Despite the winter storm, more than 400 Indigenous educators from across the country attended a three-day education summit in Halifax this week.
The annual First Nation Directors of Education National Forum is hosted by the Assembly of First Nations, and aims to bring the sector’s leaders together to share resources, network and engage in critical discussion.
Included on the list of topics for 2019 were such tricky subject matter as balancing politics in education, improving math and science outcomes for youth, and increasing attention and retention among Indigenous youth.
For Kee Tas Kee Now Tribal Council Education Authority Supt. Daphne Maistoyna, the forum also provided an opportunity to try and recruit skilled staff to her northern Alberta community near Slave Lake. Her association has six schools within its jurisdiction and has struggled to keep teachers in classrooms.
“Last year it wasn’t so bad, but this last year it has been a real challenge. It’s not only for us, but a lot of other provincial school districts across Alberta, B.C. – all the western provinces,” she told Global News.
Maistoyna praised the forum as a place for Indigenous educators to compare notes, and ensure they’re all walking a “good path” together.
“(It’s) what we’re hoping to see and have been seeing,” she said.
Assembly of First Nations CEO Paulette Tremblay shared Maistoyna’s optimism.
“It’s exciting, it’s an exciting time,” Tremblay said after presenting as part of a four-member panel on the benefits of creating a First Nations Education Administration Association.
That’s been a priority of AFN for several years, she explained, in line with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s recommendation to create more Indigenous-led organizations across many sectors.
“I think the benefit is (it’s) a place where First Nations can gather to dialogue, to share, to learn, to become and to address certain issues,” said Tremblay. “It’s really important to talk, just a place to gather, to have a voice. And it’s time to take that opportunity and actualize it.”
She couldn’t confirm when such an association might be up and running, but said AFN has conducted surveys and consultation that has found broad support for it.
The forum featured several keynote speeches, vendors and ceremonies led by elders and leaders from different provinces. Asked about the challenge of taking a national approach to Indigenous education in a country of hundreds of diverse and unique First Nations, AFOA Canada’s vice-president of education and training Simon Brascoupé responded:
“We need an education that has the two-eyed seeing approach where we take the best of western education and the best of Indigenous education and look to the future for our students because we need people that are working, you need an education and we know that people who are working and have an education are healthy.”
The education forum wraps up in Halifax on Feb. 14 with a visit from federal Indigenous Services Minister Seamus O’Regan.