Tuesday, October 15, 2013

When we have agency: An Open Response to John Richards' Commentary in the Vancouver Sun, October 15, 2013


Such a loaded word. What springs to mind when you hear the term? Mr. Richards seems to be implying that a "Traditionalist," at least among the Chiefs of the Assembly of First Nations, to be someone opposed to progress and someone opposed to improving the education outcomes of Aboriginal students across Canada. Mr. Richards' defence of the Conservative Government's work on Aboriginal Education, Tories get no respect on native file ( ), is misleading at best, outright prejudicial and designed as propaganda at worst. Interesting tactic considering the presence in Canada of the UN Special Rapporteur investigating this country's treatment of Indigenous people. Mr. Richards has launched an attack on First Nations while promoting the work done by the government to improve education outcomes in spite of our opposition to their work.

He works hard to frame the business of government as a progress that is needed despite Tradititionalist opposition, without defining what Tradititionalist means. In addition, he argues that this legislative answer is the best way forward, citing British Columbia's somewhat "better institutional arrangements for aboriginals students - both on reserve and in provincial schools" as a possible reason for our better outcomes here than in other provinces despite the fact that the First Nations Education Steering Committee (part of our institutional arrangement) is opposed to the First Nations Education Act.

Yes, Mr. Richards, it is easy to mock past policy, and many are, but the opposition from these "Traditionalists" has more to it than that. Traditionalist is not one opposed to progress in this case. The term is outmoded and boneheaded. A traditionalist is one content to continue to let the government arbitrarily rule our lives as wards of the state. Past policy isn't mocked here, it is brought up as a reminder to all that if we are to improve education outcomes, we need to have agency in our own lives. Nowhere is the lack of real consultation with the people who will be directly affected mentioned in this article. Nowhere is the needs addressed or considered. I would argue that these "Traditionalists" are progressives in that they demand agency, a say in the way they will live their lives and succeed within Canada.

I am a teacher. I am First Nations and a member of an Indian Band. I live on my reserve. I have taught in public schools, and in a reserve school, at all grade levels and in a wide variety of class compositions, class sizes and I have taught many different types of courses to many different types of learners. I have a Masters degree in Education. What I have learned in all of this is that we are finding our way by taking control of our education. What I have learned is that a student finds that fire to learn and succeed when he or she sees themselves reflected in their learning. When they have agency.

The FNEA takes away that agency in their communities. A school board type system might be the answer, I do not know, but cutting us out of the process is condemning us, and our students, our children, to further marginalization because you are removing our power to decide for ourselves. I tell my students that they do not have to give up a part of themselves to succeed in Canadian society. How do you resist assimilation? Resist by succeeding. Resist by learning to live in both worlds without giving up who you are. The FNEA is telling them that they have to give up a part of themselves, their agency, to succeed because you are taking that away from their parents, their communities.

And that is unacceptable.