Gathering Strength

Aboriginal people endure ill health, run-down and overcrowded housing, polluted water, inadequate schools, poverty and family breakdown at rates found more often in developing countries than in Canada. These conditions are inherently unjust. They also imperil the future of Aboriginal communities and nations.

Many people who spoke to us urged us to consider the human problems facing Aboriginal people holistically - as part of a pattern of negative effects arising from their experience of life under policies of domination and assimilation. This approach helped us identify the key elements in solutions that will work.

The process of healing must be based on our traditional spiritual
values of respect, pride, dignity, sharing, hospitality and mutual aid...
Self-reliance begins with the individual, then is built by the family,
then by the community, and finally, by our relations with other nations.
           Chief Jean-Charles Piétacho
           and Sylvie Basile
           Mingan First Nation community

The Circle of Well-Being

The elements in the Commission's agenda for fundamental change - self-government, economic self-reliance, a partnership of mutual respect with Canada, and healing in the broadest sense - form a circle of well-being that revolves something like this:

But pressing health and social problems cannot wait. As the wheels of change slowly turn, Aboriginal children's lives are blighted by loss of culture, failure at school and violence at home. Teenagers are humiliated by racism and rejection by their peers. Whole communities suffer substandard housing, unclean water and other risks to health.

Canada's constitution makes room for Aboriginal people to take charge of these matters right now, if they want to - without waiting for other governments to transfer authority.

But agreements (treaties, accords, settlements) with other governments will ease the way forward, resolving tough political, administrative and financial issues in advance. Aboriginal communities will make more headway with health and social problems if they have the support and co-operation of other governments.

Treaty making takes time. The transition to full control of community affairs by Aboriginal people will take some years. Some will chafe at delay, but the passage of time has some advantages for Aboriginal people, for they are still gathering strength for the tasks ahead. They need more trained people to meet the challenges of self-government and new institutions to put the stamp of aboriginality on social services and their delivery.

As well, they need to work with non-Aboriginal health and social services agencies to transform relations with them. Mainstream services and agencies need to become more welcoming and more sensitive to cultural difference. They need to ensure that all traces of racism are eliminated from policy and practice. And they need to start seeing Aboriginal people as partners in the design, development and delivery of services.

Our recommendations on social and health policy focus on three interlinked objectives:

The Centrality of Family

Many presenters at our public hearings argued that breakdown in traditional Aboriginal family structures and functions is a major factor in the social problems with which they are grappling. They argued for rehabilitation of Aboriginal families as part of the path to personal and community healing.

Well-being flows from balance and harmony among all elements of personal and collective life.

Family is still the central institution in Aboriginal societies. It is only a generation or two since extended kin networks of parents, grandparents and clan members made up virtually the entire social world for Aboriginal people, providing the framework for most of the business of life. Inside the web of family, norms of sharing and mutual aid provided a social safety net for every individual.

Aboriginal families, and the cultures and identities they passed on to their children, were severely disrupted by actions of colonial and Canadian governments. Children in particular were targeted time and again in official strategies to control and assimilate Aboriginal people.

People who endure these disruptions may feel adrift - disoriented and unsure of how to get along in the sometimes hostile non-Aboriginal world. If their aboriginality has been devalued or ridiculed, they may have lost pride and self-esteem and be unable to build these qualities in their children. If they have been damaged in heart and soul, they may turn to alcohol, violence, crime or other forms of anti-social behaviour.

With the healing in place, we can have self-government. But without the
healing, we will have dysfunctional self-government.
Jeanette Costello
Counsellor, Kitselas Drug and Alcohol Program
Terrace, British Columbia

Many Aboriginal people told the Commission that the future they wish for - as self-governing, self-reliant nations within Canada - is impossible unless the strong bonds of family that gave individuals and communities their stability are rebuilt.

Services designed and controlled by Aboriginal people can do much to heal the wounds visible in statistics on social dysfunction - family breakdown, suicide and attempted suicide among youth, substance abuse, trouble with the law. To prevent them from recurring, the Aboriginal family must be restored to its traditional role as nurturer of the young and protector of the old, guardian of the culture and safety net for the vulnerable.

"Our Children Are Our Future"

Children have a special place in Aboriginal cultures. According to tradition, they are gifts from the spirit world and must be treated well or they will return to that realm.

