Op-Ed v2: Aboriginal Education

In TALONS Socials, we were assigned op ed articles to write, relating to Aboriginal issues. I perused through some of my classmates’ articles, and found many conflicting opinions, all of which I find equally valid and equally important.

Obviously we all have opinions of our own, and I found that as I read through my peers’ blog posts, many of which were about two things (funding and education), my opinion was becoming more and more refined. I agreed and disagreed with many points made within the blogosphere of our class, I watched as my own opinion rose out out of my opinions of the individual points made by my fellow students. And so… Here is my contribution of fodder to the discussion of Aboriginal issues:

Everyone knows the stereotypes. The Aboriginal people are often regarded as uneducated, lazy people that leach off our tax money. Although these stereotypes are unfair, they have a basis in statistic. Many of us are aware that Aboriginal youth demonstrate lower standards of education than  that of non-Aboriginal youth in Canada. According to the Canadian Council on Learning, Aboriginal youth in Census Metropolitan Areas of Canada remain significantly less likely to complete high school than non-Aboriginal youth. As Andrew tells us:

For Aboriginals aged 15 to 24, 40 percent have not completed high school, or university.  Compare that to only 20 percent of non-Aboriginals, leading to the conclusion that the funding imbalance is creating a huge gap between the Aboriginals and non-Aboriginals.  Still worse, 27% of people aged 15 – 64 (the prime working age) do not even have a high school diploma, while only 12% of non-Aboriginals did not finish high school.

This is horribly wrong. Every child is entitled to equal education, and it is a shame that in Canada of all places, we have a demographic of people that are so poorly educated. Since the majority of Aboriginal people experience education poorer than those of the average non-Aboriginal, it is our duty as a country to assist them in such a fashion that they can experience the life that the average non-Aboriginal experiences on a day to day basis.

Nick made a suggestion to assimilate the Aboriginal people into Canada’s general population, to which Louise disagreed with:

“I’m not suggesting that the government completely cut off help to the First Nations, because most of them wouldn’t be able to make it without the government’s help. Rather, I think that the government should help assimilate First Nations into Canada’s general population as quickly as possible because not only is it an economic problem, but it is simply not fair that someone has more rights than I do simply because my ancestors wronged them hundreds of years ago.”

That’s what our first Prime Minister, Macdonald, said. He told everyone that his government would “do away with the tribal system and assimilate the Indian people in all respects with the inhabitant of the Dominion of Canada.” A lot of good that did.

My classmate Kiko sums up why I too disagree with assimilation as a solution to poorly educated Aboriginal youth:

Just thinking about having that taken away from me is incomprehensible, and yet that, and much more, was exactly what happened to Native people from 1876, when the Indian Act first was implemented, to around 1951, when the Indian Act was amended to lift bans on the Potlatch and other ceremonial traditions. Natives were stripped of their culture and identity, in an attempt by the Canadian government to assimilate them into European culture.

How would YOU like to be stripped of your identity? Technically all non-Aboriginal people are immigrants, or descendants of. Our forefathers came to this country from France, China, Chile, Indonesia, and all over the world. For instance, my family hails from the People’s Republic of Korea, also known as South Korea. If we ever feel that we are losing grasp of our heritage, we may revive it by visiting our home country, where South Korean culture is alive and the heritage is preserved. The Aboriginal people have no such option. Canada IS their home country. Their roots are here. Assimilation into mainstream Canadian culture would be equivalent to cutting those roots off and making a campfire with them. Obviously that is no solution!

It is clear that we cannot solve this problem simply by acculturating the Aboriginal people. The Canadian government needs to actively pursue education programs and funding for the Aboriginals to match those of non-Aboriginals. For instance, Andrew says:

In every province except British Columbia, Aboriginals receive significantly less funding than non-Aboriginals, sometimes as much as $3,000 less.  Only in British Columbia, do Aboriginals receive more funding, $10, 407 per student, than non-Aboriginals, $9, 157 per student.Many people stereotype Aboriginals as a smoker, alcoholic, and a drop-out .  I do not think that you can change this stereotype by giving them less of an opportunity to learn, and be educated.  Without the proper funding, Aboriginals can not get the education they need.  Without the proper education, Aboriginals can not get to university.  So, they will find a dead-end job with little chance of succeeding at life, setting a bad example for their kids.  It is a vicious cycle, and one that few people can break out of.  Aboriginals NEED the same amount of funding as is given to non-Aboriginals.

