Four percent of the Indigenous population in Canada lives across the three territories (approximately 2% in Nunavut, 1.5% in the Northwest Territories, and 1% in the Yukon). Despite these percentages appearing small, Indigenous people make up the largest share of the population in two of the three territories. In Nunavut, Indigenous people make up for almost 90% of the population. In the Northwest Territories, over half of the population is Indigenous. In the Yukon, just under 25% of the population is Indigenous. As a result, a comparison of the educational policies between these three territories is able to most accurately reflect the current state of educational outcomes for Indigenous students, the impact of the policies that are in place, and what can be learned from Indigenous educational policy when reflected through a larger Indigenous population.
Although each territory has framework for policy development relating to Indigenous education, there is no standardized system which helps accurately portray current academic achievement outcomes for Indigenous students. Consequently, there is uneven policy development and approaches to encourage higher academic achievement. There is a wide range of existing polices, programs, and supports that exist to improve Indigenous educational outcomes. Conversely, there is a notable lack of available data with concrete answers to how many Indigenous students exist in the Canadian school systems, no jurisdictional harmony, and few definitive answers around what constitutes high academic achievement. Legislative changes alone are unlikely to create improvements in the lives of students, but reforms can create new policy, which is a positive course of action. This vast array of educational policy relating to Indigenous students has led to little to no positive outcomes for Indigenous students themselves.
Jurisdiction conveys a right to exercise full or a measure of authority over a certain subject-matter. In international law, jurisdiction is the right of a sovereign state to determine rights and duties by legislation. Defining jurisdiction is important because it helps define the self-government structure of an Indigenous group, and also helps separate the three territories and the different approaches that have been taken relating to Indigenous education. A comparison of educational policy related to Indigenous studies and students across the three territories as jurisdictions (The Yukon, The Northwest Territories, and Nunavut) can be used to help explain the educational outcomes and academic achievement for Indigenous students in the North.
This paper begins with the research design used to facilitate the creation of this paper. In order to best explain educational policy across the territories, a number of sources from that come from the Federal and respective territorial governments were required.
A historical overview and contemporary understandings of Indigenous Education in Canada, in order to better situate how and why current policies are in effect is provided at the beginning. This includes brief overview of Jordan’s Principle and the Inuit Child First Initiative, both polices which have provided educational services to Indigenous students and is therefore influential in contemporary Indigenous education.Each territory is given space following the historical overview within the paper individually in order to best understand the policies that are currently in place. By providing a basic outline of what each territory is currently doing, then there can be better understanding of why some territories are improving or not.
Territorial outlines are followed by discussion on whether there is overall positive educational outcomes for students resulting from policies in the North. This section will inform, and explain, how territorial policy impacts the academic achievement for the Indigenous students in the north. Further, it provides possible suggestions and solutions to the gaps which currently exist in Northern Indigenous educational policy.
Finally, this paper concludes with implications and recommendations surrounding educational policy across the territories. This section seeks to address the current problems in policy practice, and how these changes may be beneficial for Indigenous students.
This paper is primarily a policy analysis of the three territorial educational policies which are currently (2020) in place by the governments. This policy analysis ideally will help identify potential policy options that address the low academic achievement for Indigenous youth in the north. A policy analysis also allows for the comparison of the three territories in Canada, in order to better suggest the most effective, efficient, and feasible one. A policy analysis further addresses the community partners and the people who’s lives the educational policy impacts.
The Yukon, the Northwest Territories, and Nunavut have all been recently audited with reports by the Auditor General of Canada. These reports have examined whether the Department of Education in each Territory delivered education programs that were inclusive and reflected Indigenous culture and languages, and whether it assessed and addressed gaps in student outcomes. These reports are crucial as they help underscore whether or not the educational policy for Indigenous students is working.
Upon selecting the topic, background reading allowed for the creation of a thesis statement. Keywords and questions were inputted in research databases to help prepare a draft outline. Books, journals, and articles were discovered through the use of library databases. These databases provided enough authoritative information on the topic.
Significant amount of research was taken to examine how educational jurisdiction is defined in each territory, and to what type and degree it is exercised. Moreover, it is necessary to consult how Indigenous educational jurisdiction exercised in these areas? Specifically this requires research on: what legal mechanism each nation uses; what legislation and policies are required; how are the roles and responsibilities are defined; and, what structures and bodies are in place to exercise educational jurisdiction. For each territory, research was required on: educational provisions in the settlement of modern land claims agreement; agreement through the treaty process; self-government agreements; and, enactment of legislation.
When evaluating resources, it is important to note that the majority do not exist in a vacuum. Sources are necessary that contribute to the subject as a whole, and whether the resource accessible for understanding or is only useful upon doing other reading. Furthermore, resources need to be contextualized - and determined if the source was primary or secondary, if it was the first writing on the topic, or if it was cited frequently.
Each book and article was read to determine appropriate information, evaluated on currency, reliability, authority, accuracy, and point of view. Evaluating sources required to look for the purpose: why was the source written and whether it was to inform, persuade, or give an overview. Through an examination of the table of contents and headings, the sources were determined whether or not to contain the information necessary. Since Indigenous educational policy is continuously evolving, sources were chosen that provided current information. Although, due to the contentious history, historical overviews of Indigenous education were also required. Scholarly works contain a bibliography of the resources that were consulted, and books and articles were chosen for sufficient quantity and appropriateness.
Indigenous Education in Northern Canada
Prior to the arrival of Europeans, Indigenous youth were educated through traditional, holistic, community based, and experiential forms of education. From contact to the mid 1800’s, schools were operated by missionaries focused on teaching religion. Missionaries, with the legal assistance of the federal government, introduced Western Schooling. The goal of the Indian Residential School (IRS) System, was to assimilate the ‘Indians’ into European thought, values, and practices. Indigenous families were legally compelled to turn their children over to the custody of IRS authorities. Children lived away from their families and cultures, and there is overwhelming evidence for ongoing physical, emotional, sexual, and psychological abuse. Indigenous peoples of Canada experienced long-term psychological, cultural, and social dislocation as a result of the IRS system. The high drop-out rate, violence, and substance abuse visible in Indigenous communities, as well as the high suicide rates in Northern Indigenous communities, have been linked by some researchers to the severe cultural and social dislocation caused by residential schooling (Rosalyn-Ing, 1990).
