Paul Martin: Indigenous thought belongs in the classroom


Former prime minister Paul Martin (Yvonne Berg For The Globe and Mail)


Paul Martin: Indigenous thought belongs in the classroom

PAUL MARTIN - Special to The Globe and Mail - Feb. 09 2015

What actions could end the shocking disparity between the prosperity of Canada and the deprivation of First Nations? In our series Rich Country, Poor Nations, a range of contributors argue for one idea that could make a difference.

Paul Martin was prime minister of Canada from 2003-2006

When it comes to the reality of indigenous life in Canada, no issue can be deemed the most important. But if I were to single out one action that has too long been ignored, it would be to repair the mistake that was made by colonial governments who, believing that native culture had no value, assumed its people had nothing to say.

This false assumption has contributed grievously to the wrong and repeated attempts to assimilate the First Nations, which is a root cause of so much of the poverty and missed opportunity we see today. From outlawing traditional ceremonies to the horrors of residential schools, the history of Canada is fraught with examples of a culturally genocidal dismissal of First Nations values and sense of worth, a policy of unconscionable discrimination that continues apace. For example, it can be seen in the current case before the Human Rights Tribunal on the underfunding of child welfare on-reserve, where one out of every two children already lives below the poverty line, and in the current underfunding of schools on-reserve as a result of the government's expropriation of the new education monies provided in the 2006 Kelowna Accord.

It's to be hoped that the tribunal will render its decision soon, and that it will be the right one. But what about the six-year-olds on-reserve who enter Grade 1 only to be told effectively that their education is less important than the students attending provincial schools, which receive much greater per capita funding.

Nor is this the only issue arising out of the government's most recent education bill - C33, which not only failed to provide adequate funding, but was as well oblivious to the importance of community involvement in a child's schooling. The bill would have legislated that Ottawa, which has no department of education, should nonetheless assert control over on-reserve learning, despite the fact that across the country there are outstanding First Nations educators and countless examples of structures that work. Even more baffling was the government's knee-jerk reaction when asked before Christmas by the First Nations leadership for a meeting to resolve these issues. The minister refused, stating that it was the "government's plan or no plan." At some point the government must come to its senses.

Wherein lies the answer? It lies on a dusty shelf of a shuttered library in a recommendation of the 1996 Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, which says, "Aboriginal children are entitled to learn and achieve in an environment that supports their development as whole individuals." It is this statement that must penetrate the conscience of the nation, for it means that we cannot ignore the need for indigenous thought and fairer funding in on-reserve schools. It also means we can no longer ignore the need for indigenous history in all of our schools.

Can indigenous thought hold its own? Of course it can. Modern science and mathematics are an essential component of indigenous learning. However, unlike Western teaching, which compartmentalizes much knowledge, the indigenous approach, which is grounded in the links between all of existence, is more holistic. Or to come at it another way: Western thought often implies that we are above nature. Indigenous thought states that we are unequivocally a part of nature, which is one of the reasons indigenous thinkers have had trouble making themselves heard in so many debates, such as those focused on the environment.

To put it quite simply, while indigenous traditions differ from many of their Western counterparts, this is not to say that in the search for the truth we can't learn from each other - and the time to start is now! This for many reasons! But let me close with two. The first is that to deny the benefits of working together is to subvert the very openness that has advanced human knowledge thus far. Furthermore, as Canadians, it is to ignore our origins as a nation at a time when the real need is to repair the consequences of those who treated this land as terra nullius, or a place where nobody lived, so many hundreds of years ago.

The second reason for raising the indigenous worldview is that indigenous Canadians are the youngest and fastest-growing segment of our population. They are arriving on the doorsteps of Canadian colleges and universities in greater numbers than ever before. Thus, it is important that our institutions of higher learning recognize the argument of many indigenous scholars to the effect that indigenous thought is not a subset of Eurocentric thought, but a body of knowledge with very different origins that are every bit as rich and profound.

This is important in terms of the integrity of university teaching. But it is important for another reason as well, one to be found in an insight of the philosopher Charles Taylor, who suggested that it is non-recognition, of being invisible, of not being there in the minds of the majority that is one of the major obstacles facing those of indigenous origin. In today's Canada, no student who wants to succeed should have to leave their identity at the door when they walk into a classroom.



