Indigenous Learning, Promising Practices, School Community

Is B.C. Getting it Right?

Moving toward Aboriginal education success in British Columbia

Important changes to Aboriginal[1] education across Canada began to happen in the 1970s with the federal government’s recognition of the 1972 national policy, Indian Control of Indian Education (ICIE), which emphasized the principles of local control; parental responsibility; Indian culture, values and language; Indian teachers; and culturally sensitive non-Indian teachers and counselors. The National Indian Brotherhood (now Assembly of First Nations) led the development of this milestone policy with input from many provincial and territorial First Nations organizations. Forty-two years later, Aboriginal education remains a pressing concern across Canada. The 2004 Auditor General’s report cautioned that it will take up to 28 years for First Nation on-reserve students to reach high school completion parity with non-Aboriginal students.[2] Despite these dismal statistics, some areas of Canada are moving toward success in Aboriginal education.

British Columbia’s 2012-2013 six-year Aboriginal student high school graduation rate is 60 percent, a marked increase compared to 2008-2009 when it was 40 percent.[3] In the last three years, the increase has been three percent per year. So what is B.C. doing to achieve some success for Aboriginal learners? This article highlights multi-dimensional, interconnected, and long-term approaches that have contributed to Aboriginal education improvements, which include Indigenous teacher education, K-12 public and First Nation schools, and First Nations community and organizational leadership.

Each author shares her area of experience in a sole-authored section. 

Creating change through Indigenous teacher education

by Jo-Ann Archibald

In October 2014, NITEP,[4] the Faculty of Education’s Indigenous teacher education program at the University of British Columbia (UBC), will celebrate its 40th anniversary. When NITEP began in 1974, there were approximately 26 Indigenous teachers in the province out of a teacher population of 23,000 (0.11 percent). NITEP has since graduated 366 Indigenous people who have Bachelor of Education degrees and who have completed a substantial concentration of Indigenous education courses and educational placements.

I am from the Sto:lo and Xaxli’p First Nations. My experience with NITEP spans 32 years. I have developed and taught NITEP’s Indigenous education courses, was a field centre coordinator and advisor to students, and have served as its director.

NITEP helps Indigenous people from Canada fulfill their dream of becoming a teacher, prepares them to become effective educators, and contributes to the improvement of Aboriginal education. NITEP also provides advocacy and support when needed, as well as helping its students develop Indigenous Knowledge pedagogical approaches and understandings about the intergenerational impact of colonization on Aboriginal people and Canadian society.

NITEP students demonstrate resilience and commitment to their studies despite issues such as limited finances, leaving their home community for part of the program, and experiences of racism. They begin their studies in regional field centres, where they complete most of the program from a local college or university, and Indigenous education courses from NITEP/UBC. A field centre coordinator teaches, advises, supervises educational placements, administers the centre, recruits new students, and maintains community linkages. The students move to UBC’s Vancouver campus for their final 12 months of the program. The family/cohort structure provides peer support and a “community-of-learners” approach throughout the program.

NITEP alumni are role models and mentors for their families, many of whom are inspired to become teachers because they have seen their parents, aunties, and uncles complete the program and then teach. NITEP graduates are teaching in public and First Nation schools, colleges and universities. They take on leadership roles in schools, school districts, professional organizations, and Ministry of Education positions. They are advocates for systemic change, they engage in new curriculum development, and they maintain community relationships – as demonstrated in the next section. 

Making a difference in public schools

by DeDe DeRose

I am a member of the Secwepempc-Esketemc First Nations. In 1976 I became a student at the NITEP Field Centre in my home territory, graduating in 1981. NITEP provided me with a safe place to inquire, imagine and be inspired to pursue a career as an educator. In my career, I have been a classroom teacher, school-based principal, chair of the First Nations Education Advisory at UBC and province-wide educator. In 2012, I was honoured to become the first Superintendent of Aboriginal Achievement in the B.C. Ministry of Education – the first position of its kind in Canada. NITEP has opened many career doors and windows that I wouldn’t have dreamt were possible.