Failure to protect a child from harm is perhaps the greatest shame that can befall an Aboriginal family. Yet it has happened repeatedly in the last several generations, and it continues to happen today.

Most of our clients...are young, sole support mothers who were very
often removed [from their families] as children themselves... And while
the mother may have been in foster care, the grandmother – I think we all
know where she was [as a child]. She was in residential school. So we are
into a third generation [of disrupted families] now.
           Kenn Richard
           Executive Director, Native Child and Family Services
           Toronto, Ontario

Abuse and family violence are the most dramatic problems, but they are the tip of an iceberg that began to form when Aboriginal communities lost their independent self-determining powers and Aboriginal families were deprived of authority and influence over their children.

The source of social dysfunction we heard most about in public testimony was residential schooling, but inappropriate child welfare policies have also been a persistent and destructive force. The effect of these policies, as applied to Aboriginal children, was to tear more holes in the family web and detach more Aboriginal people from their roots.

Authorities had only one remedy for children thought to be in need of protection - removal from their families. Authorities were not able to alleviate family poverty, fix crumbling houses, or support young parents who had themselves been raised in institutions, without parents as models. They made little or no attempt to place children at risk with members of their kin network or with other Aboriginal families who could help them hold on to their culture and identity.

Child welfare is one of the services that Aboriginal people want most to control for themselves. In 1981, the federal government signed the first agreement authorizing a First Nations agency to deliver child welfare services. Since then, some three dozen Aboriginal agencies have been authorized. They have revised the rules of placement, to recognize the capacity of kin networks to protect Aboriginal children, and emphasized the importance of cultural continuity in placements.

Even so, the well-being of the children is not assured. Aboriginal agencies have inherited many of the problems of the agencies they replaced. They struggle with ill-fitting rules made outside their communities; with levels of family distress and need beyond their limited resources; and with the challenge of finding ways to protect children at risk while respecting extended family networks that resist interference. Not all Aboriginal child welfare agencies have achieved the high standards to which they aspire.

Immediate action of three kinds is needed:

The healthy functioning of Aboriginal families has been disrupted largely by misguided government policies. Today's governments have an obligation to make amends. In the next section we lay out our proposals for a thorough redesign of health and healing services, including child welfare. In the short term, we propose that

When Cameron Kerley was 8 years old, he and his three sisters were taken into care by the Children's Aid Society and placed in foster homes. His mother died two years later of alcoholism. Cameron was then placed for adoption with Dick Kerley, an unmarried American man who had previously adopted another Indian boy. Cameron soon began to have problems, skipping school and getting into trouble with the law. When he was 19, he killed his adoptive father with a baseball bat. He pleaded guilty to second degree murder and was sentenced to a minimum of 15 years in prison. After sentencing, Cameron described sexual abuse by his adoptive father, beginning shortly after his placement. U.S. authorities would not reopen the case but allowed him to return to Manitoba to serve his sentence.

Ending the Cycle of Family Violence

Aboriginal people speaking at our public hearings, especially women, were frank about the extent and severe effects of family violence in Aboriginal life. They pointed to the need for improved services, but they said that the best hope lies in restoration of traditional Aboriginal values of respect for women and children and reintegration of women into family, community and nation decision making.

Twenty-four per cent of the respondents to our questionnaire indicated
that they know of deaths as a result of Aboriginal family violence, and 54
per cent...know of cases where a woman sustained injury which required
medical treatment as a result of family violence but did not seek medical
attention out of fear and shame.
Catherine Brooks
Director, Anduhyaun Residence for Women
Toronto, Ontario

The Canadian Panel on Violence Against Women (1993) stated that family violence arises from a fundamental imbalance of power between men and women. This is true for Aboriginal people, too, but this inequality exists within a greater imbalance of power - that between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal society. In these circumstances, the loss, humiliation, frustration and anger shared by all Aboriginal people can provoke violence in some, as one speaker explained to us:

Family violence among Aboriginal people thus has its own dynamic, and public policy must take this into account.

No matter where it occurs, family violence is hidden. Women hesitate to speak out for fear of triggering more abuse, or because they are ashamed and blame themselves for their situation. Aboriginal women stay silent for other reasons as well. They may fear further victimization by local leaders, mostly male. But they remain reluctant to call attention to their troubles for fear of exposing their communities to contempt or their families to intervention by outsiders.