In the early 1950’s, the federal government moved towards a policy of integration. Territorial governments were provided facilities and teachers for Indigenous students who were previously a part of the IRS. This policy, known as integration, was enforced with the expectation Indigenous students would adapt to another new learning environment and fit into existing educational systems. In 1972, the National Indian Brotherhood (now the Assembly of First Nations) drafted a new policy statement entitled Indian Control of Indian Education. The federal government adopted this policy, and in theory, Indigenous education is one of ‘local control’. In practice, ‘local control’ has meant a devolved and limited amount of control for Indigenous political bodies.
“First Nations peoples understand that learning is a formal and informal, instinctive, and
experiential lifelong journey, encompassing early childhood learning, elementary and
secondary school, career, vocational and technical training, post-secondary education
and adult learning. The primary role of holistically balanced First Nations learning system
is to transmit First Nations ancestral languages, traditions, cultures and histories, while
at the same time preparing and making accessible to the learner the support and tools
that will allow them to achieve their full potential in any setting they choose.” (FNCFNE,
There continues to be an increase in Indigenous youth in Canada. This ever growing population is demonstrating both higher educational accomplishments, but also, a higher percentage of dropping out. Moreover, there is more awareness to the lack of equity for Indigenous education evident through the absence of language teaching, culturally responsive curriculum, and the construction of new or improved schools.
Jordan’s Principle makes sure all First Nation children living in Canada can access products, services, and supports that are needed when they need them. The principle is named in memory of Jordan River Anderson, a young boy from Norway House Cree Nation in Manitoba, who died when unable to receive proper health services because the federal and provincial governments could not agree on who should pay for his care. Jordan’s Principle works with the territories and First Nations partners to help with health, social, and educational services. Jordan’s Principle has provided speech therapy and educational supports.
The Inuit Child First Initiative makes sure all Inuit children living in Canada can access products, services, and supports that are needed when they need them. For education, the Inuit Child First Initiative can provide tutoring services, educational assistants, school transportation, psycho-educational assessments, and assistive technologies.
The Yukon is the westernmost, and smallest, of Canada’s three Northern territories. The Yukon has a diverse mix of history and culture. One-quarter of all Yukoners are of Indigenous ancestry and belong to one of fourteen Yukon First Nations, and eight language groups. Seven languages are Athapaskan including Gwichi’in, Han, Kaska, Northern Tutchone, Southern Tutochone, Tagish, and Upper Tanata. The eighth, Inland Tingit, is a distant relative to the Athapaskan family. Traditionally, the Yukon’s Indigenous peoples are hunters and gatherers with close connections to the land, rivers, and seasons. History is recorded and passed down through an oral tradition. European contact with the Indigenous peoples of the Yukon caused land loss, non-traditional governance, and education. The Yukon First Nation organizations aim for the maintenance and development of Indigenous education, language, culture, spirituality, and Indigenous rights.
In the late 1960s, the Yukon Indian Advancement association was formed (Alia, 2016). In 1970, the Yukon Native Brotherhood was founded which commenced a land claims movement. Elijah Smith, and a delegation of Yukon Chiefs, went to Ottawa in 1973 to meet with Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau armed with a document entitled “Together Today for our Children Tomorrow” (Ray, 2016). This document, and subsequent petition, helped to convince the federal government to begin a negotiation process for a modern-day treaty. This treaty would be the first of its kind in Canada (Yukon First Nations). The Umbrella Final Agreement: Council for Yukon Indians is a land claims agreement within the meaning of Section 35 of the Constitution Act 1982. The Yukon First Nations negotiated the devolution of programs and services dealing with education to First Nations. Parties to the agreement could also negotiate guaranteed representation for Yukon First Nations on government commissions, councils, boards, and committees to deal with education. By 1990, the agreement was completed (The Umbrella Final Agreement).
The Umbrella Final Agreement suggested that the education provided by the Canadian Government was not relevant to the values and beliefs of the Indigenous people in the Yukon. The Canadian government provided education regarding the economy and encouraged students to go onto postsecondary education. The agreement states that the First Nations of the Yukon should be provided with the ability to change the education system, which would be relevant and fitting for Indigenous people. This education would include knowledge about the land and craft. (Smith, 1977)
By 2006, 11 of 14 Yukon First Nations had entered into Final and Self-Government agreements with the Governments of Canada and the Yukon. These agreements have provided First Nations with the jurisdiction required in order to govern themselves and their resources. Section 126.96.36.199 of each Final Agreement lists “education and training” as one such area for negotiation.
The IRS system was first brought to the Yukon in the late 19th century. The federal government provided the education to Indigenous students in schools through agreements with various governments and school jurisdictions. The last residential schools were closed in the late 1960s and a new integration policy soon followed. The responsibility for the education of status Indian children, as defined by the Indian Act, was transferred to the Yukon government after the Act was amended in 1951. Under the federal-territorial General Tuition agreement of 1964, the federal government transferred the responsibility of education to the territorial government. The purpose was to provide the same educational opportunities for all students. It outlined the policy of a joint education by which the Government of the Yukon would educate status Indians.
In 1987, the Kwiya Report, which was commissioned to study education in the Yukon and impact on First Nations, stated that the government had narrowly interpreted its requirement to provide only equality of access for First Nation students (JCET, 1987). In 1990, the Government of the Yukon carried out a review of the Education Act to deal with inequities in the educational system. Although the resulting legislation had promising points, it gave the Minister of Education primary responsibility and control over education. The Yukon First Nations people had little responsibility, or control, over any decision making. In 2000, a further educational review process was set up, and once again, not supported by First Nations organizations as they felt the Act did not allow for equal representation of First Nations people.