It is clear that there is something wrong with Aboriginal funding in our country. Everyone knows the government can do better than that. Does anyone remember the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics? Of course you do! After all, the government put so much effort into them, there was no way they COULDN’T be a success, talked about and remembered for a very long time to come. Despite all the controversy regarding everything the government sacrificed for this event, they backed it up by telling us it would pay for itself in the future. Try telling me that isn’t the case with education. Making a wise investment into education for Aboriginal youth will pay for itself for much longer than a big party for the the rich. And as Aboriginal youth and children start to take up a larger part of Canadian population, the payoff of well-funded education will become ever so clear in years to come.

However, more is not always better. Andrew mentioned that in British Columbia, Aboriginals receive more funding for education than non-Aboriginals. But is that really visible in results? The stereotype of the drop-out Aboriginal still persists here in British Columbia. That makes me wonder exactly how efficient Aboriginal education funding is. Does the money really reach the schools, and the students? Or is it squandered on inefficient administrative costs, fees, and feeding the mouths of powerful chiefs? Jordan thinks so:

Article here.
“Only $5.4 Billion of all federal “Aboriginal” spending actually ever reaches First Nations.

Indian and Northern Affairs Canada Department officials have confirmed that only about 82% of policy and program funds actually reach First Nations in the form of grants and contributions. Treasury Board estimates that 11% or $600 million per year is spent on INAC departmental overhead.

It is estimated that only about 53% of “aboriginal issues” funding from other federal departments actually reaches First Nations. This issue requires further study.

INAC’s budget represents only approximately 0.004% of Canada’s Gross Domestic Product. Affordability to address First Nations’ urgent needs is not under question. In the last Budget, the federal government applied the $13.2 billion surplus to the debt, and this surplus continues to grow. Meanwhile, it invested $17 billion in military spending …”

Underfunding is a factor in this equation, but when people chant for increased funding to the Aboriginals, I don’t think they realize that the process of funding is just as instrumental of an issue.

It is clear that Aboriginal funding has been a huge issue for a very long time, and I have no objection to supporting the needy members of the Aboriginal community. However, throwing money at problems will not always solve them. It’s a careless and lazy excuse for problem-solving. And I do have an issue with money going to waste. The government needs to start being more efficient about how they fund the Aboriginals. We know that it is not a matter of being incapable of supporting this group of people, but the government simply seems unwilling to put in the effort and planning to ensure the proper funds reach the underpriveliged Aboriginal youth in Canada. They are shooting blindly in the dark. I would imagine that if the government bothered to make the effort to find a light switch and take proper aim, they would hit the target of creating a better education, and therefore life, for Aboriginal youth in Canada.

3 thoughts on “Op-Ed v2: Aboriginal Education

  1. Pingback: Aboriginal problems — what do you think? » Wesakechak

  2. Pingback: Aboriginal problems — what do you think? » Wesakechak

  3. Julie,

    You have made some awesome points here and very succinctly summed up the discussion among our class. I especially like your metaphors:

    “Their roots are here. Assimilation into mainstream Canadian culture would be equivalent to cutting those roots off and making a campfire with them.”

    “I would imagine that if the government bothered to make the effort to find a light switch and take proper aim, they would hit the target of creating a better education”

    Another point I really liked was when you compared the Olympics to Aboriginal funding. I absolutely see the connection. Funding help for Aboriginals, if it is successful, is a definite investment in the future (as I mention, though not quite so creatively, in my op-ed).

    I only have a few points that you might want to consider. First off, though you do a good job of summarizing a whole range of topics, you lose one main point in the process. As the majority of your op-ed is about education, I would take out the paragraph on assimilation. In the paragraph after your one on assimilation, you make an attempt at connecting it to the overall theme. However, I don’t think it connects well enough to add to your point. I don’t think that the alternative to funding Aboriginal education (if you are talking about school education) is assimilation but simply non-education or less specialized programming. If you decide to keep the paragraph, I might change your conclusion to include something about assimilation.

    Otherwise, my only suggestion has to do with grammar. Though it is possible to start a sentence with “and,” it isn’t encouraged or very proper. Maybe this is just me being anal but you have quite a few of these sentences so I might reduce their number.

    On the whole, good job! I really like your op-ed and thanks for sharing! 😀

    ~Ariana

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