Indigenous

Advocate worries Manitoba school board changes will put Indigenous education on back burner

A longtime education advocate is worried Indigenous education won't be prioritized under Manitoba's proposed education reforms announced this week.

Dissolving school divisions will erode relationships with Indigenous educators, says Rebecca Chartrand

Manitoba is proposing dissolving its 37 English school divisions and instead grouping schools together in regional catchments overseen by a provincial education authority. (Holly Caruk/CBC)

A longtime education advocate is worried Indigenous education won't be prioritized under Manitoba's proposed education reforms announced this week.

The province is proposing dissolving its 37 English school divisions and instead grouping schools together in regional catchments. The regions would be overseen by a provincial education authority.

"My concern in amalgamating all the school divisions under one umbrella is that we're going to lose Indigenous education as a priority because we know that not every school division sees Indigenous education as a priority," said Rebecca Chartrand.

Chartrand, who is Anishinaabe from Pine Creek First Nation, is vice-president of programs and student success at Indspire, a national charity that provides financial support for Indigenous students.

She worries Manitoba's proposal could erode the relationships that have been built between Indigenous educators and current school divisions.

"We work so hard as Indigenous educators to advocate and to build partnerships and networks with school divisions throughout the province to ensure that Indigenous education becomes a priority. So the biggest concern is, are we going to lose those advocates?" said Chartrand.

Rebecca Chartrand is a longtime Indigenous education champion who is worried about Manitoba's education reform plans. (rebeccachartrand.liberal.ca)

Over 25 years, Chartrand has worked as a teacher, an assistant teacher, an administrator, an Aboriginal education consultant and is currently working on Seven Oaks School Division's anti-racism initiative. During her earlier work with the Seven Oaks School Division, she was the Indigenous education lead and helped develop the division's Ojibway and Cree language programming.

She said Indigenous programming like at Seven Oaks could potentially get lost in the shuffle and there might not be enough First Nations, Métis and Inuit educators at the leadership level when changes come into effect.

Tammy Wolfe, who is an educator and has a daughter in the school system, said she was initially excited about curriculum development when she first heard about the education modernization act, but has fears that it could lead to financial cuts to the public education system.

"To me it looks like they are cutting when they should be putting money into [the school system]," said Wolfe.

"Instead they are saying, 'Oh, well, we're going to simplify it by making one [authority] so we can cut all of these other arms of that system.'"

Education official expects better outcomes for Indigenous students

Helen Settee, director of Manitoba Education's Indigenous Inclusion Directorate, helped draft the proposed changes and said schools will continue to build on the strategies already developed by Indigenous educators.

"One of the things that's going to happen is that principals will have to take concrete actions to improve the achievement of Indigenous students," said Settee.

Helen Settee is the director of Manitoba Education's Indigenous Inclusion Directorate and is optimistic the changes will lead to better outcomes for Indigenous students across the province. (Kevin Settee)

While the plans are still in development, Settee said she is optimistic the changes will lead to better outcomes for First Nations, Métis and Inuit students in the province. 

Settee said Indigenous educators who are worried about the future of the province's education system should put their names forward and share their perspectives.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Lenard Monkman is Anishinaabe from Lake Manitoba First Nation, Treaty 2 territory. He has been an associate producer with CBC Indigenous since 2016. Follow him on Twitter: @Lenardmonkman1

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