Currently, many Yukon First Nation peoples have self-government agreements. Any self-governing Yukon First Nation may request the negotiation of ways in which to divide and share responsibility for the design, delivery, and administration of the programs (including education) delivered in its territory. The Yukon First Nations and the Yukon government both have authority over education. The Yukon government fully exercises this authority, while First Nations jurisdiction is still being negotiated. No First Nation has yet started negotiating education provisions under Section 24 (the division of Education) as outlined in the Umbrella Final Agreement.
The authors of the 1990 Education Act noted the need for legislation that allows for input by parents, communities, and partners. “The Yukon, with the passing of the 1990 Education Act, has perhaps gone further than any other jurisdiction to decentralize and democratize its educational system, and to establish a broad base for the local participation in, and control over, schools” (Levin and Young, 1994). The Education Act review committee in 2001 stated that much of the Education Act is based on the concept of school board governance, despite after 20 years there still only being one small board. The current governance model does not adequately provide for a partnership, and parents remain feeling powerless. Moreover, First Nations people reported feeling frustrated for several reasons including: their children are less successful, not having a part in decision-making processes, and, unsatisfactory curriculum. (Education Act Review, 2001).
Between 2002 and 2004, a review of the Yukon’s Education Act involved extensive consultation with Yukoners. Its goal was to hear how to make the education system better. A large proportion of these comments did not focus on the Act itself, but related to other aspects of the education system. Yukon First Nations left the process, primarily for the reason that the comments were outside of the mandate of the review and the process felt incomplete.
There are 28 schools across the Yukon, with almost half based in small, rural communities, outside of Whitehorse. More than half of rural students identify themselves as being from one of the 14 Yukon First Nations. The Department of Education’s mandate, as described in the Yukon Education Strategic Plan 2014–2019, is “to deliver accessible and quality education to all Yukon learners.” There are several key challenges in meeting this mandate which include: effective resource management, Yukon First Nations student achievement, and collaboration with Yukon First Nations governments. Yukon First Nation governments did not exist when the Education Act was drafted, which has been contested by several First Nation governments since its imposition. The Education Act has also come under fire by First Nations, as section 52, which relates to Indigenous languages is entitled “Aboriginal Languages”, which First Nations does not feel is representative of their culture. Despite a recommendation to change it, the Department has chosen to leave it entitled Aboriginal Languages, which is a significant point towards the unsatisfactory relationship between Yukon’s First Nation community and the Department.
The preamble of the Education Act states that the Yukon curriculum must contain cultural and linguistic heritage of the Yukon’s Indigenous peoples. There is also training which is supposed to be provided to any new employee of a school, including an orientation to Yukon First Nations. In the 2019-2020 school year, this was not offered. Part 5 of the Education Act speaks to Language of Instruction, Aboriginal Languages, Central Indian Education Authorities, Yukon Heritage and Environment, and, Cultural Activities. While it is progressive in that it provides Yukon First Nations considerable representation, this part of the Act has never been utilized. Under the Education Act, only 20-25 minutes per day are allowed for Indigenous Languages, which has led to the ongoing language loss for Indigenous cultures. Moreover, this allotted time is not mandatory and not every school provides it.
The Yukon Department of Education follows the B.C. Ministry of Education’s Intended Resource Packages (IRPs) for educational outcomes. Moreover, The Education Act includes statutes pertaining to locally developed curricula. The Department has established a First Nations Programs and Partnerships unit to develop Indigenous curriculum materials. Consequently, there are now examples of successful content in Yukon schools.The use of culturally responsive materials in public schools has been a positive experience for students, as reflected in Elijah Smith Elementary School’s inclusion initiatives, which involved staff and programming from the Kawinlin Dun First Nation (Bell, 2004).
The Yukon Department of Education does not know whether its programs meet the needs of Yukon First Nation students. Several gaps have been identified when comparing student outcomes when comparing First Nation students to other Yukon students, specifically, a lower high school completion rate. The Department additionally has not identified the underlying causes of long-standing gaps
Beginning in 2012, the Yukon Education system began to follow the British Columbia based Foundation Skills Assessment rather than previously used Alberta Achievement Tests. The Tests assess abilities in English and maths. The results indicate that more than 50 percent of students do not meet required expectations. The tests also show that non-Indigenous students fare marginally better.
When comparing First Nation student scores from the Yukon Achievement Test (YAT) to non-Indigenous students, Yukon First Nation students do not perform at the same level (Department of Education, 2006). In 2005-2006, First Nation graduation rose to 20 percent from 16 percent, however, graduation rates are calculated by dividing the number of students who graduate by the number of students with the potential to graduate (defined as any student enrolled in grade 12 at the end of that year provided he or she passed all the courses in which they are enrolled). This number is therefore distorted based on a percentage to an overall school population.
Under the policies and regulations of the Yukon’s Education Act, Indigenous students continue to graduate at a lower rater. The Office of the Auditor General noted that “a significant education gap exist between First Nations people living on reserves and the Canadian population as a whole and that the time estimated to close this gap has increased slightly, from about 27 to 28 years. (Auditor General, 2004). The Yukon Bureau Statistics refers to this gap as the cause for the higher unemployment of Yukon First Nations people, and lower median household income.
Recent years have demonstrated a number of consultation processes around education, and despite 7,500 comments being received, only 25% were considered. First Nations have passed resolutions and conducted studies, all which request changes to the education system in the Yukon. The Minister of Education and the Chair of the Yukon Chiefs’ Committee on Education (YCCOE) have proposed a process for the two orders of government to work together to make changes in the education system. The Education Reform Project must involve all partners in education. The purpose of the project would be to engage First Nations and other educational partners to create positive change, and create an education system in Yukon that meets the needs and aspirations of all Yukoners, including First Nations, as well as increased involvement for First Nations in schools and the decision-making process.
