David Thompson believed his Ojibway heritage and his university degree with special qualifications in native language instruction would give him job security as an Ojibway teacher in Ontario's public school system.

He was wrong.

During a round of job cuts this year, Thompson was bumped out of his full-time permanent job teaching high school Ojibway with Lakehead Public Schools in Thunder Bay, Ont., by a man who is a specialist in business studies and has no professional qualifications in any language.

The teacher currently doing the job is not Indigenous and does not speak Ojibway, Thompson wrote in a complaint filed with the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario.

"It's a total insult to our youth to put someone in front of the classroom to teach Ojibway, who is not Ojibway, who is not affiliated with the culture or brought up with it," said Thompson, who was raised by his grandparents at Rocky Bay First Nation in northwestern Ontario.

Dolores Wawia

Retired Lakehead University professor Dolores Wawia remembers being forbidden to speak her language in residential schools and says its important that Indigenous students learn from Indigenous teachers. (Ontario Ministry of Citizenship/Flickr)

Lakehead Public Schools would not comment on the complaint. A spokesperson directed CBC News to the board's hiring policy.

"Fluency is a further consideration in hiring [Ojibway language teachers]," the policy states. "We invite a community elder, fluent in the language, to participate in the interview process in order to determine fluency."

'There should be a rule'

But Dolores Wawia, the co-chair of the board's Aboriginal Education Advisory Committee, said she is aware of situations where non-Indigenous teachers wind up with jobs teaching Indigenous languages, even though they do not speak those languages.

"I think there should be a rule about teaching native language by native people," said Wawia, a professor emeritus at Lakehead University.

Currently there is no such rule. Nor is there a rule requiring native language teachers to have any specialized language qualifications, according to the Ontario College of Teachers — the professional body that certifies people as teachers in the province.

"It is possible that certain teaching areas or subjects, including native language, could be taught by a member of the College who does not hold the qualification," spokesperson Gabrielle Barkany said in an email to CBC News.

That's not generally the case for teachers of French as a second language, who — unlike native language teachers — must receive special permission from the Ministry of Education to teach French if they do not have the professional qualifications, she said.


Thompson's human rights complaint also names the Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation because, he says, the union chose not to pursue his grievance against the man who got his old job and instead protected the other teacher, based on his seniority.

"The whole experience was dehumanizing," Thompson said. "It felt not worthy of what I brought to the school board, of what I had to offer."

A spokesperson for the union said it would not comment on Thompson's situation because of the active complaint before the human rights tribunal.

Thompson's complaint is based on what he calls systemic barriers that prevent Ojibway people from teaching their own language, culture and history within the public school system.

In that, he said, there's an echo of the residential school system, where Indigenous children were taken from their families and places in foreign institutions where they were forbidden to speak their own language.

"There's this continued behaviour by these entities, these school boards and these unions that are still making decisions that are affecting us, basing their decisions on European-Canadian values and making the decisions for Anishinaabe people," Thompson said. "It's just not right. It shortchanges our youth."