Saugeen First Nation and Education



(L) Melissa Gregory, Ron Code, Cynthia  Lemon, Laurie Wilder, Dr. Wayne Richardson, Dennis Boyle & Melissa McEwan

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 Heather White.

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 audience.

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 develop."

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 families?"

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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 back.

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 the panel

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?"

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