In my role, I meet with provincial school district senior administrators to discuss student success, and specifically Aboriginal student success. I use student data that the province has collected over time as a guide to inform and assist school districts and their Aboriginal communities in making local decisions in the best interests of students.

I have noticed that school district teams with certain practices are more likely to be successful. I see Aboriginal student success increase when school districts:

  • work together with Aboriginal communities;
  • track students and use local and provincial data to drive decisions;
  • have an Aboriginal Enhancement Agreement (EA) with Aboriginal communities that includes measureable, attainable goals;
  • embed local Aboriginal knowledge throughout their curriculum;
  • offer provincially developed courses such as the English First Peoples 10, 11, & 12 and First Nations Studies 12;
  • seek to employ Aboriginal educators and support staff; and
  • offer ongoing professional development for all educators.

B.C. is the only province that collects and reports annually on student achievement and student satisfaction data.

District staff must also commit to providing educators with strategies to address barriers where students do not feel safe at school and do not have a sense of belonging,[5] with a belief that until students feel safe and welcome in schools, they will not achieve to their fullest potential. My observation, therefore, is that schools are successful where students, their families and communities, teachers, principals and senior administration take responsibility, understand their roles, are engaged, and work cooperatively and respectfully together.

I have also chaired the provincial K-12 Education Partners’ table. A Memorandum of Understanding signed in 1999 guides our work. It states: “We, the undersigned, acknowledge that Aboriginal learners are not experiencing school success in British Columbia. We state our intention to work together within the mandates of our respective organizations to improve school success for Aboriginal learners in British Columbia.”

First Nations community organizations leading change

B.C. has the benefit of having a key member, the First Nations Education Steering Committee (FNESC), leading and guiding its provincial partners in bringing about positive change. The FNESC[6] is an independent society led by a strong and diverse board of about 100 First Nations community representatives from B.C. FNESC is committed to improving education for all First Nations students in B.C., whether they live on or off reserve. Since its establishment in 1992, FNESC has worked to support First Nations communities in working together to advance education issues and to communicate their priorities to the federal and provincial governments. Communications, research, partnership building and advocacy are all central to FNESC’s activities. Some of FNESC’s important accomplishments include:

  • winning legal recognition to be decision-makers in the education of Aboriginal children, which became protected in federal legislation in 2006 and provincial legislation in 2007;
  • creating innovative curriculum, including English First Peoples 10-12, which is used in public and First Nation school classrooms across B.C.;
  • co-founding the B.C. Aboriginal Post-Secondary Education and Training Partners’ Group in 2005, uniting stakeholders to improve participation and success of Aboriginal learners in post-secondary education and training; and
  • co-founding the Education Partners’ Group in 1999, bringing together K-12 education stakeholders, including Métis people, to improve the success of Aboriginal students in B.C.

FNESC also created an association to work specifically with First Nations schools in B.C. The First Nations Schools Association (FNSA) is an independent organization directed by representatives of the approximately 130 First Nations schools in B.C. It is committed to supporting the development of high-quality, culturally appropriate education for First Nations students and to promoting First Nations control of First Nations education. Since its establishment in 1996, the FNSA has developed assessment instruments for gathering student data to inform planning and improvements in schools, and has built a strong system of mentorship, professional development and coaching to support school leadership and promote effective instruction.

Looking ahead

These programs, approaches, and organizations have made significant contributions to improving Aboriginal student success and Aboriginal education in B.C. NITEP, an Indigenous teacher education program, will continue to prepare its graduates to not only teach, but to make a difference in education. The UBC Faculty of Education continues to demonstrate its long-term commitment to Aboriginal education by hiring Indigenous faculty, offering innovative Indigenous graduate programs, and most recently, requiring that all teacher candidates take a course in Aboriginal education. The Ministry of Education made a bold move in creating the position of Superintendent of Aboriginal Achievement, which adds to its other strategies for making school districts more accountable for increasing Aboriginal student success in K-12. B.C. is the only province that collects and reports annually on student achievement and student satisfaction data. Provincial organizations, run by First Nations communities, are making some key systemic and legislative changes with provincial and federal governments.

