13.
The purpose of the public meeting, which was part of a series of meetings held in Fort Smith, Inuvik and Yellowknife, was to give people a chance to provide feedback into the report and allow people to ask questions.
Cochrane said she is also meeting with Indigenous governments, municipal governments and the college’s staff and students to discuss the review, which was released in May 2018.
She said each MLA in the territory will also be gathering comments about the review from their communities in order to reach as many people in the territory as possible. An online survey will also be available for all residents to give feedback.
“Nothing in the review is set in stone yet. We are committed to working closely with MLAs, and once we reconvene in the fall, we’ll be going through each recommendation,” said Cochrane. “The only thing that is confirmed is, in consulting with the MLAs in the last session, is to move forward … to hire the administrator and start the evaluations of every program.”
Cochrane said the administrator will be responsible for reviewing the college’s programs and developing a strategic plan and a fundraising plan.
Mary Beckett, a former instructor at Aurora College and former college board member said hiring an administrator would be “a step backwards” because one of the issues highlighted in the report was that the board of governors was ineffective because it had too much government interference.
“If you think that the problem with the board was that there was too much interference from the Department of Education, having the government run it without the board doesn’t really fix the issue,” said Beckett.
The college’s board of governors was dismissed in June 2017.
She attended the public meeting because she was frustrated that she was not consulted during the review process, and she wanted to voice her concerns.
“There just wasn’t anything really new in that review, even if you believed all of the alternative facts, it is still not new information,” she said. “I went to my very first board of governors meeting in 2013 and the item on the agenda that we were discussion was that the Yellowknife campus was bulging at the seams … which we’re still talking about in 2018 in this review.”
Beckett said the review is full of incorrect information.
“They have a blurb in the middle of the report that says that they couldn’t verify any of the information or statements,” she said. “It doesn’t feel like a consultation process to me. It doesn’t feel like they’re taking information from the people on the ground and incorporating our ideas into their thinking. It’s consultation in the most colonial way possible, which I find extremely frustrating.”
Beckett said she still isn’t convinced that her concerns were heard.
“I believe that if enough people say similar to things to what was said last night, then the government will have a fair bit of pressure to listen to the people that the college serves,” she said.
“With luck, they will consider that when they’re making decisions. However, I have 35 years of experience of living in the North and I am fully aware that … sometimes when the government does these consultation road shows, they’re just to let you vent because they’ve already made a decision.”
She was also disappointed with the lack of Indigenous consultation in the report, and that the review did not acknowledge the Indigenous aspects of the college except in passing.
Inuvik elder and education advocate Ellen Smith also attended the public meeting and stressed that any changes at college should ensure that they are gearing curriculum towards Indigenous teachings, knowledge and wisdom.
“It’s very important, in order for students to be successful, that they know the history and the impact of residential school,” Smith said. “They should also get out on the land as much as possible. Why are they confined to a building?”
She thinks Aurora College should introduce a board of Indigenous representatives from across the Northwest Territories, as well as employ male and female elders at the college’s campuses.
The elders’ role would be to teach students traditional knowledge, provide counselling, information on self-care and to help guide students who are struggling towards resources they can access in their communities.
She thinks Cochrane needs to ensure that she reaches everyone when she is consulting with communities.
“She needs to hit the grassroots level of people, not just people in advocacy positions,” Smith said. “She needs to talk to the college students themselves, upcoming graduates, past graduates, youth and elders.”