There is no mention of the Dene, Metis, or Inuvialuit student population in the Education Act Modernization document. This is by long-standing design (see related story, Education modernization in consulting phase: Focus on early years, Tlicho tell GNWT).
The founding non-Indigenous fathers (emphasis on gender and culture) of the NWT government in the late 1960s insisted all citizens of the North be viewed equally.
Noble as this may sound, this ignores the historic fact the laws, government, economy, even language come from the non-Indigenous colonial power established in the south.
The overarching philosophy of equality was applied with a kind of righteous pride through the dominating lens of the non-Indigenous culture, ruling completely over the Dene, Metis and Inuvialuit people.
The pledge of equality is well-meaning when it comes to laws to keep the peace. But where is the equality when that government doesn’t acknowledge the laws, language, economy and government of 50 per cent of the population whose grandparents, great-grandparents, etc. were born in the North?
The effect of this inequality is seen in all the statistics that describe our Northern society – low education levels, lower income levels, poor health metrics, high crime rates, high incarceration rates, even higher suicide and family violence rates, all generated in the Indigenous population. The high numbers of income, education and health etc. are in the non-Indigenous population.
Those numbers have barely budged in the last few decades.
Education department staff know all this. They have documented it. Their desire to see those lopsided numbers rise has always been and is still deeply rooted in our civil service, as with the staff in our community school system struggling to educate Indigenous children. They know too well the possibility a Dene, Metis, Inuvialuit student will get an education equal to a non-Indigenous student is still painfully low.
So what’s to be done?
The education department is asking Northerners and the Dene. Metis, Inuvialuit parents that question through surveys through this month and next. (Go to https://www.ece.gov.nt.ca/en/services/have-your-say-education-act-modernization). The Indigenous governments, including the Dene and Metis Nations, are also asked the question. They are well placed to put forth the strongest solutions. History shows if they don’t engage in their children’s education, the responsibility for change in our community schools will continue to default to the department, led by the legislative assembly which, as the MLAs and their ministerial responsibilities change every four years, hasn’t been up to the job.
The non-Indigenous school boards in Yellowknife operate independently, offering students a solid foundation for higher learning. So too should an Indigenous school board.
Item nine in the GNWT Commitments toward Education in the NWT offers the catalyst for that change:
9. Continue to work with Aboriginal governments to be successful as they draw down jurisdiction over the education of their people.
The door to education renewal has been opened.
If too few walk through, the status quo of education inequality, and by extension social disparity, for Dene, Metis, Inuvialuit children will persist as an ugly fact of Northern society.