But we must ask ourselves if we are satisfied with our success to date? It has taken at least 40 years since the introduction of the Indian Control of Indian Education Policy to reach the current level of B.C. educational success. To reach parity with non-Aboriginal student high school completion rates in B.C., currently at 86 percent, could take at least another nine years of sustained effort. Aboriginal students are still over-represented in special education, and the graduation rates of Aboriginal children in care are abysmal at 34 percent.[7] Moreover, while high school graduation is an important education milestone and marker of success, it is not the only relevant indicator. Appreciation and knowledge of First Nations, Métis, and Inuit history, culture and language are others, which still need to become integral and vibrant components of education. At the same time, we value the long-term commitment, sustained hard work, and wealth of knowledge and skills of the many Aboriginal people, allies, and organizations that have moved B.C. Aboriginal education forward. These continuing collective efforts will make it even better.

Photo: Don Erhardt

First published in Education Canada, June 2014

EN BREF  Les efforts collectifs de personnes travaillant dans des collectivités autochtones, des organismes, des écoles, des universités et le gouvernement provincial donnent enfin des signes d’une augmentation des taux d’achèvement des études secondaires des élèves autochtones fréquentant les écoles publiques en Colombie-Britannique. Cet article met l’accent sur le rôle et l’impact du personnel enseignant autochtone et de la formation d’enseignants autochtones sur la responsabilisation des écoles publiques et l’engagement autochtone, de même que sur le leadership communautaire exercé par les Premières Nations en vue de faire progresser l’éducation autochtone. Cependant, de nombreux aspects doivent encore être réglés afin d’améliorer la qualité de l’éducation pour les apprenants autochtones et de s’assurer que les savoirs autochtones sont intégrés de façon respectueuse et significative aux systèmes d’éducation. Les efforts collectifs soutenus des parties prenantes en éducation de la Colombie-Britannique peuvent régler ces questions afin d’accroître la réussite scolaire des Autochtones.

[1] The terms Aboriginal and Indigenous will be used interchangeably. “Indian” is used when referencing a time period when the term was commonly used.

[2] Office of the Auditor General of Canada, Report of the Auditor General of Canada to the House of Commons, Chapter 5 (2004), 1.

[3] B.C. Ministry of Education, Aboriginal Report 2008/9 – 2012/13: How are we doing? (Nov. 2013). www.bced.gov.bc.ca/abed/perf2013.pdf

[4] The Native Indian Teacher Education Program (NITEP) began in 1974. The leadership of the British Columbia Native Indian Teachers’ Association worked with the UBC Faculty of Education to establish this teacher education option for people of Aboriginal (First Nations, Métis, Inuit) ancestry. NITEP has become a name, instead of an acronym, associated with this teacher education program. Its name has not changed because of the loyalty that its graduates have toward it. For more information about NITEP, see www.nitep.educ.ubc.ca

[5] B.C. Ministry of Education, Aboriginal Report: How are we doing?

[6] The information taken from the FNESC and FNSA web site is used with permission from FNESC. www.fnesc.ca/

[7] B.C. Ministry of Education, Aboriginal Report: How Are We Doing?

Meet the Expert(s)

DeDe DeRose

DeDe DeRose is from the Secwepempc-Esketemc First Nations in Williams Lake, B.C. She is seconded from her position as school-based principal in the Kamloops School District to undertake her role as the Superintendent of Aboriginal Achievement for the B.C. Ministry of Education.

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Jo-ann Archibald

Jo-ann Archibald, Q’um Q’um Xiiem, is from the Sto:lo and Xaxli’p First Nations in the south and interior of B.C. She is the associate dean for Indigenous Education, director of NITEP, and a professor in the Faculty of Education, University of British Columbia.

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