Alex Sims reviewed First Nations education in a 1967 report prepared for the Department of Indian Affairs. Sims noted the inequitable education outcomes for First Nations students and the utter lack of cultural content that reflected the First Nations experience. He went on to recommend First Nations control of education and redress of the systemic underfunding of First Nations education by the federal government. That report was written some 49 years ago and little has changed. We have normalized systemic racial discrimination against First Nations children so deeply that the gravity of this injustice no longer sends shivers up the spine of the Canadian consciousness. One of the key things we need to do to address the inequalities across all areas of First Nations children’s experience is to reject notions of what I call “incremental equality.” Incremental equality is when cross-cutting and deep inequalities are dealt with one topic at a time. Although some measures are taken to address the problem, these fall far short of what is required. Defenders of incremental equality often say things like “the government can’t fix this overnight” or “these are good first steps.” The problem with incremental equality is that children do not have incremental childhoods and as Sims’ report shows us – equality never comes one drop at a time. We must achieve equity for First Nations children across all areas in a leap not in a shuffle.
What are your priorities for change for First Nations children? How will more money make a difference? What else needs to be done?
My priority? Equity across all areas of childhood for First Nations children. As former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Frankfurter noted, “There is no greater inequality than the equal treatment of unequals.” This means that equity must take into account the multi-generational harms related to colonization and the ongoing discriminatory service provision by the federal government. As Sims noted nearly 50 years ago, it also requires that curriculum and those who teach it take positive measures to ensure First Nations histories and realities are meaningfully included throughout the education system. This would benefit First Nations children and also non-Aboriginal children who have been denied a proper understanding of how contemporary realities are shaped by Canada’s longstanding discrimination against First Nations so that they can become positive co-actors in the implementation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s (TRC) Calls to Action.
ETFO members teach in public elementary schools in Ontario. What would you tell them about welcoming First Nations children in their classrooms?
Learn about First Nations, Métis and Inuit peoples yourself and then integrate this knowledge into the classroom environment for all students. Project of Heart ( projectofheart.ca