Pratt, McCallum stress need to honour cultural identity
Second Vice-Chief David Pratt of the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations, shared with those attending the Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation Annual Meeting of Council the amazing transformation that has occurred with the Mi’kmaq community in Nova Scotia as a beacon for what can be achieved elsewhere in the country, including Saskatchewan.
Pratt had attended a conference in Nova Scotia where he learned more about how the graduation rate among the province’s Mi’kmaq students was at only 30 percent 20 years ago. Today, that number stands at 90 percent–the highest on-reserve graduation rate in the country.
Pratt, who is a former teacher himself after graduating from of the Indian Teacher Education Program at the University of Saskatchewan, attributed much of the success experienced in Nova Scotia to the fact that the Mi’kmaq First Nations assumed control of their own education.
According to Pratt, many of the same foundations that led to success in Nova Scotia can be replicated in Saskatchewan as the Ministry grapples with its goal of increasing First Nations and Métis on-time graduation rates by 2020.
“It’s about identity and that’s where it starts,” Pratt said, while expanding that thought to stress the importance of providing the First Nations and Métis students with a strong sense of their own history and language.
He elaborated that it is key to focus on the kindergarten to Grade 4 age group, in particular, in order to provide them with a strong education foundation grounded in numeracy and literacy with a strong wraparound approach that includes utilizing the expertise of Elders as an integral component.
President Glen McCallum of the Métis Nation of Saskatchewan, echoed Pratt’s comments regarding the importance of cultural identity.
“If we can change some of the policies and make our young people feel more engaged, then graduation rates will happen. And as a province, we will all succeed,” he noted.
“As we look forward, we have to incorporate language and culture. The bottom line is how do we work together in a way that is inclusive for all our youth? Relationships are very crucial,” he added.
Both Pratt and McCallum, whose organizations were addressing Council for the first time, acknowledged the work of teachers in their efforts to improve graduation rates.
“You don’t go into teaching with the idea that 50 percent of your students are going to fail. You go into it to make a difference in the lives of children, and I know how challenging of a role it can be,” Pratt said.
“By using Elders more in the system, it will help make First Nations and Métis students feel more comfortable and welcome in school. It needs to be interwoven into the system. For our students, just to have someone in the classroom who looks like them can be huge.”
McCallum lauded teachers for “your commitment and the important work you are doing.”
Pratt indicated that the FSIN is looking forward to future partnerships with the STF, adding that “this is in the best interests for all of Saskatchewan.”