April 4, 2020

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Jesuit school misstep for North End

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 18/11/2015 (1599 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

We are concerned about the proposed Jesuit school apparently to be located in Winnipeg's North End, as reported in the Winnipeg Free Press (Businessmen, including Jets owner, plan to open independent Jesuit school in Winnipeg's North End, Nov. 3).

We find it ironic, and deeply troubling, that in the same year the Truth and Reconciliation Commission released its executive summary -- which documents in detail the damage done by church-led residential schools -- there is a religious order once again deciding it knows best what aboriginal children need.

The damage to aboriginal children and families caused by church-led residential schools is still being felt and struggled with in Winnipeg's North End. Now here come the Jesuits, riding again to our rescue, full to the brim with the false belief they know better than we do what we need.

Thanks, but no thanks. Been there, done that.

The proposed Jesuit school is contrary to what the TRC has suggested. The TRC called upon the Pope to issue an apology for the role played by the Roman Catholic Church in the "spiritual, cultural, emotional, physical and sexual abuse" of aboriginal children in Catholic-run residential schools. Nowhere does the TRC invite the Catholic Church back into aboriginal communities to educate our children. The TRC argues, with respect to education, "aboriginal peoples themselves must lead and control the process of change."

That is precisely what we have been doing in Winnipeg -- and with considerable success.

There are educational institutions in the inner city that have been developed by and are run by and for aboriginal people that are doing exceptionally well (including Children of the Earth High School, the Aboriginal Centre and Urban Circle Training Centre).

These education institutions are highly effective. They have worked for years to develop pedagogical methods tailored to the lived realities of aboriginal people. They have produced many hundreds of graduates -- aboriginal people who are now making important contributions to Winnipeg and other communities. Yet, despite demonstrated success, these aboriginal education institutions still struggle for funding. Why not direct the very substantial funds to be funnelled into the proposed Jesuit school into those aboriginal schools that have already proved they work well?

This belief someone other than aboriginal people knows better is exactly what happened with the creation of Youth for Christ. The former federal government of Stephen Harper and the former Winnipeg city council led by Sam Katz poured millions into that religious organization -- even when outstanding aboriginal youth-serving organizations were struggling for funding and speaking out against directing scarce funds into religious organizations parachuting into the inner city.

A 2014 report found few aboriginal youth accessed Youth for Christ, at least in part because of the fees that are charged. The report described suburban youth using the facility, driven there by parents who could afford it and who wanted religious programming. As one non-aboriginal suburban teen is reported to have said: "I really love it here. It's the first dance studio I have ever been to that I can actually glorify God through my dancing."

Youth for Christ had claimed in its business plan that it was all about meeting the needs of aboriginal youth. Yet, for our youth, an aboriginal inner-city leader pointed out: "It's not accessible. It's like a private club."

Given everything that has happened and continues to happen, why would we believe these outside religious organizations that arrive with promises but consistently lead to disappointment and worse? Why would any reasonable person believe them?

The TRC thoroughly condemns the church-led residential school system, documenting its many abuses and the long-term damage it has caused, and lamenting the false sense of Christian and European superiority that guided this dreadful period in Canada's history. As the TRC wrote: the church-led residential school system "was based on racist assumptions about the intellectual and cultural inferiority of aboriginal people."

Have the proponents of the proposed Jesuit school read the Truth and Reconciliation report and become aware of its recommendations regarding education?

This is such a bitter irony: an organization claiming to know better than we do how to teach our children, yet it has gone public with its plans without even having done its homework. But then, those involved don't have to, because they know best.

Enough already. Keep this outdated and dangerous mode of education away from our children.


Larry Morrissette is co-author of Indians Wear Red: Colonialism, Resistance and Aboriginal Street Gangs. James Favel is a North End community activist. Jackie Traverse is an artist, who contributed to this piece.


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