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This article was published 24/2/2015 (788 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
The creation of a proposed indigenous school division for Winnipeg could have the power to improve the health of aboriginal communities, members of the public heard Tuesday night.
A crowd of about 200 at the Indian and Métis Friendship Centre of Winnipeg heard how the proposed Winnipeg Indigenous School Division would include 29 existing schools, offer the same academic programming as other divisions but include a focus on indigenous languages, traditions, customs and values.
"What is so important about the concept of education? If we could move the rates of graduation from Grade 12 from the 20 to 30 per cent it is right now, if we could move it up to 80 to 90 per cent, I guarantee you in one generation our health will be improved, our families will stick together, our languages will start coming back, people will be able to mobilize our resources that stemmed from our ancestors," Barry Lavallee, the acting director of the University of Manitoba Centre for Aboriginal Health and Education, told the crowd.
Lavallee said the new school division would be primarily funded by harnessing resources that already exist in the city’s school system.
"It sounds really simple and it is that simple. Right now in the educational system, there are 25,000 indigenous kids. Their bodies are counted and the resources are currently allocated," he said. "All we’re suggesting is we use those resources, remobilize them. Not for all indigenous kids, but indeed for indigenous families who want their kids educated in a system that honours who they are as indigenous people."
Bill Sanderson, an educator and former school trustee in Winnipeg, said this city is home to more urban indigenous people than anywhere in Canada, but the schools in the new division would be open to all Winnipeggers from both indigenous and non-indigenous communities.
The teaching of indigenous languages would be a cornerstone of the new school division, said Patricia Ningewance Nadeau, a member of the Indigenous Language Institute board of directors and a professor of indigenous languages at the University of Manitoba. She said the goal would be for students to be taught in their traditional languages, similar to French immersion programs, so they could speak fluently by the time they graduated from Grade 12.
"My dream is to have our students learn their languages in school because it’s the only place they can become fluent," Ningewance Nadeau said. "It’s not possible to learn (indigenous languages) at home anymore the way we did, those of us who speak our language. That’s not possible anymore for many reasons. That is broken."
In a powerful moment, Ningewance Nadeau shared a dream she had two years ago in which she was walking for a long time across a frozen lake with her young grandson who was carrying a yellow bird, which he was protecting inside his jacket. She consulted an elder to discover the meaning of the dream and was told it was symbolic of her quest to have the younger generation embrace traditional languages.
"It was spring by the time we got to the shore and we were safe and the bird was safe," Ningewance Nadeau said. "She (the elder) said the yellow bird is a symbol of the spirit that protects our languages and my grandson was carrying the bird."
It is expected it would take at least three years to establish the Winnipeg Indigenous School Division. At the conclusion of the information meeting, members of a negotiating committee were selected to move the new school division idea forward to education stakeholders.