Group pushing for indigenous school division in Winnipeg

Winnipeg is home to more indigenous people than any other city in Canada. Bill Sanderson is an educator who's part of a group that says it's time for an indigenous school division.

Educator Bill Sanderson say 29 existing schools could form a Winnipeg Indigenous School Division

Winnipeg is home to more indigenous people than any other Canadian city. Is it time for an indigenous school division? (CBC)

A community group in Winnipeg is pushing for the creation of an indigenous school division in the city.

Bill Sanderson is an educator who's part of a group that has identified 29 existing schools that could potentially become the Winnipeg Indigenous School Division.

Sanderson says the schools would have the same academic programming offered in other divisions but would also focus on indigenous languages, tradition and culture.

"It's difficult to convey the importance of culture when you don't belong to that particular culture," said Sanderson.

"There's a lot of care that comes into the picture when you're working within your own particular group."

Sanderson points to the case of Brad Badiuk as an example of the discrimination indigenous students can face in existing Winnipeg schools.

Badiuk is a local high school teacher who's being sued for posting controversial remarks on Facebook about First Nation people.

"That kind of person is teaching our kids? That's dangerous. I thought those days were gone," Sanderson said.

Patricia Ningewance, an author and advocate for indigenous languages, says she believes the new school division could play an important role in the revitalization of indigenous languages.

"Those of us who are fluent learned our language in our homes, but that isn't happening any more," she said. "I think the only hope is to have schools teach the language."

Would be open to everyone

The Winnipeg School Division already has two schools with an indigenous focus: Children of the Earth High School and, for nursery to Grade 8, Niji Mahkwa School. Both of those schools are in the inner city.

Sanderson was involved in the creation of both schools, but he said Winnipeg is home to more indigenous people than anywhere else in Canada and can easily sustain many more.

He also said the schools would be open to all Winnipeggers anyway, not just those from the indigenous community.

"Whenever there are gatherings, it's never just indigenous people," he said. "We welcome everyone to gatherings and by doing that, we see many different people from different backgrounds sit in our circle."

There will be a public meeting about the proposed indigenous school division at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 24, at the Winnipeg Indian & Métis Friendship Centre.