Aboriginal people who asked the Commission to help end the violence had clear ideas about how it should be done:

These should be the first steps in making change:

Some Aboriginal people are wary of giving their own governments scope to interfere in family life, as Canadian governments have done in the past. But there is an undeniable need to protect the vulnerable. It is a matter of balance.

Our children are vastly affected by family violence, even when they are
not the direct victims. The cost to our children is hidden in their
inability to be attentive in schools, in feelings of insecurity and low
self-esteem, and in acting out behaviour [including] vandalism,
self-abuse, bullying.
           Sharon Caudron
           Program Director
           Women's Resource Centre
           Hay River, Northwest Territories

The Urgent Need for Whole Health

The health status of Aboriginal people in Canada today is both a tragedy and a crisis. Illness of almost every kind occurs more often among Aboriginal people than among other Canadians.

Twenty-five years of effort by local, provincial and national health caregivers have raised Aboriginal health status from the lows to which it had sunk by mid-century. Still, the results fall far short of the goal of equal health outcomes for all Canadians.

Aboriginal people urgently need resources to help them reduce infant mortality, tuberculosis, diabetes, heart disease and other illnesses. But they know that curing diseases of the body alone cannot restore well-being. What they are looking for is more fundamental and more transformative.

They are trying to bring balance and vitality to body, mind, emotions and spirit - as ends in themselves and as preconditions for balance and vitality in their societies. In short, they are looking for whole health.

Historical records and archaeological evidence tell us that many of the illnesses prevalent in Europe at the time of first contact were unknown or very rare in the Americas. Infectious diseases, from influenza to tuberculosis, were passed from the newcomers to Indigenous people, with devastating results. Hundreds of thousands sickened and died. In Canada, a population estimated at 500,000 at the time of first contact had plunged to 102,000 by the time of the 1871 census.

More illness care services will not turn the tide.

In the new climate of social responsibility that sparked the growth of public services after the Second World War, health authorities began to take seriously the need for medical care in Aboriginal communities. Today, almost every settlement has at least nursing services available. But despite large sums spent on illness care, Aboriginal people still experience ill health at unacceptable levels. The Commission looked at

In each case, although gains have been made, disadvantage continues. In each case, too, the pattern of causality for a specific illness includes factors outside the boundaries of ordinary medicine - social, emotional and economic conditions that in turn lead back to the complex, destabilizing and demoralizing legacy of colonialism.

A Significant Challenge

Obviously, then, more of the same - more illness care services - will not turn the tide. What is needed is a new strategy for Aboriginal health and healing.

Wellness is a community issue, a national issue, a women's issue... No
other [issue] so fundamentally relates to the survival of our people as
that of health.
Vice-Chief Tom Iron
Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations
Wahpeton, Saskatchewan

Two Traditions of Healing Converge

In recent years, Aboriginal people have shown great energy and imagination in tackling health and social problems. They have petitioned for more control of local services, and some have met with at least partial success. Those with partial control are beginning to modify and adapt services to reflect their own values, traditions and priorities - with good results.

Diabetes, hypertension, overweight, poor nutritional status are
epidemic among Native people in Canada today.
Elizabeth Palfrey
Keewatin Regional Health Board
Rankin Inlet, Northwest Territories

But Aboriginal people want to make more radical changes in the way health and healing are promoted in their communities. Their main concerns revolve around four themes:

For a person to be healthy [he or she] must be adequately fed, be
educated, have access to medical facilities, have access to spiritual
comfort, live in a warm and comfortable house with clean water and safe
sewage disposal, be secure in cultural identity, have an opportunity to
excel in a meaningful endeavour, and so on. These are not separate needs;
they are all aspects of a whole.
            Henry Zoe
            Dogrib Treaty 11 Council
            Brief to the Commission

The most advanced thinkers in health policy circles today have reached some major conclusions about what makes people well. These 'determinants of health' converge with Aboriginal perspectives on health and healing through several key ideas:

These ideas favour a system that places less emphasis on particular medical conditions and more emphasis on the underlying social, economic and political factors that influence health.

Health policy must assist in dispelling the legacy of poverty, powerlessness and despair in Aboriginal communities. This is the key to whole health for Aboriginal people.