The Northwest Territories
Indigenous people represent half of the population of The Northwest Territories. There are three main communities, the first of which is Dene including the Gwich’in, the Sahtu Dene, the Dehcho people, the Tlicho, and the Akaitcho. n the Northwest Territories, Inuit are known as Inuvialuit. Their traditional culture is based on the Beaufort sea, and they speak three dialects including Siglit, Uummarmiut, and Kangiryuarmuit. The Metis of the Northwest Territories are proud descendants of the Dene and northern guides. There are 11 official languages. Including Chipewyan, Cree, English, French, Gwich’in, Inuinnaqtun, Inuktitut, Inuvialuktun, North Slavey, South Slavey, and Tlicho.
Before European arrival, the Indigenous groups were often nomadic, living for generations in the harsh climatic conditions and supporting themselves through hunting and fishing. The northward extension of the fur trade led to the first non-Indigenous presence in NWT in the late 18th centuries. Missions arrived in the latter part of the 19th century. The overall policy of the various government ever increasing presence in NWT was to ‘tame’ this frontier and integrate the Indigenous spopulation. The name of the Northwest Territories was originally applied to all of the territory acquired in 1870 from the Hudson’s Bay Company and Great Britain: Rupert’s Land and the North-Western Territory. The acquisition of the NWT was a major component of Prime Minister John A. Macdonld’s desire to construct a British nation in North America, and to guard against American settlement. The traditional lifestyles were altered forever, upon the arrival of European settlers and traders, however, Indigenous people have never disappeared from their lands.
Indigenous people in the Northwest Territories have historically avoided entering reserve systems like the ones that exist down south. Other than the two reserves, the K’atlodeechee and Salt River First Nation, Indigenous peoples have attempted to work with territorial and federal governments to maximize their rights over historical land areas. The 1966 Carrothers Commision established the Government of the Northwest Territories, and ensured that in conjunction with a legislative assembly, premier, and cabinet, community governments were self-governing and that chief and band councils were respected on their own lands.
Land claim and self-government agreements have always been an issue for the territorial government. To date, there are three land claim agreements that have been signed: the Inuvialuit Final Agreement (1984), the Gwich’in Comprehensive Land Claim Agreement (1992), and the Sahtu Dene and Metis Comprehensive Land Claim (1993). One combined land claim and self-government has been signed - the Tlicho Agreement (2003). The Tlicho agreement allows for Tlicho to enact the laws and regulations including education in their own lands.
The last 60 years have seen significant changes in education delivery in the Northwest Territories Until the end of the Second World War, education was provided mainly by church missions. Students were housed in nearby residences and large centres. Following the war, education was reformed to create a system of state schools. In the 1950s, the government initiated development programs including education, ultimately transferring education to the territorial government in 1969. The policy of educating all children resulted in children being taken from traditional land and placed in large, centralized schools. The subsequent establishment of educational councils (or boards), increased local control of education in the 1980s. Recent years have demonstrated developments in the system which include the expansion of school programs to offer grades 10, 11, and 12 in small communities; the introduction of community learning centres (adult education) in most communities; an increase in the number of Aboriginal teachers in classrooms; and increased post-secondary offerings.
The establishment of divisional boards of education increased local control of education in the NWT. The District Education Authorities (DEAs) are composed of elected individuals who represent their community’s interests in the planning and delivery of educational programming in their school. As of 2013 these boards include the Beaufort-Delta, the Sahtu, the Dehcho, and the South Slave. The granting of limited self-government to the Tlicho placed education under their own Community Services Board. Each community board is elected a local representative to serve on the region’s divisional board. Yellowknife is represented by a public and Catholic board. The boards and divisional boards have the authority for the delivery of education from kindergarten through grade 12. Divisional boards of education receive their funding from the territorial government. The two Yellowknife boards receive additional funding from municipal taxes.
School planning and operations are guided by the Education Act, The Aboriginal Student Achievement Education Plan, Department of Education Ministerial Directives, and various Alberta documents. Primarily the NWT has its own curriculum for kindergarten through grade 9. Senior secondary grades follow Alberta, although the NWT has its own curriculum for additional high school courses related to the North. The Aboriginal Student Achievement Education plan identifies as “an effective, relevant NWT education system for all learners” and “An associated, practical reporting, management and accountability framework.”
The territorial Department of Education, Culture, and Employment has attempted to make education an interactive process involving the communities in the school system. Culture-based education is intended to be implemented to reflect, validate, and promote the cultures and languages of the Indigenous peoples in NWT. There are two Indigenous curriculums, the Dene Kede and Inuuqatgiit, which bring the Dene and Inuit perspectives to the schools in the territory. These curriculums advocate experiential learning and was developed in consultation with elders representing the five Dene regions of the NWT. Its purpose is “to provide children with the knowledge, skills and attitudes which will guide them toward becoming capable citizens” (Government of the Northwest Territories 2007) Indigenous language specialist teachers are trained through a community-based teacher program to ensure local language and culture is integrated and provided.
The government of the Northwest Territories has implemented a renewed Aboriginal Language and Culture-based Education Directive which aims to strengthen the role of schools in supporting Indigenous language development. In conjunction with Indigenous governments and traditional user groups, a culturally appropriate hunter education program for delivery in all NWT communities has been made.
Data demonstrates that over 25% of students in the Northwest Territories are not at the academic level they should be. In NWT many students begin school with developmental delays. In communities outside of Yellowknife, 60% of five year olds are behind in the area of development. 18% of students in NWT are at risk in the area of physical development resulting from poor nutrition and sleep.
The Northwest Territories uses functional grade levels and Alberta Achievement Tests to systemically measure K-12 achievement in language arts and maths. Functional grade levels, an indication of the curriculum level at which a student is working, demonstrate that 60 to 67 percent of students in NWT performing below grade level. This is in sharp contrast from Yellowknife, Hay River, Fort Smith, and Inuvik where 80 percent operate at their level. It should be noted that the capital and the larger regional centres have a greater concentration of non-Indigenous youth than the rest of the communities. Scores on the Alberta Achievement Tests indicate a large in overall territorial achievement.
