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Anishinabek First Nations will be able to determine own curricula for on-reserve students

Mehreen Shahid

By Mehreen Shahid, Special to the Packet & Times

Roxanne Lewis, of Michipicoten First Nation, is shown signing the Anishinabek Nation Education Agreement and Master Education Agreement Wednesday at Casino Rama. The agreement will give 23 Anishinabek First Nations in Ontario the ability to design their own curriculum for on-reserve schools. (MEHREEN SHAHID/THE PACKET & TIMES)

Roxanne Lewis, of Michipicoten First Nation, is shown signing the Anishinabek Nation Education Agreement and Master Education Agreement Wednesday at Casino Rama. The agreement will give 23 Anishinabek First Nations in Ontario the ability to design their own curriculum for on-reserve schools. (MEHREEN SHAHID/THE PACKET & TIMES)

Anishinabek First Nations will now be able to set their own curricula for on-reserve schools.

Government officials and representatives from 23 of the 40 Anishinabek nations in Ontario gathered Wednesday at Casino Rama to sign two historic agreements: the Anishinabek Nation Education Agreement and the Master Education Agreement.

The agreements with the provincial and federal governments exempt these First Nations from the Indian Act as it pertains to education and give them the ability to give direction to the education of children attending on-reserve schools.

“This is no longer a dream; this is a reality. Anishinabek Education System (AES) is here,” said Patrick Madahbee, grand council chief of the Anishinabek Nation. “I know we won't fail, because we're doing this for our kids. This day has been over 45 years in the making. We will use our education to preserve our culture, history and our identity. Our people will write our own history, not just read it.”

Along with the signed agreements, the federal government committed $1 million to support the pre-implementation process. Over the next five years, about $270 million will be provided to help establish an Anishinabek Education System (AES) that is designed and approved by the participating communities.

Each First Nation signing the agreement Wednesday was represented by its chief and a student.

“It feels pretty good knowing that when I look down in the future, I will see my name in the books,” said Justin Big Canoe, of Georgina Island First Nation, that community's student representative.

“It fixes schooling. It helps kids a lot so (education) is more traditional,” said the 16-year-old. “We're leading away from tradition in schools, and we haven't taught it as much.”

Implementation of the AES will start in April 2018, and feedback from regional councils will determine the curriculum and other matters, such as the structure of the school day and the school year.

“We have to talk and build as we engage,” Madahbee said, adding a lot of the teaching and learning will be done using traditional methods. “Not all classroom instruction will be in the classroom, but a lot of learning will take place on the land. It will include a lot of interaction with elders, (who) already take young people to the land and camp and teach them safety and respect for the land and animals. You would never learn that in class.”

The beauty of this education system, he said, is that it's directed by the community.

“One of the most important ones is language instruction, as well as interaction with artists and artisans,” he said.

Learning to read and write in her language is something Roxanne Lewis, of Michipicoten First Nation, is looking forward to.

“It feels wonderful knowing that we are trying to get our culture back to us, because we did lose it,” said the 17-year-old. “I don't know much about my culture, and that's going to be a learning process.”

Chippewas of Rama First Nation Chief Rodney Noganosh said this is another step toward answering the calls to action outlined in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

“Canada recognizes our jurisdiction over education and Ontario recognizes we're setting up Anishinabek education in self-recognition,” he said. “We are proud of our students and, as a community, we work hard to foster a sense of community and pride. We want to see more of this.”

The federal and provincial governments are pitching in to support the transition of students between Anishinabek First Nations schools and schools in the provincially funded education system, said Carolyn Bennett, minister of Indigenous and northern affairs. The governments will also promote engagement and participation of students, parents, families and communities for improving student achievement and well-being, she added.

“Everything we celebrate today is ultimately about the young people, the education and the opportunities of the future,” Bennett said. “It is about righting the wrongs of the past and to make sure your children are learning in First Nations-led education systems and schools.

“There is good evidence now that when First Nations are in charge of their own education, their kids do better. The security in personal identification leads to better health and economic outcomes.”

For more information, visit sayyestoaes.ca.

mshahid@postmedia.com

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