Image caption: Cover detail from the 2010 ACDE Accord on Indigenous Education, which is now being renewed.
On behalf of the Association of Canadian Deans of Education (ACDE)
AS A COLONIAL NATION, Canada is founded on the theft of Indigenous lands through settler invasion, which must be understood as a structure rather than an historical event. What this means is that colonialism is not a thing of the past; it continues to shape economic, political, and social structures through its intent to displace and disempower Indigenous peoples. Tuck and Yang (2012) argue that at its core, colonialism and its need to ensure “settler futurity” is about control over the land. Education has been an instrument of colonialism, therefore complicit in the dispossession of Indigenous people from their lands, languages, and livelihoods. As part of the “civilizing” and assimilating agendas of Canadian society, schooling was designed to harm Indigenous people, particularly through the erasure of Indigenous ways of knowing and by disrupting family and community systems. The imperative for Canadians to understand and recognize this foundational context of colonialism has been part of educational directives for some time. This includes the 1996 Canada’s Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, which called for inclusion of Aboriginal perspective, traditions, and worldviews in the school curriculum and programs to address stereotypes and anti-Indigenous racism as educational priorities for improving educational outcomes for Indigenous learners and setting directions for Indigenous-settler relations in this country.
In 2010, under the leadership of Indigenous scholars Jo-ann Archibald and Lorna Williams, and Education Deans Cecilia Reynolds and John Lundy, the Association of Canadian Deans of Education (ACDE) launched the Accord on Indigenous Education. This marked the end of a three-year process of pan-Canadian consultation, engagement, and feedback at a time of limited understanding of the realities of settler colonialism in the consciousness of most Canadians. The Accord aimed to address this through a series of objectives meant to inform and transform both teacher education and K–12 classrooms. The Accord states that “the processes of colonization have either outlawed or suppressed Indigenous knowledge systems, especially language and culture, and have contributed significantly to the low levels of educational attainment and high rates of social issues such as suicide, incarceration, unemployment, and family or community separation” among Indigenous peoples in Canada (p. 2).
The key principles of the Accord include supporting a more socially just society for Indigenous peoples; respectful, collaborative, and consultative processes with Indigenous and non-Indigenous knowledge holders; promoting partnerships among educational and Indigenous communities; and valuing the diversity of Indigenous knowledges and ways of knowing and learning. These principles guide the Accord and its overarching vision that “Indigenous identities, cultures, languages, values, ways of knowing, and knowledge systems will flourish in all Canadian learning settings” (p.4). To achieve this vision, the Accord lays out a series of goals, including respectful and welcoming learning environments, curriculum inclusive of Indigenous knowledge systems, culturally responsive pedagogies and assessment practices, mechanisms for promoting and valuing Indigeneity in education, affirmation and revitalization of Indigenous languages, Indigenous education leadership, and culturally respectful Indigenous leadership.
Many deans of education have looked to the Accord to advance changes in teacher education, including the creation of mandatory Indigenous education classes in some programs and the intentional weaving of Indigenous knowledges, content, and perspectives into education courses in other BEd programs. The Accord has been used to advocate for revisions to provincial curricula across the country, especially when the curriculum was silent or only superficially inclusive of the historical and contemporary voices and experiences of Indigenous peoples. The influence of the Accord can also be traced to the creation of First Nations education frameworks in several provinces, the creation of teacher competencies or professional standards, efforts by school divisions to improve the experiences of Indigenous learners in classrooms and school communities, and the implementation of policies at local and provincial levels that aim to improve the experiences of Indigenous learners. In Alberta, the Teacher Quality Standards outline a requirement for teachers to have foundational knowledge of First Nations, Métis, and Inuit peoples, and in British Columbia, the First People’s Principles of Learning build on the aims of the Accord by centring Indigenous knowledge in education. In addition to policies, principles, and standards for education, the Accord has been cited numerous times by academics whose work challenges settler colonialism, influencing the growing body of research and scholarship in Indigenous and anti-colonial education.