Gabrielle Fayant


Gabrielle Fayant: Native youth claim their future through technology

GABRIELLE FAYANT - Contributed to The Globe and Mail - Published Monday, Feb. 09 2015

What actions could end the shocking disparity between the prosperity of Canada and the deprivation of First Nations? In our series Rich Country, Poor Nations, a range of contributors argue for one idea that could make a difference.

Gabrielle Fayant co-directs the ReachUp! North Program. She plays an advisory role with the Canadian Commission for UNESCO and sits on the board of the Friendship Centre Movement.

In Anishnabemowin, Gabrielle Fayant ndiizhnikaasmeans my name is Gabrielle Fayant.

My family comes from Fishing Lake Metis Settlement in Alberta. I grew up on welfare, in severe poverty, like many other indigenous youth. From Fishing Lake to Edmonton to Ottawa, we moved from one ghetto to another. Alcohol, drugs and gangs were always in my surroundings and I grew up thinking this was normal - that there was no hope for a better life.

I dropped out of high school, and I put myself in many dangerous situations because I didn't really care what would happen to me. My mom passed away and I fell through every crack in the system; I was in the hospital three times for alcohol and depression. My sad history is shared by thousands of indigenous youth across Canada.

Now, I am proud to be alive. I am especially pleased to say that I am now happy.

Key has been finding my cultural identity. I am grateful to those few people who reached out to me and believed in me. I have gone on to university, a major milestone, and I am giving back to youth in my community. I have worked at the Aboriginal Healing Foundation that interviewed and researched residential school survivors, where I learned about the schools and our history. Though the truth was hard to accept, it empowered me. I became active in the community, in my culture. The Anishnabe teachings of the Seven Fire Prophecy helped me see my role and my purpose.

Impatient for change, I was involved in the winter of Idle No More.

The Idle No More rallies may have stopped, but youth are still taking action on the ground. We have created the Assembly of Seven Generations (A7G), and are working with a Canadian international social enterprise called Digital Opportunity Trust (DOT) to implement an indigenous youth empowerment program called ReachUp! North, partly using the ReachUp! programs DOT has deployed in the Middle East and East Africa for a decade. It will have 100 graduates by November.

For indigenous youth, a strong sense of cultural identity is key to self-confidence, positive self-esteem and success in the economy. To date, this has not been reflected in the hit-and-miss programming offered to them.

Many programs are developed by non-indigenous program and policy developers, and reflect a top-down approach where culture - the most important factor for indigenous youth development - is forgotten.

Even indigenous organizations do not take youth leadership seriously, and youth are often tokenized, or worse, ignored. Youth departments and programming are often the first to be cut.

Half of Canada's indigenous population is under the age of 30, and the youth bulge is growing. Youth committees and councils are no longer enough. What is needed are solutions that include cultural learning from a youth-led, youth-driven perspective - A7G and DOT are doing just that.

ReachUp! North has been adapted for indigenous youth with the guidance of Elders, and is localized and delivered by A7G youth leaders, with support from DOT and within a spirit of trust and freedom to incorporate traditional teachings.

With DOT, we have been able to create a safe space for Indigenous youth to take charge of their livelihoods through the use of technology.

Youth who graduate from ReachUp! North learn to transform their skills and passions into a livelihood opportunity, while also being encouraged to tap into the technological resources and support services around them. The program will be expanded to other communites in the year to come.

For some, it is simply using their phones or laptops as tools to promote their business ideas, whereas others are applying new work force and entrepreneurial skills to find jobs or start businesses, or perhaps using spreadsheets for personal budgeting.

There's Sage, who enrolled in ReachUp! North to improve his skills so that he could better promote his drum group, the O-Town Boyz. Using new business and digital skills, he has developed online portfolios of the singers, videos of performances, promotional material and business cards. Sage and the O-Town Boyz are now selling CDs and performing at bigger events and pow wows.

So if anyone is wondering "whatever happened to Idle No More," you can tell them we are on the ground working hard for our peers. We have created an organization called the Assembly of Seven Generations, we are becoming entrepreneurs and we are creating networks of like-minded youth across the country. The winter of Idle No More was a spiritual awakening for indigenous youth. We are the seventh generation, we are the new people.