The results achieved by Northwest Territories students lag behind those in many regions of Canada. Statistics Canada data from 2006–07 shows that while the graduation rate for secondary schools across Canada was 71 percent, in the Northwest Territories it was 55 percent (compared with 65 percent in Alberta, 68 percent in Yukon, and 30 percent in Nunavut). The Government of the Northwest Territories recognizes that improving education results is crucial to the territory’s social and economic development.
The Dene Nation of the Northwest Territories had plans for a 2020 summit, which would bring leaders together to create a “shared vision for Indigenous education in the Northwest Territories”. The Dene Nation has been vocal in criticizing the state of education in NWT, which was reflected in the flaws by the Auditor General. “Many schools in the North struggle with basic resources and students are required to upgrade after graduation to meet post-secondary requirements,” the Dene Nation has argued, requesting more training, mental health supports, and cultural and language education.The summit was intended to include discussion of “Indigenous governance and Dene jurisdiction of education moving forward.” The outcome would result in a document that would help guide education planning and programming. Dene National Chief Norman Yakeleya stated this document would “set the stage” for the way in which the Dene Nation works with the territorial government on Indigenous education. This summit, unfortunately, has been postponed due to COVID-19.
The Auditor General has stated that Indigenous language and cultural education has been slow in the NWT. The territory has responded by stating that a mandatory curriculum is coming, and there would be pilot programs to increase the number of instructors. Along with the Auditor General, and Dene outcry, an internal government review of education noticed a lack of equitable access to education in NWT. Students in smaller communities fell behind in development indicators, while commitments to support their teachers were not met. The Department of Education, Culture, and Employment’s internal evaluation in 2020 found “dramatic and alarming” differences between large and small communities in measurements of success - particularly early childhood development, standardized testing, and graduation rates. Large communities refer to Yellowknife, Inuvik, Hay River, and Fort Smith - where the population is a mixture of Indigenous and southern settlers. The small communities are usually home to only Indigenous students, with other nationalities coming to work as nurses, teachers, and RCMP. Consequently, when “little communities” are mentioned in these evaluations, they depict and refer to First Nation children. The evaluation was a halfway point in the NWT government’s 10 year effort to renew education in the territory, particularly student achievement gaps. Graduation rates were to hover at 33%, only one quarter of students being “on track”, and only 20 percent of students who did take the Alberta Achievement test to receive an acceptable score.
Nunvaut is home to close to 40,000 residents, 85 percent of whom are Inuit. There are four official languages in Nunavut - Inuktitut, Inuinnaqtun, English, and French. Inuktitut and Inuinnaqtun is the main language for 65% of the territory. The creation of Nunavut in 1999 represented the first major change to the political map of Canada since Newfoundland in 1949. Beyond political boundaries, Nuavut’s formation represented a milestone for Canada’s Indigenous peoples. Through political activism and negotiations, a small Indigenous group overcame obstacles to establish a government that they control within Canada, thereby gaining control over land, resources, and future.
Europeans explored parts of Arctic Canada since the year 980 with the Norse. A magical water passageway, known as the Northwest Passage, was highly sought after to connect a commercial trading route to Asia. Through the 1800s Britain worked to uncover large parts of Arctic Canada as it sent ships and crews into ice and islands. Between 1913 and 1918, the Canadian Arctic Expedition outlined Canada’s continental shelf and discovered more land masses, exploring the different regions and groups of Inuinnait and studying their culture. Throughout this, Inuit traded furs and traditional items, acting as hunters and interpreters, and teaching Europeans how to travel effectively and dress properly. This contact led to the depletion of animals due to over-harvesting, and an increases of disease. By the 19th century, fur traders began to move up into Nunavut. In the early 20th century, fur-trading posts were established.
The collapse in the fur trade in the 1930s led the federal government to initiate relief programs for Inuit, and in order to save administrative costs, official policy continued to promote a self-sufficient way of life. In 1939 the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that the Inuit should be classified as Indians, thereby making them legal wards of the state. To bolster Canadian sovereignty, the Canadian government constructed the DEW line, posted Northern Service Officers, and relocated Inuit from their traditional lands to lands as high up as Grise Fjord and Resolute.
The missionaries, both Catholic and Protestant, established churches and mission schools. The missionaries, like in the Yukon and NWT, practiced and promoted ideals that challenged the Inuit belief system and ended traditional practices. In order to receive an education, Inuit youth had to attend residential schools far from their communities and endure assimilatory practices assaulting their language, culture, and spiritual beliefs.
In the 1990s, the Eastern Arctic operated under the mandate of three Inuit school boards, responsible for staffing, policies, and programs. With the creation of Nunavut, the territory’s Department of Education devolved the boards, amalgamated their systems and resources, and replaced them with regional offices. The legislation was inserted from the Northwest Territories. In 2002, a proposed Nunavut Education Act failed to receive the approval of the legislature. Another bill underwent consultation until 2008, when Nunavut finally passed its own education act. The Education Act outlines education from Kindergarten to Grade 12 in Nunavut. The goal of the Act is to ensure that “the vision and beliefs about education held by Nunavummiut are embedded in schools and in the education that students receive in Nunavut”. Parts of the Act introduce significant changes to address the challenges facing the education system including bilingual education for all students by 2019–20 school year (an Inuit language and either English or French); incorporation of Inuit culture into all aspects of the education system, including community consultation and involvement of elders; direct roles and responsibilities for elected District Education Authorities; and, additional support to help students stay engaged and succeed in their education.