In the years since the Accord was launched, many more efforts to recognize the truth of Canada’s history and improve Indigenous-settler relations have unfolded. One of the most significant is the work of Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) and the resulting 94 Calls to Actions. Reconciliation as a framework for education has inspired Faculties of Education to create reconciliation advisories, hire Indigenous faculty, develop strategic plans, revise and enhance Indigenous offerings in curriculum, and provide professional development for staff and faculty to deepen their understanding of colonialism and Indigenous perspectives and knowledges. As it takes hold in educational spaces, we can all appreciate the way reconciliation facilitates decolonization, equity, and more recently, Indigenization. However, reconciliation has also been subject to critique, especially in light of the growing anti-Indigenous racism, illegal incursion on Indigenous lands, denial of Indigenous rights, and the heightened inequities within Indigenous communities as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic (Styres & Kempf, 2022).
Further orienting Faculties of Education to Indigenous education priorities has been the emergence of the Idle No More movement, the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Girls and Women (MMIGW), and the Federal Government of Canada’s commitment to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). For example, in B.C., UNDRIP became legislation through the Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act and an Action Plan that specifies Indigenous peoples’ rights to self-determination as a core element of Indigenous-settler relations, including Indigenous people’s right to education in their languages and cultures. Given these emerging policy directives and social and political movements, the time was right to renew the Accord on Indigenous Education. This was precisely the request made to ACDE by the executive members of the Canadian Association for Studies in Indigenous Education in 2019.
The process of renewal that is underway draws inspiration from Cree Elder and scholar-educator, Dr. Verna Kirkness’s (2013) leadership approach that asks us to consider the following questions: Where have we been, where are going, how do we get there, and how do we know when we are there? Pan-consultation and feedback sessions are being held by deans of education from across Canada over the coming year, who will “listen and lift” the voices and perspectives from early learning, K–12, teacher education, and communities. The process of consultation and the work of the deans emphasize responsibilities and actions that help learners understand their entanglements in settler-colonialism, draw from the diverse and rich Indigenous knowledge traditions in their lives, and advance Indigenous rights and priorities through anti-racist, decolonial, and sovereign approaches. A revised Accord on Indigenous Education will seek to align its goals with the rights acknowledged in UNDRIP, the TRC Calls to Action, and the MMIGW Calls for Justice. Given all that has unfolded since the Accord was first launched, there is an imperative to move from a language rooted in the politics of respect to the politics of rights, creating new opportunities for educators to deepen and expand their understanding and their practice in ways that actively confront the colonial relations of Canada, moving us into an Indigenous-settler future in ethically relational ways (Donald, 2009).
Association of Canadian Deans of Education. (2010). Accord on Indigenous education. https://csse-scee.ca/acde/wp-content/uploads/sites/7/2017/08/Accord-on-Indigenous-Education.pdf
Donald, D. (2009). Forts, curriculum, and Indigenous métissage: Imagining decolonization of Aboriginal-Canadian relations in educational contexts. First Nations Perspectives, 2(1), 1–24.
Kirkness, V. (2013). Creating space: My life and work in Indigenous education. University of Manitoba Press.
Styres, S. D, & Kempf, A. (2022). Troubling Truth and Reconciliation in Canadian education: Critical perspectives. University of Alberta Press.
Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. (2015). Honouring the truth, reconciling for the future: Summary of the final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada.
Tuck, E., & Yang, K. (2012). Decolonization is not a metaphor. Decolonization: Indigeneity, Education& Society, 1(1), 1–40.
UN General Assembly, United Nations declaration on the rights of Indigenous peoples: Resolution adopted by the General Assembly, 2 October 2007, A/RES/61/295. https://www.refworld.org/docid/471355a82.html
Caption for banner image at top:
Cover detail from the 2010 ACDE Accord on Indigenous Education, which is now being renewed.
First published in Education Canada, September 2023