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Indians Want Change In Education System: Saskatchewan Sets An Example

Bill Wsiaki

SASKATCHEWAN INDIAN      JUNE 1980      v10 n6&7 p14  
Winnipeg - Over 1,000 Canadian Indians attended the National Indian Education Conference held at the University of Manitoba, May 12-15, sponsored by the National Indian Brotherhood (NIB).

Chiefs, band councillors, educators (day-care to post-secondary), special guest speakers, and members of native communities from across Canada gathered to determine the present and future positions of Indian education with respect to the Indian Control Act of 1972.

There was ample opportunity for those attending to share with one another the state of education in their various communities. The entire session was monitored so that a firm conclusion can be developed as to the condition of Indian education in Canada. From this it is hoped the necessary developments and changes will be made.

Commencing with an assembly prayer in the Mohawk language, plenary sessions and workshops, around the theme of "Indian Control of Indian Education: Practical Applications," were held daily. Workshops dealt with: What is Indian education; Importance of community involvement; Teacher training; Facilities, services and programs; Indian control of Indian education and Indian government; Planning and priorities.

"Indian education is the specific education that suits the particular needs of a community," said Alayne Bigwin, director of education for the NIB and co-ordinator of the conference. Parents should have the responsibility and authority to give their children a traditional education, while professional educators should provide the formal education. "This would enhance Indian identity, language and tradition, as well as providing the skills of survival in our modern world," she noted.

The Saskatchewan Indian Community College was used as an example of a successful program. It was established in March 1976 to provide adult education programs for treaty Indians living on Indian reserves or on Crown land. One of the main objectives of the college is to assist Saskatchewan Indian bands identify and develop community programs specialized to meet the social and economic needs of the Indian people. Adult basic education, trades training, band staff training and university training are a few of the programs on the curriculum. Chiefs and councils are involved in all aspects of the course delivery.

In May, 1976 the Saskatchewan Indian Federated College officially became federated with the University of Regina. All terms of the federation provide for the establishment of a Bachelor of Arts program in Indian studies within the faculty of arts.

In May, 1978 the bachelor of education program in Indian education was formally approved for teacher certification.

Although this shows significant progress for Indian control of Indian education in Saskatchewan there are no other similar institutions in Canada. "We need more centres like these," stressed Miss Bigwin.

"Insufficient funding and the imposition of restricted guidelines from the department of Indian affairs" have hampered progress, she said, explaining that the bureaucracy of the department maintains the attitude that Indian people are not capable of handling their own affairs, making their own decisions or defining their own priorities.

Indian people are becoming more aware of the need for changes in their social, economical, political and educational structures, she said. Non-Indian education institutions do not offer Indian people the options that they as individuals require, she stated.

The fact that 1,000 people came to this conference, while having to provide their own funding, established a strong foundation from which to work for future changes in native education.

Reprinted from the Prairie Messenger