Deans sign accord on Aboriginal education

Education departments to implement goals aimed at creating respectful learning environments


A promising step forward for Aboriginal education is taking place at this year’s Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences, currently underway at Concordia University in Montreal. On June 1, members of the Association of Canadian Deans of Education (ACDE) signed an Accord on Indigenous Education. The Accord lays out a vision, a set of principles, and an extensive list of goals with the aim to create respectful learning environments, inclusive curricula, and to recognize and promote Indigenous knowledge in education.

The ACDE’s move comes at a time when almost half of Canada’s Aboriginal population is aged 24 or younger and represents the fastest-growing segment of the Aboriginal population. Indigenous organizations and communities have become increasingly involved in educational policy and issues, while major studies and government commissions have called for Aboriginal people to play a greater role in these areas. ACDE, with a 61-institution membership, recognized the role it could play as an association for educators in order to push for improvements in Indigenous education.

The Accord’s many goals include: reclaiming and teaching Indigenous languages, as well as promoting their use in research and scholarly writing; creating procedures in the promotion and tenure process that value work on Indigenous education projects; eliminating cultural biases in student assessment; and improving access, support and retention strategies to increase the number of First Nations, Inuit and Métis people enrolling in and completing post-secondary and teacher education.

The signing of this Accord follows several years of work. In 2007, a four-chair committee was struck comprising two deans of education—Laurentian’s John Lundy and Saskatchewan’s Cecilia Reynolds—as well as Aboriginal scholars Jo-ann Archibald of UBC and UVic’s Lorna Williams. Archibald and Williams had just chaired a B.C. deans of education task force on Aboriginal education, and the B.C. deans had accepted their recommendations the previous year. The ACDE committee’s process involved looking at the needs of universities and Aboriginal communities and what each had to offer the other, while the lengthy drafting process included soliciting comments from each group.

As Williams, who is a member of the Lil’wat First Nation of Mount Currie, B.C., observes: “Education was the tool used to destroy our languages, ways of life, cultural traditions, relationships with families and the land. This action by the deans of education is leading the way to education being an institution that can also heal and restore what it attempted to destroy.”

While the Accord will be implemented within faculties and departments of education, the ACDE hopes that it can also serve as a model for the wider university community, within the teaching profession, and in elementary and secondary education. There is optimism that the Accord’s stated goals will result in concrete changes, and soon. Lundy sees the Accord as “a guide for genuine dialogue and social action in education.” Already at the University of Saskatchewan, the Accord has been shared with deans and upper administration, while USask’s College of Nursing consulted the document when designing a new program.

ACDE members had signed a General Accord in 2005, as well as a subsequent Accord on Initial Teacher Education. Both agreements have helped education deans take a leadership role in education across Canada and have influenced the work of education ministries, teacher federations and national organizations.

For her part, Reynolds sees the Accord as both a challenge and a cause for optimism: “As a country we stand at an important historical crossroads with regard to our relations with Aboriginal Peoples. Either we move to improve our policies and practices, or we choose to ignore the vibrancy that Aboriginal knowledge and learning can offer our local and national activities. This Accord offers us new pathways and serves as a beacon of hope.”


Deans sign accord on Aboriginal education

  1. I disagree with this goal,”eliminating cultural biases in student assessment.”

    Current assessment practices leave a lot of room for adaptation and community needs. Our (First Nations) students have to compete in the mainstream world and if we consistenyl claim that assessments are culturally biased we are reinforcing ‘anti-intellectualism.’ It is a new way of saying kids are acting white by succeeding.

  2. How in the world will this help aboriginals? They need to learn how to function in a mulicultural Canada. Once again, this will lead to further isolation in the long run. We need to stop protecting aboriginals whether it be in education or through other specialized supports that the rest of Canadians are not entitled to. Aboriginals need to join society rather than continue to distance themselves from the real world.

  3. Aboriginal worldview and western worldview are almost opposite when it comes to education. Our cultural teachers show us this. They have been in the processes of decolonizing themselvres into believing that other people know what is right for us as Indigenous people. If we are educated in either worldview we see patterns and cycles that describe where and why things are happening. I see us as a very young industrial people on one hand and highly spiriual in the other. Looking at linear only doesnt make anyone right it only leads to discussion. Discussion only leads to show the way. Showing the way leads to undestanding.

    If you look at history we as Indigenous people are running full speed to catch up to industrial society that has taken over 3 thousand years to get to this point. You are no greater or smarter than us just ahead industrially. We may have many difficulties seperating from what you or many term real but to us it is still real. Nor are we trying to be you thank goodness. We do not go into non First Nation/Indigenous communities and research why you are the way you are. Or even try to change you. We instead still trust in what we were taught through ceremomy that we will meet one day on even ground. And that is what education is trying to do today. Make the ground even, especially after our histories together.
    As Indigenous people we are not afraid to say we are lacking in your education or that we need supports. We have always been encouraged to be humble and generous. Western society has never shown us these virtues and so bias and uncertainty of the unknown remains on the minds of those who refuse that there may be another way to view the world.
    As educators it is our jobs to be open and innovative. we see in many non First Nation children the parents views, the anger and especially the judgement. Stop before you ruin yourself cause these feelings of inadequacy are yours alone. I commend the educators of today. Bring us into your minds, hearts and spirits and together we can make this land a great place
    Mitakuye oyasin

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  5. Many people seem to think that making education more accessible or culturally relevant is somehow changing the playing field. There is little understanding of the systemic barriers and the challenges that many First Nations people face in succeeding in postsecondary education and in the dominant society. We pretend that all is neutral and that everyone has an equal opportunity, however this is not the case. It is similar to what women faced entering male dominated fields such as engineering… role models were needed, as well as supports and encouragement.
    This accord may be a start. Let us hope that not only is there agreement at the top, but also that the universities, the professors, classrooms, and other students, also become more welcoming to First Nations students.

  6. To Adrian Hey: your racims is showing! To Jamie Wilson: whether you know it or not, what you’re advoacting is a maintenance of the status quo that says my knowledge, values, communication style and world view is of little value. To enlarge what we value as “knowledge” is not imcompatible with “intellectualism” and do think so is utter folly. Education (and pedagogy) in Canadian classrooms is not race neutral. It inhabits a cultural space and replicates a distinct Eurocentric bias that does little to affirm who we are as non-white people. It indoctrinates us by discounting our past contributions and our future place within the Canadian mosaic. I applaud this effort and hope that it is but a mere start of something lasting and attainable. Three cheers!

  7. I am all the time a bad can you get positive response from me,still innovative and informative.thanx buddy.

  8. It seems to me that what this article is saying is that the government is recognizing that the residential schools took away a lot from the Aboriginal community. This is their way of trying to rectify that situation. Self-government, a goal for many First Nations is only attainable through greater education and understanding of the world that we live in now, which is multicultural and sometimes a little biased.

    While I think that it is unfair to simply take away the support systems that we have created for Aboriginals in Canada, I think that the end goal is to help them regain an identity and the ability to function in a fast paced society without the extra help.

    But first, it is important that we help fix what we broke – the Aboriginal education system that was in place long before Europeans came to Canada. By helping youth have greater self-esteem and the desire for education we can motivate them to learn. Only then will they be able to succeed.

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