In the past, we were like we were asleep. White people were doing
everything for us. We thought white people knew everything, but we were
wrong. The advice they gave us never worked.
            Chief Katie Rich
            Davis Inlet
            Sheshatshiu, Labrador

A Strategy for Health and Healing

Whole health comes from shared prosperity, a clean and safe environment, a sense of control over life circumstances - as well as high quality illness care and healthy lifestyle choices. Better health for Aboriginal people will grow out of the long-term structural changes proposed in Chapter 2.

What outside forces cannot bring about, Aboriginal people can do for themselves.

In the short term, however, prevention, treatment and rehabilitation services have an important contribution. Clearly, they can be improved. The starting place for reform is a commitment from federal, provincial, territorial and Aboriginal governments to build health and healing systems that do four things:

Commitments must be turned into practical strategies if they are to change health outcomes. We propose a four-prong strategy, to be undertaken immediately:

  1. Reorganization of existing health and social services into a system of health and healing centres and healing lodges, under Aboriginal control.

  2. A crash program over the next 10 years to educate and train Aboriginal people to staff and manage health and social services at all levels, in Aboriginal communities and in mainstream institutions.

  3. Adaptation of mainstream services to accommodate Aboriginal people as clients and as full participants in decision making.

  4. A community infrastructure program to deal with urgent problems of housing, clean water and waste management.

There are 40 to 50 Aboriginal physicians in Canada. That amounts to 0.1 per cent of all physicians. There are about 300 Aboriginal registered nurses – again, 0.1 per cent of the total.

Health and Healing Centres

The idea of community-based centres to develop and deliver integrated health and social services was put forward at our public hearings all over the country.

Health and healing centres can assemble, under one roof, the resources needed to tackle interrelated problems now dealt with typically by separate agencies - from child protection to mental health care. They can deliver medical care, make referrals to specialists, devise and deliver health promotion programs. In short, they can be the hub of health and social services in Aboriginal communities.

The kernel of such a system already exists - nursing stations and other facilities that co-ordinate at least some health and healing services in First Nations and Inuit communities. But not all communities have even the beginnings of a healing centre. In rural Métis settlements and in small towns with a substantial Aboriginal population, there is a virtual vacuum of services designed for, and run by, Aboriginal people. This vacuum needs to be filled.

To complement the work of community-based healing centres, the Commission proposes a network of healing lodges. Healing lodges can fill the acute need for residential treatment for people overwhelmed by social, emotional and spiritual distress. They can take up the issues of psycho-social distress that impair the lives of some Aboriginal people. For example, they could serve

The seed of this second part of the system is existing Aboriginal-run drug and alcohol treatment facilities. Many have already gone a long way toward programming for whole health.

Getting a start on healing centres and healing lodges does not depend on the structural changes in governance and land we talked about in the previous chapter. It does depend on the will to abandon fruitless debates about which level of government is responsible for which services.

The key to better integration of health and social services in
Aboriginal communities is an increase in the number of professionals
originating from those communities...
            Huguette Blouin
            Quebec hospitals association
            Montreal, Quebec

Human Resources Development

No amount of intervention from outsiders, however well meant, will help Aboriginal people achieve well-being. What outside forces cannot bring about, Aboriginal people can do for themselves. They can make the best decisions about the kind of health and healing services that will restore them to whole health - and they can do the work of making healing centres and lodges a success.

Very few Aboriginal people are now practising as doctors, nurses, social workers, nutritionists or psychologists. This is a problem in itself, but the problem goes deeper. Services aimed at whole health need to be culture-based and holistic - integrated across the full range of life problems. Centres and lodges need service providers with special skills and abilities.

We propose that governments and educational institutions undertake to train 10,000 Aboriginal people for careers in the health and social services, including the full range of professional and managerial roles, over the next 10 years.

Enlisting Support from Mainstream Institutions

Aboriginal health and healing centres are only part of the picture. Most Aboriginal people will, at least occasionally, continue to consult practitioners and use facilities in mainstream agencies and institutions - from doctors and hospitals to sheltered workshops for people with disabilities and transition houses for victims of family violence.

The institutions that deliver human services need to become more sensitive to the distinctive health and healing needs of Aboriginal people. Even when Aboriginal people are a major part of the client base, hospitals and other institutions are slow to adapt their practices to Aboriginal needs. Cultural sensitivity and responsiveness that go beyond the superficial should become a priority.