The Department’s vision is “to have more well-educated and self-reliant Nunavummiut, high school graduation rates that are on par with the rest of Canada, and a majority of Nunavut youth graduating from high school, college, or university, with the same level of skills and abilities as graduates from anywhere in Canada.” Significantly, the Act recognizes the critical role of parents in education. They are responsible for ensuring that their children come to school ready to learn, supporting the students’ learning, and attending meetings with their children’s teachers or principals when asked to do so.
The power to enact laws relating to education is set out in the Nunavut Act, the statue that establishes the territory and its authority. The Act provides the legislature to make laws that would establish public or separate schools. The territory, however, is allowed to make laws that promote the preservation and promotion of the Inuktitut language. The Inuit share decision-making authority with all other residents of Nunavut, but have a majority voice due to being the majority population.
The Department of Education’s duties and responsibilities under the Act are carried out by three Regional School Operations offices, the Commission scolaire francophone du Nunavut, three Curriculum and School Services offices, departmental headquarters, and 43 schools operating in Nunavut’s 25 communities. The Curriculum and School Services division conducts research into Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit (IQ), an Inuktitut term meaning “that which has long been known by Inuit.” This concept is the foundation of Inuit knowledge and philosophy, and characterizes Inuit culture. The IQ is used as the basis for developing a curriculum.
In Nunavut, there is an education problem which stems from demographic and social welfare. 52 percent of Inuit live in crowded homes. Life expectancy, food security, and income is much lower compared to Canadian averages. Infant mortality, suicide rates, smoking, and tuberculosis are categorically much higher in comparison. A high proportion of Inuit children are hard to hearing, which adversely affects learning. In conjunction with the rapid social change resulting from imperialism, and changes to diets and belief systems, the youth of Nunavut are stuck between two worlds - neither of which they can fully identify with.
Nunavut’s education system has further had a number of gaps and barriers, making it difficult for high school students to succeed academically. Many students require more than one year to complete a grade, causing many to leave school before graduating. Unfortunately, the Department does not have a strategy to help students graduate and transition. The Department also has difficulties hiring and keeping staff.
Progress toward the goals set in the Nunavut Education Act have been slow. While some areas are being met, the targets made for implementing bilingual education is nearly unreachable due to the requirements. To enforce bilingual education, the students must be taught by qualified bilingual teachers, using bilingual curriculum and materials. The lack of qualified bilingual teachers hinders progress. Although 85 percent of Nunavummiut speak and Inuit language, formal education is delivered in English. In Inuinnaqtun-speaking communities, English is the language of instruction for each grade; in other communities, students were taught in Inuktitut from Kindergarten to Grade 3, leaving English introduced as the language of instruction around Grade 4.Then Inuktitut was taught as a subject area, like a second language. Nunavut Tunngavik Inc declared that the Government of Nunavut’s education system is both “criminally inadequate” and constitutes “cultural genocide”. They believe that the education system includes “econocide” (making people poor); “historicide” (exclusion from history); “ecocide” (killing the environment) and “linguicide” (killing a language.)
Moreover, according to the 2006 Conciliator’s Final Report: The Nunavut Project, by Justice Thomas R. Berger, this switch from Inuktitut to English limited students’ comprehension of either language, contributing to Nunavut’s high dropout rates. In 2015, Nunavut had the lowest percentage of high-school graduates in Canada. Just over half (54 percent) of the territories population has finished high school. Fewer go onto higher education, and this rules out Inuit from better paying and educational jobs.
Low attendance is a serious problem. Although all of the schools have initiatives in place to promote attendance, they are done on an ad hoc basis. There has been no analysis done on whether these initiatives make difference. Teachers are already unable to deliver curriculum in a fully bilingual requirement, and especially cannot if the students do not attend school. Teachers ability to teach is also affected, because lessons need to be continuously adapted given the low attendance. Moreover, the low attendance has led to a failure to produce literate youth, which then leads to non-Inuit landing government jobs.
Under the Education Act, the minister must establish the curriculum based upon the concepts of IQ. The document stresses the importance of a made-in-Nunavut cirruclum. For grades 1 through 12, the Department has developed curriculum reflecting the principles of IQ and organized it around four integrated content area. This guide includes teaching resources. The department has developed 50% of its resources, but needs to reassess it approach because there is a shortage of Inuit language materials.
The Operations Manual for Nunavut Schools requires principals report monthly to Regional School Operations offices on a variety of information. This report is to include the information on the schools’ implementation of bilingual education, attendance, and activities. With the high demands placed on a principal, the principals are not always meeting the standards required to submit the reports, and that the staff does not use the reports to identify trends. With these reports, the Department of Education is required to submit annual reports, but often these reports are late and contain limited information. The report often refers to items as “accomplishments” or “priorities” but no details or information on how any goals are being achieved.
The Government of Nunavut’s Department of Education has not adequately managed most aspects of implementation in the Nunavut Education Act. Particularly, the lack of Inuit-friendly materials causes disruption and low attendance. Unfortunately, due to the lack of reports offered by the Department of Education, statistics and further research continue to be limited. Despite many good intentions and plans, the formal education of Inuit students is not achieving good results.
A multitude of factors for Indigenous youth influence their choice of completing various levels of education, including personal and family characteristics and the availability of opportunities. In the territories, language, culture, family and community support, traditional economic roles, infrastructure challenges, and governance issues all have led to statistically lower educational outcomes for Indigenous youth.
Education has been delivered to northern Indigenous students in Canada in four primary ways: traditional Indigenous education, IRS, provincial public school systems, and local schools operated by Indigenous peoples. The Auditor General of Canada, in 2004, stated : “We remain concerned that a significant education gap exists between First Nations people living on reserves and the Canadian population as a whole and the time estimated to close the gap has increased slightly from about 27 years to 28 years” (Canada: Office of the Auditor General 2004). The need to improve the grades and performance has been recognized regionally and nationally.
