The post-secondary education system for Indigenous people in Canada gets failing grades.

The education system is failing Indigenous people with educational attainment trailing far behind those of non-Indigenous people and by perpetuating a disconnection from the land and their Indigenous languages, which is integral to their cultural identities. The quality of on-reserve education is inferior because of being profoundly underfunded, creating shortages of materials, equipment and no specialized teachers . In 2016, the Auditor General for the Province of Manitoba found, “only 55% of Indigenous students are graduating from high school, compared to 96% of non-Indigenous students; a gap that has widened since 2010” . Oppositely in GHFN and WFN, mature and regular secondary education are graduating more people than ever, who then want to pursue post-secondary education in their community, as shown in this film clip. Community post-secondary programs could reduce the education achievement gap that extends to post-secondary certificates, diplomas or degrees with only 23% of Indigenous people attaining these compared to 40% of mainstream Canada  according to Statistics Canada (2011). While 65% of non-Aboriginal people have post-secondary qualifications, 45% of First Nations people have postsecondary qualifications with: 13% having trades certificate; 19% having college diploma; and 9% having a university degree (Statistics Canada, 2011). A formal education is increasingly important for employment and quality of life.  

Most Indigenous students still have to leave their reserves to pursue a university or college degree, without the social supports and economic supports to do so. This pulls them out of their communities like when their parents and grandparents had to attend residential school. In addition to adjusting to culture shock, Indigenous students must cope with loneliness: “the greatest factor affecting student boarders who drop out is simple homesickness. Not only do they pine for family and friends, they also long for their accustomed food and lifestyle”. Being on the outskirts of Canadian mainstream society places Indigenous students at higher risk of multiple oppressions and not fitting in, which can result in poor school outcomes. Indigenous pride and strength in identity is essential for student success and dramatically increases one’s sense of belonging.

The “Next Seven Generations” concept emphasizes that appropriate and relevant teaching today will positively impact the next 7 generations. Traditionally, transmission through culture had always been the conduit by which sustainable livelihoods, resilience, well-being, language, harvesting, spirituality and parenting of Indigenous peoples was continuously generated and re-created. HeavyRunner and Morris (1997) observe that when cultural values are cherished, taught, and nurtured, youth develop natural resilience, which then becomes foundational for healthy and self-respecting cultural identities. Indigenous language, respect, caring and holism are integral to Indigenous knowledge systems . Instruction in local dialects is known to be extremely effective in meeting educational goals and objectives. The 2014 First Nations, Inuit and Metis Essential Skills Inventory Project identified five beneficial practices, namely: 1) working with/in the community; 2) learner-centered, holistic approaches; 3) Indigenous learning principles, 4) employer involvement to provide workplace experience, and 5) control and ownership . More has to be done to implement these five best practices, which this case study will trial in two communities..

Education is necessary for self-determination that addresses colonialism to be aware of the oppressions faced by FN people within contemporary society. This type of adult education overcomes hegemony to decolonize and promote Mino Bimaadizwin and cultural resilience instead of state dependence. Many Indigenous people are viewing self-determination as a framework to improve the educational experience and outcomes in their communities and overall to overcome Indigenous oppressions that include poverty and racial discrimination (. The 13 Principles on Indigenous Education  recognize the need for greater indigenization of university curricula and leadership, as well as promoting dialogue and intercultural engagement.

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