Indigenous Education Policy: A Tale of Three Territories


Research Topic:

· A comparison of educational policy across the three territories

Sub-research

· What are the policies in each of the territories

· What is causing the differences in policies and policy approach for these three territories despite their similarities

· What is the educational outcome of these three territories for Indigenous students

· How are educational outcomes defined

· How are we measuring Indigenous students

· What are the current gaps in knowledge/data and how does this impact what we know about Indigenous education policy

Research Topic Details

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.

The legislative landscape between territories regarding Indigenous education reflects intergovernmental uncertainties. Canada has a multi-faceted governance system where some powers reside with the territorial governments, some with elected bodies, and some with stakeholders with an interest in educational matters (including Indigenous governance systems). Despite there being many hands in the pot, there is almost a complete absence of specific legislation for Indigenous (First Nation, Metis, and Inuit) education.

Each territory recognizes the importance of Indigenous culture, values, customs, languages, and the contribution to Canadian development and society. There is no Indigenous specific curriculum for schools and little to no control over education by Indigenous communities. Despite territorial policies being broadly similar, the three Canadian territories have a responsibility to ensure that Indigenous curriculum and programs reflective of cultural contexts are mandated and implemented.

Phenomenon and Importance

The current means of identifying Indigenous students presents significant problems for the creation of educational policy. While each province and territory have framework for policy development, there is no standardized system which helps accurately portray current academic achievement outcomes for Indigenous students which has led to uneven policy development and approaches to encourage higher academic achievement.

A requirement for improving the quality and programs and services for Indigenous education is being able to identify Indigenous students. Unfortunately, the current identifiers in place, including self-identification, have caused confusion and inaccurate data leading to gaps that hamper efforts to create meaningful and culturally relevant learning policy. There is no standardization in self=-identification across Canadian jurisdictions. The provinces of Quebec, New Brunswick, and Newfoundland do not collect a self-identifier for Indigenous peoples and are only able to consistently identify on-reserve First Nation students. British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, Nunavut, and the Northwest Territories collect data from districts but the districts each have discretion on what questions to ask families. Furthermore, the Northwest Territories asks students to identify as Dene, Metis, Inuit, Southern Aboriginal, or non-Aboriginal, leading to further discrepancies in usable data. Alberta, Manitoba, Nova Scotia, Ontario, Prince Edward Island, and the Yukon are the only jurisdictions with reporting categories to identify between First Nation, Metis, and Inuit students. Moreover, some jurisdictions collect data on ancestry, where as others collect data on identity. The lack of a common approach compromises the comparability of data across jurisdictions and prevents proactive policy strategies that can encourage better educational outcomes.

Differences in data collection procedures do not allow for comparable educational attainment. Some jurisdictions do not maintain records. Some students who attend Indigenous schools do not appear in administrative data reflecting high-school completion measures (this leads to skewed data relating to drop-out and attainment rates). Academic success is defined differently across jurisdictions; is success measured by academic attainment, or the broader set of goals such as health and cultural knowledge? These various goals, while equally important, are measured differently and has led to gaps in the data. Numerous sources for academic data exist, including literacy and numeracy skills exams, as well as classroom-based assessments. Unfortunately, each province and territory has their own assessment standards and required testing. Moreover, these tests do not indicate when or how Indigenous students fall behind. There is also very few forms of data collection to identify or measure the use of holistic outcomes as components of education despite Indigenous students frequently showing success in social, physical, and spiritually developed academic achievements. This more complete view is required in order to address the specific aspirations and needs of Indigenous students.

For Indigenous students, many studies have demonstrated that a more welcoming and supportive school environment for Indigenous students is crucial to student success. Integrating Indigenous content, history, culture, and perspectives has demonstrated how to improve relationships between schools, students, and communities. There has been expression of the lack of information about the number of teachers with relevant skills relating to Indigenous studies and knowledge, as well as the number of teachers with First Nation, Metis, or Inuit ancestry. Despite the need for teachers in Indigenous communities, there is an even greater need for specially trained teachers and a lack of resources and opportunities available for Indigenous peoples to be trained as teachers.

Moreover, there is significant lack of knowledge relating to the efforts to combat racism as well as efforts on curriculum development to integrate Indigenous knowledge, histories, and rights. In conjunction, there are many barriers of success to Indigenous students including legacies of residential schooling, experiences with marginalization, and social disadvantages. The contribution of these barriers and ongoing challenges in Indigenous school system policy further contributes to ineffective policy creation and enaction.

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, jurisdictional harmony, and definitive answers around what constitutes high academic achievement. This vast array of educational policy relating to Indigenous students has led to little to no positive outcomes for Indigenous students themselves.

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Opening Paragraph 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