The Saugeen First Nations Community held its first Consultation on
Education Wednesday night at the James Mason Centre.
Organized by Gayle Mason, Saugeen's director of education, the meeting
was an opportunity for members of the community to pose questions to a
cross-section panel of representatives involved in education in the
Bluewater School District and health care workers.
Those on the panel were Melissa McEwen and Laurie Wilder of the
Bluewater Board of Education, Dennis Boyle Executive Director of
Keystone, Dr. Wayne Richardson PhD in Child Psychology, G.C. Huston
School Principal Cynthia Lemon, Saugeen District Secondary School (SDSS)
Principal, Ron Code and Saugeen Health Care nurses, Melissa Gregory and
Saugeen First Nation Chief, Randall Kahgee, said that he saw the meeting
as a very positive first step forward in creating awareness throughout
the community. "You can never have too much dialogue," he said, "and the
objective of moving forward is in the best interests of our children so
that they have the best possible opportunity to succeed in life."
He added that a lot of weight is put on the younger First Nations
generation. "We want our children to carry our nation forward and it's a
responsibility that has been passed on to each generation."
Each of the panelists first explained his/her role in the education of
students within the Bluewater District and then took questions from the
Melissa McEwan of the board's Student Services explained a working model
of the new Section 23 program which was brought into the local G.C.
Huston Public School in Southampton at the beginning of the year. "There
are therapeutic needs for some students as well as educational needs and
Section 23 tries to combine both."
According to McEwan, there are currently eight Section 23 programs in
Grey-Bruce Counties. Besides the newly initiated program in Southampton,
there are programs in Hanover, Owen Sound, Hepworth, Desboro, Chesley,
Dellcrest and Heathcote.
McEwan went on to point out the benefits for both the students involved
in the program and the communities in which they are found.
According to Executive Director, Dennis Boyle, The organization has been
in existence since 1974 under different monikers, such as Grey Bruce
Family Services. It employs75 full-time staff in addition to 50 contract
workers and is funded through 12 to 14 different "mechanisms". "Some of
the students are high-risk 13 to 18 year-olds in a residential setting
like Owen Sound," he explained, "but others are in a day-treatment such
as the one at G.C. Huston.
Dr. Wayne Richardson, a psychologist who now works with Saugeen First
Nations' children, was, at one time, Director of the Bruce Grey
Children's Services and Supervisor of Mental Health in Cape Croker.
"First Nations children learn differently," he said. "The children that
I see have non-verbal skills which means they learn by doing and learn
by watching. Unfortunately, the verbal skill of learning by listening is
what is needed in the school system and, therefore, when they enter
school, they have challenges. There is definitely a need for early
identification and remediation when needed before behavioral problems
Dr. Wayne Richardson
Richardson went on to add that there are specific instructional methods
that can be implemented such as increased emphasis on Kindergarten and
first grade literacy, lots of small group instruction and through the
leadership and involvement of parents. "Parents absolutely have to take
an active role in their children's education. They have to monitor what
their kids are doing and have regular meetings with teachers if needed."
Val Root-Anoquot, a parent in the audience, said that for Anishnabek
people to move forward in the system, the real issues have to be looked
at. "Our reality is that there may be some parents who simply can't help
their children, so what kind of partnerships can we build to help those
11/03/2009 11:32 PM
Richardson agreed it was a complicated issue but, "...
you have to start somewhere and it's not easy."
"First Nations children are raised in their own culture,
one that is somewhat freer but, when these children go to school, it can
be a real challenge for them. You have to get the kids early and give
them the basic fundamentals." When questioned by a parent as to whether
or not the school board could help these children learn in a different
way, Richardson replied that he had written a letter some two years
previously to the Board about his findings but had never heard anything
Ron Code, Principal of SDSS with approximately 740 students, 44 of which
are First Nations, then explained the various programs that have been
initiated at the school. "As a rule we seem to lose kids in grade 10 and
11 and, there is no doubt, that attendance has a great bearing on marks.
Students who attend classes, aren't late and who participate in
extra-curricular activities are more successful."
Code also pointed out that the school has a Cultural Room open during
lunch that is supported by Saugeen First Nation in addition to school
literacy programs and the BLOG for Native Studies. Kim Harbinson of SDSS
also works with aboriginal students on the National Aboriginal Youth
Program offered by the Business Development Bank. The 'e-Spirit' program
teaches entrepreneurship/business opportunities, management/business
skills and e-commerce and technological components.
"We also have our aboriginal advisor, Ray Auger," added Code, "and are
looking at implementing a Native Language Course in Ojibway, Native
Studies and a four-credit construction program as well as a Visual Arts
credit course with the focus on First Nation Arts and Crafts."
Val Root-Anoquot raised very pointed issues with
Root-Anoquot raised the point that the textbooks being
used in the school system do not reflect the aboriginal peoples'
history, culture or relationships and contribution to the wealth of
Canada. "While we can't undo the injustices of the past, when we look at
education, we have to look at all the resources available. When we
educate our children, we carry our values and beliefs with us and that's
embodied in our language. How many educators are aware of the plight of
the First Nation? If they were, it would go a long way to connecting
with students and parents."
Adrian Kahgee, a teacher at SDSS and a representative on the Aboriginal
Advisory Committee explained that, "These questions are being raised by
boards across the Province and we are tryng to push for a new framework
from the Ministry of Education."
Root-Anoquot then brought out into the open what others applauded and
agreed with. "I have been pushing for our own school in our own
community. Instead of us going out there, you (speaking to the panel)
should be coming to us to provide the services. Our people need to teach
our own and give them the basis for growth through the holistic
teachings of our natural surroundings and our elders. We know it's
important to learn academics to survive in the world but, if we need
help, you should come to us."
Gayle Mason agreed. "A First Nation school has always been foremost but
we need the community to support it and, therefore, we have to keep the
pressure on our council. Students now only receive 45 minutes a day of
Ojibway language teaching after grade 3 and that is unacceptable. It
should start in Kindergarten and our history should be offered as a
credit course. We are going to do our own very detailed study and
complete a report to look at the Provincial policy and see what needs to
happen in the schools. The teachers may have to take additional training
to teach our First Nation, Metis and Inuit children."
First Nation's Ann Thorpe said, "This is a human thing we are dealing
with, not a white or a brown thing. What I think is happening as parents
and educators, is that we are catering to mediocrity because, as
parents, we have lost our role with our children. They are becoming peer
rich and adult poor. We (First Nations) have lost our culture and our
history but we need to fight for our kids and take our relationships
back ... but, where do we begin?"