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My Bold Idea to Reform Aboriginal Education

10/16/2013 12:30 EDT | Updated 12/16/2013 05:12 EST

Much ado is made of the divisions in indigenous politics and this focus successfully draws attention away from our strengths. In the old days indigenous peoples traded with one another; not just for material goods, but also for intellectual and spiritual ones. Arguably, we do the same thing today. Just as we learn the Anishinaabe origins of the jingle dance, we also learn the Maori origins of the Language Nest.

I believe collective progress can be made through education. I have spoken out against top-down attempts to implement educational reform, but now I want to talk about alternatives. The First Nations Education Act is going to be passed. It will be full of words, and funding will be slow to follow, if it ever truly does. It will not meet our needs, because it has not been designed by us.

So what now? I believe we need mobilisation on a massive scale, and I believe that this can happen in a way that takes advantage of our diversity, rather than being crippled by it.

In the 50s, when indigenous peoples were moving to urban centres in large numbers, volunteers came together to create a system of programs and services that were delivered through what are now known as Friendship Centres. No one asked for permission first, or waited for legislation to be passed, they simply saw a need and tried to meet it.

Resurgence, now! Sovereignty summer schools?

I believe we need a national movement, one that also takes advantage of the experiences and expertise of our relations throughout the Americas and in other colonised territories. A movement focused on doing first, asking later, and one that is centered around our children, our land, and our education. I believe we need to pool our considerable resources and expertise in order to set up and implement a system of temporary "schools" akin to the Freedom Schools during the Civil Rights movement.

When I say akin to the Freedom Schools, I refer to the intention to encourage our children and ourselves to become social change agents through the creation of temporary, volunteer-driven educational programs that must tie into wider action. Our "sovereignty summer" did not materialize the way some hoped it would, but that is not to say nothing was being done. With some planning over these coming winter months, we could be ready to implement a nation-wide program in all our communities, urban and rural, that would sow the seeds for more lasting educational reform.

We could do this by creating for this one year, a system of "sovereignty summer schools" that would provide us with an opportunity to learn about the challenges facing us, the strength and resources we have available to us, and the actions we can take to work towards lasting changes.

I see this as a temporary effort, because the need is immediate and pressing, the long-term goal is a systemic and well-developed system of indigenous education designed and implemented by our own peoples, and such massive effort based on volunteerism cannot be indefinitely sustainable. In addition, we do not know what would come out of these schools and where they might lead us.

There have been so many initiatives taking place: teach-ins and youth conferences along side already established educational programs. We have brilliant and dedicated people who are working hard to create change. What we do not have is a unified effort that is capable of not only respecting our differences, but also drawing strength from those differences in order to link our efforts.

I am specifically not suggesting topics, methods of delivery, or goals because I think this has to be a communal effort and so many amazing ideas and programs are already out there to draw upon.

A lot of time and effort has been spent on attempting to raise the awareness of Canadians as regards indigenous struggles. What if we focus instead for a time on raising our own awareness? What could we accomplish next summer with some collaboration now?

Our children. Our land. Our education.

A longer version of this article was published on the author's blog, âpihtawikosisân.

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