STF Hears Calls for More Indigenous Language Instruction in Public Schools

January 29, 2019
Saskatoon, Saskatchewan

SASKATOON – The Executive Director of the Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation, Randy Schmaltz, says it’s time to allocate more people and resources for Indigenous language instruction in our public schools.

Schmaltz says that call is the common theme in meetings with Indigenous leaders he has been holding across the province over the last few weeks. These meetings are part of the Federation’s Re-Imagine Education initiative, the largest public engagement effort ever undertaken by the Federation.

“It’s the thread running through all of our recent conversations with Indigenous leaders — the relationship between language, a sense of self, a sense of belonging and a means of ensuring cultural survival,” Schmaltz said.

“There are always bright spots to talk about, but overall there is much, much more to be done; particularly this year, which the United Nations has declared as The Year of Indigenous Languages.”

Schmaltz says Indigenous leaders in Saskatchewan are quick to point out this is not just a concern for First Nations educational authorities. In a recent meeting, officials from Saskatchewan’s Treaty Commissioner said roughly half of all school-aged Indigenous children are living off-reserve and find themselves in public schools.

“It’s not a question of our children or their children,” Schmaltz said. “They are all our children and they need the resources required for them to succeed.”

For his part, STF President Patrick Maze said he agrees that more people and resources need to be allocated to teaching Indigenous languages in public schools.

He says for too long, the Federation has been typecast as the “big powerful union” preventing those with language skills from getting into the classroom.

“I think that’s just a convenient excuse for school divisions who are looking for ways to avoid spending money in these important areas,” Maze said.

“There are provisional certification options available for those with language skills, and these people can also work in the classroom under the supervision of teachers.

“There are no jurisdictional impediments,” Maze said. “All you need is the courage to make it a priority.”

Maze adds that if the Government of Saskatchewan was truly serious about narrowing the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous graduation rates, it would be providing money and supports for more language instruction.