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Equity, UNDRIP principles must guide education reform in Northwest Territories: Hotıì ts’eeda

Equity should be the guiding principle in the modernization of the NWT’s Education Act, said Tłı̨chǫ Government research unit Hotıì ts’eeda in a paper published on July 16.
Indigenous governments should have the authority to certify knowledge-holders for providing instruction in schools. That’s one of the recommendations from Tłı̨chǫ Government research unit Hotıì ts’eeda on modernizing the Education Act, offered in a paper published on July 16. Blair McBride/NNSL photo

Equity should be the guiding principle in the modernization of the NWT’s Education Act, said Tłı̨chǫ Government research unit Hotıì ts’eeda in a paper published on July 16.

The document is a response to the GNWT’s Education Act Modernization discussion paper that went online in the spring.

READ MORE: Ełeyati ts’edı: We are sharing words and taking them into consideration

READ MORE: Education Act Modernization

The publication, titled Ełeyati ts’edı — meaning “we are sharing words and taking them into consideration” (pronounced eh’-kle-yah-ti t’say-di in Tlicho) — was written by Hotıì ts’eeda’s scientific director Stephanie Irlbacher-Fox and chairperson John B. Zoe.

In addition to equity, the paper stresses the importance of implementing the principles in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) as part of revising the act.

Ełeyati ts’edı makes a distinction between equity and equality, which means treating everyone equally “with a few adjustments to account for unique circumstances.”

“Equity would require the redistribution of resources to ensure that all students can have access to a quality basic education, which will likely require changing current resource sharing approaches to provide additional supports in areas such as infrastructure, support for teachers in multi-level classrooms and base funding that is intended to ensure access — either remotely or in person — to programming at all grade levels,” the paper states.

That principle is also in line with parts of UNDRIP, such as Article 14, which states that Indigenous peoples have the right to establish and control their educational systems, providing education in their own languages and that signatory states should work to provide Indigenous people with access to education in their own culture and languages.

The authors cite Deh Gah School in Fort Providence as an example of how equity can function, a process that requires “decolonization, innovation and flexibility.”

Deh Gah is able to set its own school calendar to allow for longer March break periods and shorter summer breaks so as to minimize learning loss over the summer and provide education and supports year-round; it provides language immersion in Dene Zhatié from junior kindergarten to Grade 3; and offers all students on-the-land learning opportunities, with up to four weeks for younger students and additional opportunities for those in high school. Students can be excused from regular school duties to partake in traditional activities.

The central principle of equity can be applied to education funding as well, the authors write.

The NWT’s current model of funding calculates school budgets and staffing based on full-time equivalent (FTE) student enrollment, with some adjustments made through the Northern cost index (NCI) and consumer price index (CPI).

Hotıì ts’eeda proposes that NCI/CPI funding be supplemented with a separate stream to provide more funds to small community schools outside of Yellowknife, Inuvik, Hay River and Fort Smith.

“Revise the NWT Education Funding Framework from an equality-oriented approach to an equity-based approach, adjusting the funding framework so that small communities can access additional and different education and wellness programming which is not only needed, but requires adequate spaces,” the report states.

Funding formulas that, for example, deny the construction of full-size gymnasiums in small communities based on population should be revised to align with economic and community wellness.

Another key focus of the response paper is the importance of working with Indigenous governments to determine the governance of regional education bodies.

The GNWT acknowledges in its education modernization document that the NWT needs to determine how the Education Act can work with Indigenous self-government and UNDRIP because the act “does not currently include a process for allowing decision-making powers to be transferred to Indigenous governments in support of self-government implementation.”

The paper makes several recommendations with regards to language and culture in education. Among them are that local, Indigenous leadership has legislative authority to implement culture-based education; recognize the authority of Indigenous governments to certify knowledge-holders for providing instruction in schools; and permit those governments to make decisions on language and culture-based curricula.

It also recommends that certification requirements be reviewed to ensure Indigenous cultural and language knowledge is recognized alongside the credentials of Western post-secondary institutions.

In a broad-strokes response to the Hotıì ts’eeda paper, Education Minister RJ Simpson said he’s committed to equitable access to education for all NWT residents.

“Hearing from residents is part of how we will create a more robust, accessible and successful education system that better meets the needs of all NWT residents, including the many Indigenous students we serve,” Simpson said. “We recognize the importance of partnerships, their ideas, needs and hopes for the future.”