Honouring the truth, reconciling for the future
One of the calls for action in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s final report was “to build cultural competence.” I had the gift of participating in a training session on cultural competence that included a look back at Canada’s history of colonization, intergenerational trauma and systemic racism. As I learn more about Canada’s horrific history in the treatment of Indigenous peoples, I am utterly shocked and embarrassed at what I did not know, and the breadth of what I, and most of us, still need to learn and understand.
So how do we build cultural competence? “Cultural competence is about how you interact with others,” says Rose Lemay, an award-winning instructor and director of northern and Indigenous health with the Canadian Foundation for Healthcare Improvement. “It’s about the values you bring and your openness to learning from others.” She speaks of the negative judgment of First Nations people, and the need to speak out and intervene when appropriate so that Indigenous people don’t have to deal with racism alone. It is our collective responsibility to be effective allies against negative judgment and to create opportunities to apply this lens across the education system.
In travelling around Ontario, I’ve come to understand some of the great disparities in resources and achievement faced by educators and school board leaders. While I still believe we have more in common than we have differences, to truly achieve success for all, we need to bring the important issues to light and build awareness so we can move forward together.
There are some excellent initiatives starting up. One at the Keewatin-Patricia District School Board is having a great impact on graduation rates, and the staff lead, Scott Urquhart, said it well when he stated, “We will never have equity of outcomes until we have equity of opportunities.” It’s time for the opportunities to begin.
Through the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, we must “seek first to understand,” and as governors, we can ensure the work in education moves forward so the healing can begin and we can truly achieve success for all students.
The time is right in education to support changes to the curriculum to include teachings on residential schools and treaties, to teach Aboriginal languages and to make sure we understand clearly the effects of the colonizing policies of governments arising from the outdated federal legislation titled the Indian Act. We can provide support for culturally appropriate early childhood education. We must also advocate for the removal of funding discrepancies for First Nations children and continue to promote equity, inclusion and respect in every classroom.
Education has repeatedly been a leader in championing equity and inclusion and supporting diversity on many levels. This was evidenced most recently in our outreach and support in response to Syrian refugees and in our long-standing success in special education, but we have much to do to replicate these actions across Canada.
Under the leadership of First Nations trustee Peter Garrow, the OPSBA First Nations Trustees Council passed a motion this past fall to change its name to the Indigenous Trustees’ Council, in an effort to ensure its work is truly representative and reflective of all First Nations, Métis and Inuit trustees throughout Ontario. OPSBA’s Indigenous Trustees’ Council provides a strong voice in advocacy for First Nations, Métis and Inuit (FNMI) education. The strategies planned by the council will deepen the work on infusion of FNMI cultures and perspectives across the curriculum, enhance professional development for teachers, promote student voice, encourage greater community partnership and explore ways to increase access to the teaching profession by FNMI candidates.
This council, a critical part of OPSBA’s governance, repeatedly educates on the best ways to work with and not at our Indigenous students. I commend this group’s perseverance and leadership, and I look forward to continuing to work alongside them to create an environment of cultural competence throughout our education system.