The responsibility for the education of Indigenous students has also greatly caused issue in the development of Indigenous education in the territories. The Federal Government’s initial provision of education led to a cultural genocide. Despite many self-government agreements, the exercising of authority over education has not occurred automatically. Although Indigenous people can create and enact legislation there may be federal and/or territorial statutes that apply to the same areas. Moreover, the Indigenous laws laws carry the same weight as Territorial laws but apply only to Indigenous citizens on Indigenous settlement lands. There has yet been development in ensuring that the various governments work together to be more responsive to the needs of Indigenous students as seen by Indigenous governments. Overlapping jurisdictions impede progress on curriculum design, program funding, and assessment. The Auditor General reports all point to a lack of planning, accountability measures, and human resources to implement and monitor policy. Moreover, small self-governing communities face resource challenges.
Indigenous students enter the schools with different skills and abilities from their non-Indigenous peers. Many of these students have a different perception of the world other than those on which educational polices are created and/or by whom they are implemented. The cultural knowledge and traditional teachings. The central feature of the Indigenous cultures in the North is their relationship to the land and its resources. Belief systems are centred on physical and spiritual connections. Knowledge of the land had traditionally been essential to survival. Traditional knowledge requires meticulous and detailed retention of information about the land, animal behaviour and patterns, and the use of trails without maps (Cruikshank, 1990). Traditionally, information had been shared orally. Oral traditions taught people how to think and behave. Stories taught children about their culture. The cultural form of acquiring and retaining knowledge is not found in any of the territories and learning is hindered greatly. Western schools have a different approach to teaching. The ideologies and values that are perpetuated by the schools currently do not align with those in Indigenous communities.
All three territories show that most Indigenous youth have an Indigenous language as their mother tongue. Having an Indigenous first language likely affects performance on standardized skills and tests administered in French or English. Although Indigenous language is attempted to be fostered in three territories by educational policy, the transitions of language of instruction contribute to a loss of proficiency in both the native tongue and English or French.
Guardians and community have an impact on children and youth. In all three territories, family and community input is attempted through policy, but there has been little improvement. High school attainment is low in all three territories than the national average. Research indicates that students whose guardians educational attainment is less than high school tends to impact the achievement of students. The historical impacts of IRS continue to affect northern Indigenous families, and colour the perceptions of the educational system. In Northern Indigenous communities, the community is a social support that is vital to raising children. The low participation of families leads to lower academic achievement across the board.
A high school diploma is often a prerequisite to post-secondary education and workforce readiness. High school attainment therefore indicates socio-economic development. All three territories demonstrate that Indigenous populations have poorer high school attainment rates than non-Indigenous students; in the Yukon the gap is over 20 percent, in NWT the gap is over 30 percent, and Nunavut the gap is over 50 percent. Improving educational performance for Indigenous students in the north continues to be a challenge. Although high school completion rate for Indigenous students is on the rise, there is still significant differences in the high school graduation rates of Indigenous versus non-Indigenous students. Moreover, the number of registered First Nations and Inuit students enrolled in postsecondary education funded by Indian and Northern Affairs Canada increased from approximately 14,000 to about 24,000. Almost all post-secondary funding is administered by First Nations and Inuit organizations. About 4,500 of these students graduate annually.
The biggest barrier to exercising Indigenous education and educational policy is funding. Little to adequate funding is not provided. Funding is necessary to conduct needs assessments, formulate long term plans, establish authorities, provide required training, support education.
Critical infrastructure such as all-season roads, energy, and internet impede the delivery of education systems in the North. The territories limited internet facilities restrict the students’ ability to participate in the technological age. Many of the high school courses offered in all three territories depend on e-learning to facilitate instruction at the grades 11 and 12. Unfortunately, the Indigenous communities lag behind and policy has not been addressed to fix these.
All three territories have initiatives underway to allow for the Indigenous groups to assume responsibility for education to improve the achievements of Indigenous students. Key to these discussions have been improving student performance, cultural and language components, traditional instructional methods, and immersion programs. Much of this relates to self-determination.
There continues to be advocation for the recognition of the inherent right to self-determination for Indigenous peoples. Self-determination is simple; it means Indigenous people take control over their lives to ensure their rights, languages, and cultures continue to flourish and exist into the future. As stated in the International Bill of Rights of the United Nations, all peoples have the right to self-determination. In the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, all Indigenous peoples have the right to establish and control their own educational systems and institutions.
Education advances human development. Self-knowledge and self-sufficiency are necessary for a people to attain a healthy and stable society. Indigenous peoples have never relinquished their right to self-government. The Royal Proclamation of 1763 specifically recognizes the inherent right to self-government by Indigenous peoples within Canada. Although the government enacted legislation that hindered the exercise of Indigenous self-government, it cannot extinguish Indigenous rights through legislation.
In recognizing the full jurisdiction of Indigenous governments over all areas promoting the development of Indigenous peoples, the government is able to give Indigenous peoples more control over their education and allow Indigenous communities to impact and enforce any policies and legislation related to education.
Research currently suggests there are six key areas which are limiting the understanding of Indigenous educational policy. The process of collecting data that identifies Indigenous students faces substantial challenges. The availability of results from jurisdictional assessments for Indigenous students is limited. Few measures are reported that satisfy the wishes of Indigenous communities relating to social, physical, and spiritual well-being of individuals. There is limited data relating to the barriers of Indigenous student success (such as absenteeism and transitions to schools in different areas). There is a lack of data relating to the efforts being used to overcome specific barriers to Indigenous student success. Finally, early childhood assessment tools are not consistently administered.
Many of these gaps in data are a result of the costly or contentious nature of policy and programs. The role of targeted funding for Indigenous education as it relates to achieving tangible improvements in educational goals needs to be further developed. The effects of early childhood education is understudied, providing further data gaps. The effectiveness of interventions to increase community engagement has been noted as important, but research has not been fully facilitated. The impact of culture, although studied by researchers, has not been undertaken for specific regions in the North which hinders data on academic outcomes for Indigenous students in the territories.
