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.”