Indigenous teachers, leaders underrepresented in Winnipeg schools, school boards, report finds

Only one of Winnipeg's six school divisions has an employment equity plan in place, according to the report released Tuesday by the Winnipeg Indigenous Executive Circle.

Only 1 of Winnipeg's 6 school divisions has employment equity plan, says Winnipeg Indigenous Executive Circle

The Winnipeg Indigenous Executive Circle released its State of Equity in Education Report on Tuesday. (BlurryMe/Shutterstock)

Winnipeg school divisions, universities and Manitoba education leaders are being urged to make changes, after a new report found Indigenous teachers and leaders are underrepresented in the city's schools and school boards.

Only one of Winnipeg's six school divisions — the Winnipeg School Division — has an employment equity plan in place, according to the State of Equity in Education Report released Tuesday by the Winnipeg Indigenous Executive Circle, a coalition of groups that work to support Winnipeg's Indigenous population.

"It was a real wake up call to continuing conversations around this," said Sonia Prevost-Derbecker, a co-author of the report.

Less than nine per cent of teachers in the city's school divisions self-identified as Indigenous in provincial surveys in 2013-14, the report says. That's compared to nearly 17 per cent of students in the same period, the report says.

"We know that Indigenous educational outcomes are, at times, dire.… They're far below what they should be," Prevost-Derbecker said. "And we honestly believe that demographic representation is a key solution."

Malaihka Siemens — a Grade 12 student at Argyle Alternative High School who is Oji-Cree and Black — says she has rarely encountered teachers who looked like her in Winnipeg schools she's attended.

"I felt like I had to morph into this different person every single year … because in my class there was nobody who really, proudly, was Indigenous," Siemens said.

Race was rarely addressed by her teachers, including in history classes that were predominantly about white people.

"If Indigenous people or Black people were brought up [in class] … they were brought up only in the context of suffering and pain," Siemens said. "So I just thought that was all my people had to offer to history and education, and so that was really invalidating and hard."

Now, Siemens wants to become a teacher.

"I think of all of the students who need support and need to feel valued and and see somebody who is … doing something that they didn't know was possible," she said.

"Seeing people who looks like them in successful positions would help them, and so I wish to be that person for somebody."

Calls to action

The Winnipeg Indigenous Executive Circle report came with 10 calls to action, urging provincial and federal governments, along with Winnipeg school divisions and Manitoba universities and colleges, to improve representation and student outcomes.

Among them is a call on school divisions to create employment equity policies to tackle the shortage of Indigenous teachers, with targets proportionate to the student population and a plan to monitor progress.

Employment equity reports must be posted online annually and be readily accessible to the public, the report says.

Clear data on how many Indigenous staff are in Winnipeg schools, and in what positions, is necessary for divisions to improve employment equity, said Heather McCormick, co-chair of the education committee for the Winnipeg Indigenous Executive Circle.

"Once we have that actual picture, we can start making some targeted plans to reach different levels of Indigenous representation in schools at that level," McCormick said.

Brian O'Leary, superintendent of Seven Oaks School Division, said the division has a statement on employment equity as part of a broader policy, and has worked with the University of Winnipeg to train and hire Indigenous teachers.

The division doesn't ask for self-identification from staff, but he said it's something to look at.

"[Representation has] been a serious priority," he said. "It is really important that children see themselves reflected back on the faces of the staff in the schools."

'Solution needs to be multifaceted'

The report also called on Manitoba faculties of education to set enrolment targets for Indigenous students, and release annual reports on equity of students and staff.

At the University of Winnipeg, 11.3 per cent of registered students in the bachelor of education program self-identified as Indigenous in 2017-18, the report says.

Data from the Premier's Advisory Council on Education, Poverty and Citizenship research project shows the University of Manitoba posted a mean yearly average of 5.3 per cent Indigenous students in 2011-15, the report said.

Other calls to action range from creating a proportional number of designated seats on governance bodies like school boards for Indigenous members to establishing a "more Indigenous teachers initiative," to be run by education groups and Indigenous leaders.

The initiative would identify barriers and develop recruitment strategies to increase the pool of Indigenous teachers-to-be, as well as develop a retention and promotion program for Indigenous staff within school divisions.

It would also create teacher education programs for Indigenous staff, including laddering programs and stepping stones for educational assistants and high school student teachers, a language transition program, and a bachelor of education program governed by Indigenous peoples that would come with a bursary program.

Prevost-Derbecker said the report is extensive because the barriers to better representation are so numerous.

"The solution needs to be multifaceted. It needs to include the universities, the high schools. It needs to have support systems for the families," Prevost-Derbecker said.

"It needs to include the curriculum writers. It needs to include so many people in order to get this steamship turned around."

Report calls on school divisions to make classrooms more inclusive

2 years ago
Duration 2:06
Malaihka Siemens — a Grade 12 student at Argyle Alternative High School who is Oji-Cree and Black — says she has rarely encountered teachers who looked like her in Winnipeg schools she's attended.

With files from Peggy Lam and Aidan Geary