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Monica Goulet: Okay, my name is Monica Goulet Coutre and I'm the English teacher, one of the English teachers, at Cochrane High School. I graduated from SUNTEP (Saskatchewan Urban Native Teachers Education Program) about two years ago. I'm part Cree, Saulteaux and French, and I grew up in a settlement up North (Cumberland House). That's where I am originally from.
LP: How long have you been a teacher?
MG: This is my second year.
LP: You've been at this school for the past two years then, could you explain a little about this school, it's ... I believe it's called a vocational school. It's a school for students who can't make it in the regular school system for various reasons. Basically, they might have a problem with attendance or behavior, or other things of that nature. What Cochrane offers is training in auto services of auto mechanics, the various shops that we have here, or beauty culture, and things like that. So the students can get out of here with a vocational Grade 12.
LP: What is the native population of the school?
MG: I would say about 40%. I don't know the exact statistics.
LP: Do you have much percentage of dropouts?
MG: To my knowledge in Regina there's about a 90% dropout rate right now with native kids. If they make it out of Grade 6, 90 % of them won't make it through Grade 12. As far as I know that's the same sort of percentages we're working with here as well.
LP: Are you the only native teacher here?
MG: That's right.
LP: Do you feel the native students relate differently to you, being a native person, than they do to the non-native teachers?
MG: Definitely. I found that out when I first started teaching here. What I did with all my classes was I introduced myself and gave them a bit of my background and told them that I was native and explained what that was. I found that even though all the classes already knew what I was, it seemed that whenever they would come into classes after that they'd be asking me "What kind of Indian are you, what reserve did you grow up on or, did you marry a white man or an Indian?" They were constantly asking me questions because it seemed like they wanted to clarify the point that I was, yes indeed, a native person and that I was their teacher. It seem like they were taking pride in that fact, and this was basically the native kids that were asking me these questions all the time.
LP: Now you were mentioning that the dropout rate here in Regina for native students is 90%-95%. I understand that the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission has made some recommendations because of this high dropout rate, and one of them was to include more native content in the curriculum. Do you agree with that?
MG: Absolutely. Plus I also feel that not only we should have that curriculum including native content, but we should also have in-service training to enable the teachers to be able to teach this new curriculum. You can have the finest material in the world, but if the teachers don't feel comfortable with teaching that material, their going to do a shabby job of it. So I think what we need to do is we need to have that curriculum but we also need to have cross-cultural training for the teachers.
LP: The Affirmative Action Program for the hiring of native teachers was another recommendation. What does affirmative action mean?
MG: To me, I think John Beke (The Regina Public School Board President) presented a distorted view of affirmative action on the media. For one thing, he was centering on native people. Affirmative action does not only refer to native people, it also refers to women, and the handicapped. So I think he made a crucial mistake there by centering out native people as being the only target for affirmative action. And, to me, affirmative action - I think the best way to describe it would be to draw off an example. The only example I can think of right now would be where two people who were equally qualified applied for the same position. The person who was under-represented in that particular field should automatically get the job. If a female, and a male were both applying for a job, let's say, and they both had equal qualifications, then definitely the woman should be hired before the male, because women are extremely unrepresented in that field.
LP: One of the concerns, was that the Affirmative Action Program means hiring unqualified native teachers.
MG: I don't think so at all. I think this was the type of impression that John Beke was perpetuating in the media, talking about quotas and things like that.
LP: Another concern I heard was how the native people would feel being hired under this sort of a program?
MG: Well, to me, I don't think affirmative action is that any how, so I don't think it should create any problem. I can see where some people are concerned that the native person is going to be chosen ahead of them. All I can say to that is we have a high dropout rate (90%). If we're going to attack that issue, then what we have to have is more positive role models in the schools. I don't think for a moment that a native person should get the job simply because they're native. They have to have the qualifications in order to be hired and I think studies show that in places where native people or people from minority groups have been hired within an existing system, contrary to popular belief that the standards go down when this happens, actually the standards go up, say, in the system of education.
MG: Yes, I was hired under an Affirmative Action Program when I was working with the Department of Northern Saskatchewan. It was on-the-job training, which was good and I became an accounting clerk that way.
LP: How did it turn out for you?
MG: It turned out good.
LP: So it didn't bother you at all that you were hired under Affirmative Action?
MG: No. I think an affirmative action program needs to be adopted by the Public School Board and by the Separate School Board if we're going to take concrete steps to alleviate the problem of our high dropout rate amongst the native population. Definitely one of the things that needs to be done is to start hiring more native teachers, so that these kids that come to school and see a native person actually teaching them, be given more of a positive self-image. They say, hey, that person's native and I'm native, and she's teaching. I think it bears definite reflection on how they feel about themselves. They think, gee, if she/he can do it, then why can't I?
LP: Yeah, I agree, right now they have a very few role models. Okay, thank you very much for your cooperation. I really appreciate it.
MG: You're welcome.