Jurisdictions can develop their assessment data by expanding efforts in Indigenous self-identification, the scope and frequency of collection, and linking data between longitudinal student records. Territories can help support the creation of a stronger evidence base by facilitating analysis through initiatives such as incorporating evaluation into the implementation of new programs and policies, providing researcher access to administrative records, and sharing knowledge of policies with researchers.
Success for stronger data requires ongoing communication with the communities, Indigenous organizations, educators, administrators, policy-makers, and researchers. In consultation with Indigenous stakeholders, current administrative and assessment data collection should be identified and strategies for overcoming them should be considered. Discussions should be initiated with researchers interested in Indigenous education in order to encourage ethical data creation that can inform policy development. Research can be geared towards bringing the territories together with Indigenous stakeholders to discuss report recommendations and common interest. Better data and evidence can help contribute to policy development. By identifying student needs, program quality and delivery can be improved, inform decision making about investments in policies, and increase accountability to stakeholders.
Various levels of government may need to change legislation that restricts the establishment of new governance structures. Legislation should allow for partnerships, and often times, it is instead prohibitive to partnership development. The territories all invoke progressive legislation around Indigenous education - in the forms of language of instruction and involving cultural activities - and theoretically give Indigenous parties considerable representation for developing curriculum. However, the parts of each Education Act which allow for that are under-utilized by Indigenous groups largely because there have been ongoing obstacles that prevented effective partnerships in the past. Frequently, these partnerships have been top-down, rather than structured in a way that supports Indigenous input and support. In order to address Indigenous concerns regarding educational policy, the partnerships and legislation need to be invoked in a. Way that reflects a culture that reaches agreement through consensus.
Reducing inequality in Indigenous education in the North through the use of policy incorporates multiple factors. Educational delivery in remote communities is a large issue, particularly due to the geographical and cultural isolation. The quality and continuity of teachers in these remote communities further creates quality issues. Institutional collaboration is necessary within communities, and across the territories, in order to improve the instruction for Indigenous students. A partnership is required between Indigenous communities, and the educational systems in place to ensure long-term viability and Indigenous success. According to Dr. James Tully, advisor to RCAP, the commission defined partnerships in the following way: “relationships that are worked out on the basis of nation-to-nation negotiations amongst equals who reach agreements by means of consent on both sides and no subordination on either side” (Tully 1997).
RCAP (1996) called for the Crown to “restore its relationship with treaty nations to a true partnership”. In past agreements, because of the way legislation and policy were drafted, Indigenous groups have not been equal partners. To best develop policies that impact Indigenous students positively, there needs to be a fair and equal relationship. In order to create a viable partnership, it is imperative that self-government agreement are interpreted correctly. Partnerships that take into consideration self-government, promotes the rights and obligations of both sides, and encourages Indigenous contributions. The concept of input and approval over decisions may be difficult, but if there is further understanding of the past relationship between government and Indigenous parties, then Indigenous groups will have input over educational matters affecting their communities.
Moreover, there needs to be equitable access to information for a partnership. Indigenous groups need more access to information about budgets, staffing, curriculum, and administration. At present, many Indigenous groups do not have the resources or information necessary to make informed decisions. Moreover, because many Indigenous groups in the north are geographically isolated, they do not have access to systems or personnel that make educational information readily available. Having access to information is critical to Indigenous groups who are establishing educational initiatives and policies.
The ideology and values that southern-informed schools perpetuate are often not congruent with those in Indigenous communities. Change to the educational systems in the Yukon, the Northwest Territories, and Nunavut is necessary to make education more receptive to Indigenous students. There is a need for the respective territorial governments to work in partnership with Indigenous peoples to initiate specific legislative, policy, and structural reforms in the territories’ educational systems.
The examination of three territories and Indigenous policy demonstrates that the first step in creating more proactive policy lies in improving definitions for Indigenous education jurisdictions. At present, there is no clarity or consensus on what educational jurisdiction means - and there are different types of jurisdiction (constitutional, delegated, inherent). There also needs to be better use of self-government agreements. These agreements can help measure some sort of jurisdiction over education. At present, 80 tables have been established to bring First Nation and Inuit communities together to negotiate self-government arrangements. These tables can be used to facilitate and create better educational policies for Indigenous students. Furthermore, there are several options for reform. This could look like expanded territorial jurisdiction and responsibility, expanded federal jurisdiction and responsibility, expanded Indigenous jurisdiction and responsibility, or co-operative options. Finally, there needs to be better input from different levels of organization including local community, nation level, multi-nation organizations, Canada-wide networks.
There are several recommendations which can be concluded relating to the difficulties of implementing policy which reflects and responds to the Indigenous peoples of the north. The Government of Canada and the territories, and Indigenous governments, need to agree to a definition of educational partnerships. The governments should examine existing policy and identify articles and clauses that are potential barriers to developing effective partnerships. The governments need to establish working groups to explore mechanisms that will facilitate the establishment of shared governance models over education. The respective educational departments in the territories, in conjunction with Indigenous groups and governments, need to evaluate the existing curriculum to determine how to incorporate Indigenous curriculum. The territories need to include the development of an Indigenous curriculum framework in connection with Indigenous teachers, elders, and leaders. Finally, educators in the north require training and technical support to encourage the successful delivery of Indigenous curriculum.
Addressing challenges in multiple jurisdictions is crucial in making the education system more effective to Indigenous students in the North. Improving the educational performance is an ongoing challenge. There are several key areas that the territorial governments can employ in order to improve the achievements of Indigenous students, beyond recognition over Indigenous jurisdiction. Discussions around improving student performance, cultural and language components, traditional instructional methods, and immersion programs should all take precedence in the development of Indigenous educational policy for the north.
There is consistent and compelling cries for governments to make meaningful Indigenous educational reforms in order to close the educational gap between Indigenous peoples and non-Indigenous peoples. With full cooperation and joint efforts between both parties, change can be enacted. Indigenous peoples are passionate about the education of their youth, and should continue pursuing what is rightfully theirs.
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