Canadian academic institutions need to do more work to promote reconciliation between the country’s indigenous population and descendants of settlers from overseas and more recent immigrants, a forum of experts, including senior academics, in Toronto, Canada, has been told.
The forum, staged by discussion group Worldviews, which is supported by University World News , was assessing the impact of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC) report on Canadian higher education.
This institution from 2008 to 2015 researched the impact of the past residential school system on indigenous students and their families. Residential schools were a network of government-funded boarding schools that operated in Canada from 1879 to 1996, to which indigenous children were sent, forcibly if necessary.
Their often-negative experiences were brought to light by a class action lawsuit that led to a CA$2 billion (US$1.5 billion) compensation package for all former students.
The TRC was a component of the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement, a landmark agreement between the federal government in Ottawa and Native Canadians. It sought to address the damage inflicted by an educational system of which one of goals was to assimilate children into the culture of Canada’s dominant settler society.
The Worldviews forum discussed recommendations made by the commission, which included boosting funding levels for education targeted at an indigenous community that numbers more than 1.6 million people out of Canada’s 36.7 million total population. It has also aimed to increase the number of indigenous graduates, raising access to quality education on reserves.
But what actual reforms have been taken since the TRC’s report was released? Has the ongoing legacy of colonialism in the Canadian education system been properly addressed?
“We really won’t know the answers to those questions for about a decade,” cautioned Professor David Newhouse, of Trent University, in Peterborough, Ontario. “The seeds have only been planted in the short time” since the TRC made its recommendations in 2015 “and it takes time for change to happen. But we know there is a foundation we can build upon to move forward.”
Newhouse is the director of Trent’s Chanie Wenjack School for Indigenous Studies, where he has been teaching since 1993, when residential schools were still operating in Canada. He is himself an indigenous Canadian, being an Onondaga, from the Six Nations of the Grand River community, in southern Ontario.
He was in Toronto to take part in a discussion being held at Ryerson University teeing up a 2019 Worldviews on Media and Higher Education Conference in June.
University World News was a media partner of the 19 March talk and lecture.
Entitled ‘Truth and Reconciliation in Higher Education and the Media’, it brought together a panel of indigenous educators and journalists to discuss changes that have been made, including those that have been enacted by Canadian universities.
Some of those have included adding courses that deal with indigenous histories and with reconciliation. Most universities in Canada now have some form of indigenisation plan developed in partnership with indigenous faculty and with indigenous communities.
However, there remain a number of serious barriers to higher education for indigenous students, including insufficient access to computers, the internet and even secondary schools in aboriginal communities.Nevertheless, the number of indigenous students attending post-secondary institutions has continued to rise. When Newhouse entered university in 1972, he says there were only about 200 aboriginal students like him studying higher education across the whole of Canada. Now he says there are 45,000 nationwide, as well as around 150 indigenous professors.Newhouse is adamant that the truth must be told about what happened to First Nations, Métis and Inuit (sub-groups of indigenous peoples in Canada) children […]
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