July 17, 2019

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City councillors eye native school division

Controversial idea part of anti-crime strategy

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 30/11/2009 (3515 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

There's a separate aboriginal child welfare system, dozens of aboriginal anti-poverty programs, two aboriginal schools and a new aboriginal seniors home.

Now, some of Winnipeg's most prominent leaders say it's time to create an aboriginal school board.

The big idea was embedded in a new anti-crime strategy approved Monday at city council's protection and community services committee. The report, prepared in consultation with some of the city's biggest names in business and government, looked at six ways social programs -- such as family resources centres and a better education system -- could cut crime. One of the 20-page strategy's most tangible ideas was the creation of a separate, publicly funded aboriginal school division, much like the one created 16 years ago for Franco-Manitobans.

"Why should aboriginal people be denied the same thing?" asked Damon Johnston, president of the Aboriginal Council of Winnipeg, at Monday's meeting. "It can only rest in racism."

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 30/11/2009 (3515 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

There's a separate aboriginal child welfare system, dozens of aboriginal anti-poverty programs, two aboriginal schools and a new aboriginal seniors home.

Now, some of Winnipeg's most prominent leaders say it's time to create an aboriginal school board.

Eric Robinson, Minister of Aboriginal and Northern Affairs was on hand to make an announcement regarding Manitoba's involvement in the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.

TREVOR HAGAN / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Eric Robinson, Minister of Aboriginal and Northern Affairs was on hand to make an announcement regarding Manitoba's involvement in the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.

The big idea was embedded in a new anti-crime strategy approved Monday at city council's protection and community services committee. The report, prepared in consultation with some of the city's biggest names in business and government, looked at six ways social programs — such as family resources centres and a better education system — could cut crime. One of the 20-page strategy's most tangible ideas was the creation of a separate, publicly funded aboriginal school division, much like the one created 16 years ago for Franco-Manitobans.

"Why should aboriginal people be denied the same thing?" asked Damon Johnston, president of the Aboriginal Council of Winnipeg, at Monday's meeting. "It can only rest in racism."

The province is often criticized for allowing eight school boards to operate in Winnipeg, carving the city into separate school divisions where most cities just have one. And, the idea for an aboriginal school board has percolated before, winning limited support among parents and the provincial government.

But Johnston and Social Planning Council head Wayne Helgason said a school board run by First Nations with tailored language and life-skills courses could help shrink sky-high drop-out rates, rebuild aboriginal culture and combat crime and poverty.

A First Nations school division could also provide better services to kids moving to Winnipeg from northern reserves to attend high school.

Most reserves don't have high schools and kids moving to Winnipeg often have a tough time coping.

Winnipeg already has two successful aboriginal schools — Children of the Earth high school and Niji Mahkwa elementary school.

Those two schools and their funding could be rolled into a new school division, along with the millions the federal government spends every year sending kids off-reserve to high school.

Both Johnston and Helgason noted the city's Mennonites have their own university and francophones have a separate school system with 20 schools, 4,500 students and a special funding model that could be a good one for First Nations.

According to the 2006 census, there were about 25,000 aboriginal children and teens in Winnipeg.

Two years ago, Toronto's public school board was gripped by a debate over a proposed black-focused school, which some called 1950s segregation disguised as cultural sensitivity.

Some argued separating kids risks institutionalizing differences instead of bridging cultural and income gaps.

Aboriginal and Northern Affairs Minister Eric Robinson echoed some of those worries Monday.

"I don't know if we want to be ghettoized as aboriginal people in our own school division," said Robinson, noting the province's goal is to boost aboriginal high school and university graduation rates.

Asked why a separate school division would amount to ghettoization when there are already so many aboriginal-only programs and services, Robinson said he's already experienced a segregated school system: residential schools.

"It didn't work at that time and I don't see how it would work this time," said Robinson.

Council's committee accepted in principle the report proposing an aboriginal school board, but that doesn't mean it's a done deal.

The idea is extremely preliminary and would require future endorsement from bodies including provincial and federal governments.

maryagnes.welch@freepress.mb.ca

The LiveSAFE plan

For the last year, city hall has been working on a crime prevention plan called LiveSAFE. Researchers held consultation meetings with dozens of big-name Winnipeggers, including chamber of commerce boss Dave Angus, John Mohan of Siloam Mission and Rick Frost of the Winnipeg Foundation, as well as the most senior staffers in the municipal and provincial governments. Here's a taste of their plan:

High-risk neighbourhoods need more family resource hubs with job training, parenting and literacy training as well as crisis support. If a site and pilot programs can be found, a family service hub could be open in two years.

There needs to be more free recreational art and sports programming for kids, with a standard of programming guaranteed to all kids and a core of skilled staff.

Schools should open their doors after hours for art and sports programs and address truancy.

Families at risk need computers and Internet access. The city needs wireless service everywhere and a computer recycling or loan program needs to be developed.

 

— Source: LiveSAFE in Winnipeg: An Interconnected Crime Prevention Strategy

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