|Canadians need to learn about aboriginal issues, native leaders say|
|Friday, 06 July 2012|
CANADA - Provincial education ministers will meet with a prominent First Nations representative Friday to discuss better ways of educating Canadians about aboriginal issues, amid what some call a continued widespread ignorance of the challenges facing First Nations, Inuit and Metis peoples.
Provincial education ministers will meet with Murray Sinclair, a prominent First Nations representative Friday to discuss better ways of educating Canadians about aboriginal issues, amid what some call a continued widespread ignorance of the challenges facing First Nations, Inuit and Metis peoples.
Photograph by: LYLE STAFFORD , TIMES COLONIST
A Postmedia News poll released earlier this week suggested most Canadians think aboriginals are both well-treated and well-funded by the federal government, a view not held by many aboriginal leaders who routinely grapple with poverty and social problems among their people.
"After a while you just have to shake your head and not go into despair," said Beverly Anne Sabourin, the vice-provost for aboriginal initiatives at Lakehead University in Thunder Bay, Ont. "We have so much more work to do with our Canadian population."
Justice Murray Sinclair, chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), will meet with the education ministers in Halifax Friday. As head of the TRC, set up by the federal government in 2009 with a five-year mandate, he is charged with documenting the history of Canada's residential school system, which forced 150,000 native children away from their communities and families into government-funded, church-run institutions where many were gravely abused.
He is also mandated to educate the general public about that legacy.
Saskatchewan's minister of education, Russ Marchuk, told Postmedia News his government has focused on educating young people as a way to help improve the relationship with aboriginals. "As our children learn, I believe that's transferred to their parents and will make us all more engaged with First Nations people," he told Postmedia News.
Sinclair was unavailable for comment.
But his commission released an interim report in February that discussed the need for provinces to alter their public school curriculums so Canadians learn about treaties, the residential schools, the contribution of Aboriginal Peoples to Canada and can study important documents such as the Indian Act.
While the Northwest Territories and Manitoba are both in the process of developing material for use in classrooms from kindergarten through grade 12, as of January 2012 Saskatchewan remains the only province with a mandate to teach non-aboriginal students about residential schools as well as the importance of treaties.
The poll commissioned by Postmedia found about two-thirds of those asked felt aboriginals received too much support from taxpayers, and were well-treated by the federal government. But former auditor-general Sheila Fraser repeatedly concluded that on-reserve services are under-funded by the federal government, with dire consequences. In fact, the federal government is currently defending itself in front of the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal against allegations that it discriminates against First Nations children on-reserve by under-funding services to such an extent that native children have been driven into foster care.
National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, Shawn Atleo, told Postmedia News that 80 First Nations communities need schools and more than 100 communities don't have access to safe drinking water. The federal government, through the Indian Act, is responsible for ensuring that First Nations people on-reserve have access to education, health care and safe drinking water.
Atleo said the poll results show there's a "major gap" between the realities First Nations people are facing in their communities and the beliefs of most Canadians.
It is everyone's responsibility, he said, "to overcome the myths and the stereotypes that have for far too long characterized the relationship between First Nations and Canada."
In a recent interview with the Aboriginal People's Commission Sinclair said at the government-funded, church-run residential schools, "aboriginal children were being taught that their cultures were inferior, their languages were inferior, their relationships were not worthy of protection, that they didn't have a history that was worth talking about." At the same time, generations of non-aboriginal children were receiving "the very same messaging . . . in the public schools of this country," he said.
Years of indoctrination have contributed to the inherent belief by many Canadians that they are superior to Aboriginal Peoples, he said.
Lakehead University's Sabourin, whose 35-year career has focused on fostering cross-cultural relationships, said "we have to come to a place where we have a relationship with each other based on common understanding and trust, not on fear or the baggage that people carry on both sides . . . It's going to be a long process."
Atleo said changes can't come soon enough. As the government pushes to exploit natural resource in First Nations territory, he sees the possibility that a crisis - such as the standoff that happened in Oka, Quebec in the 1990s — will happen again. "If we're not careful, with the exploding youth population - coupled with Canada's interest in developing natural resources, we're sitting at a very critical moment of reckoning," he said.
Author: Teresa Smith
Source: Postmedia News
UH Manoa- Center for Pacific Island Studies
UCTP Taino News "Did You Know" Files
Paepae O He'e'ia