The establishment of a Nishnawbe Aski Nation-specific process, the NAN Reset Table, was one of the highlights of the NAN Special Chiefs Assembly on Education, held at the Delta Waterfront Hotel in Thunder Bay.
“We have pushed for a NAN-specific process because we no longer want our communities up north to be left behind or underperformed in providing educational resources and funding,” said Deputy Grand Chief Bobby Narcisse. “We’re working with all of our education departments in NAN and also with tribal councils and looking at these outstanding priority areas within education, like developing daycare and preschools and all these early learning initiatives — a lot of our communities don’t have that.”
Narcisse says they are also focused on the work they do with initiatives from Kindergarten through Grade 12 to properly resource the NAN communities.
“And (what) we heard from the assembly today is that we also need to do more work with post-secondary, post-secondary funding and resources for post-secondary education,” Narcisse says. “We need needs-based financing in all these areas. If you talk about lifelong learning, there are people who are aging from different initiatives but want an education, they also want access to opportunities to continue their educational goals.”
Narcisse adds that language is a cornerstone of every educational reset NAN undertakes – Matthew Angees, Executive Director of the Shibogame First Nations Council, gave a presentation on the language revitalization and Nicole McKay, Language and Culture Analyst at NAN, gave one along the way Update of the NAN language program the assembly.
“We need to revitalize our languages because languages and our culture and heritage make us who we are as unique indigenous peoples across the Nishnawbe Aski Nation,” Narcisse says. “We need to include language revitalization in the curriculum, we really need to leverage the knowledge bearers from all our communities because NAN is so diverse with different dialects, be it (Mushkegomowin), (Anishininiimowin) or (Anishinabemowin).
We really need to make sure that in everything we do, and this is what our bosses and education directors have told us, language is the cornerstone of any realignment and will be a priority when it comes to pushing a path to creating an education system that reflects truly reflects the culture and heritage of our First Nations communities in which we serve.”
Narcisse says the gathering is a springboard into a new era of looking at education and taking control of the jurisdiction of educational mechanisms and the development of educational laws and standards that reflect NAN communities.
“We have a new Chiefs Committee that’s going to meet,” Narcisse says. “We will also have an official signature of a mandate that will guide our negotiations with the Crown. I look forward to that and to really organizing our Education Committee members in that regard as well.”
Angees highlighted changes in language proficiency in eight First Nation communities, Bearskin Lake, Kitchenuhmaykoosin Inninuwug, Kasabonika, Kingfisher Lake, Mishkeegogamang, Muskrat Dam, Wapekeka and Wunnumin Lake, from 1993 to 2019 during his Shibogama Language Revitalization presentation.
“If you look at the numbers for Bearskin, you’ll see that adult language proficiency was 95 percent in 2019, it’s down 2 percent,” says Angees, noting that a 1993 survey found that adults had a 97 percent proficiency level and students had a 71 percent proficiency level at Bearskin Lake. “Now here’s the drastic change, for the students it’s down to 20 percent.”
According to Angees, Kasabonika had a fluency rate of 84 percent in 1993 and 18 percent in 2019, and Mishkeegogamang had a fluency rate of 67 percent in 1993 and 19 percent in 2019.
“And that’s the common trend in all communities except Pikangikum and Poplar Hill,” says Angees. “The rest of the communities in the Sioux Lookout District, we’re in a situation where we need to open our eyes and do something else, even if we don’t think about it, we don’t worry. Eventually we will lose the language if we do nothing. That’s my message, we see it in our homes, in our communities, in our schools, that the students, the youth, even the little ones that come to JK speak only the English language.”