Mainstream institutions also have a role in supporting the development of new Aboriginal institutions. Even in tough economic times, the resources of mainstream institutions are vast compared to those under Aboriginal control. It is reasonable to expect them to offer some help to fledgling Aboriginal services.

Aboriginal institutions will welcome assistance in developing efficient and effective systems - as long as they can get it without relinquishing their autonomy. They will be looking for

At the same time, mainstream institutions and professionals can learn from Aboriginal ways of promoting whole health.

We suggest that all organizations involved in delivering health and social services to Aboriginal people undertake a systematic assessment of their practices to see how they can improve their connections with Aboriginal people.

Infrastructure Development

The fourth strand of the strategy for attaining whole health is an infrastructure program - to bring housing, water supplies and waste management in Aboriginal communities up to generally accepted Canadian standards of health and safety. Immediate threats to health and well-being from flimsy and overcrowded houses, polluted water and untreated sewage are so serious that solutions cannot wait. More details on this problem and how to solve it are presented in the next section.

We have families...doubled and tripled up. We have up to 18 and 20
people sometimes, living in a single unit built for one family.
            Valerie Monague
            Social services administrator, Christian Island, Ontario

Housing and Living Conditions:
Meeting Urgent Needs

Despite significant public spending over the past decade, housing, water supplies and sanitation services for Aboriginal people fall far below Canadian standards in many communities. Overcrowded and dilapidated houses, unclean and limited supplies of water, inadequate disposal of human wastes - these conditions pose an unacceptable threat to the health of Aboriginal people and reinforce feelings of marginalization and hopelessness.

[Because] low-income Native families have no other place to go...the
slum landlords in town are doing a great business.
            Martin Heavy Head
            Chair, Treaty 7 Urban Housing Authority
            Lethbridge, Alberta

Ensuring that Aboriginal people have safe housing and adequate water and sewage services should be a high priority for government action - first, to reduce threats to health and second, to avoid saddling new nation governments with a shelter and services crisis. There are several long-standing impediments to action:

The coming of self-government offers a golden opportunity to recast national, provincial and territorial policies governing Aboriginal housing and community services. As it stands, governments are simply not keeping up with desperate need. In some cases, they have cut useful assistance programs before they met their targets.

Until Aboriginal nations can take over the field, Canadian governments have an obligation to ensure adequate shelter for all Aboriginal people.

Most Aboriginal people can make a contribution - some by taking on mortgage responsibilities, others by supplying labour or materials for construction and repairs or paying rent for existing units. This they should do, to the fullest extent possible, to free up scarce funds to help those in greatest need.

We are forced to dump our sewage in open pits and use outdoor privies
at 30 to 40 below, winter temperatures. This practice causes people of all
ages to get sick.
            Chief Ignace Gull
            Attawapiskat First Nation community
            Moose Factory, Ontario

We propose that Canadian and Aboriginal governments, and Aboriginal people as individuals, contribute resources enough to ensure that housing needs are fully met within 10 years. The long-standing bones of contention standing in the way of action can be solved as follows:

As for water and sanitation, the federal government's Green Plan (a special initiative that ended in 1995) went some way toward closing the gap in basic services between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal communities. But the job is not yet done.

Current federal projections lay out a timetable of at least nine years before all substandard facilities can be repaired or replaced. This is simply not fast enough for so fundamental a determinant of health and community morale.

Most of the communities with acute water and sanitation needs are small. Bringing their services up to standard will not require complicated technology or a big bureaucracy. It will require appropriate technology, adequate funding and knowledgeable, well-trained people to operate and monitor essential services.

We propose doubling the speed of remediation, so that all communities will have adequate water and sanitation services within 5 years.

Just as poor housing and services have harmful effects on health and well-being, so a turnaround in this sector could have broadly regenerative effects. For example,

Home building is more than assembling bricks and boards. In Oujé-Bougoumou, Quebec, a project to build new houses, using traditional culture and values along with modern design and technology, became the starting point for community healing and renewal. Just a decade ago, the living conditions of the Cree of Oujé-Bougoumou were described as "the worst in the developed world". Today, their situation has improved to the point where the United Nations recently chose their new village as one of 50 exemplary communities around the world.

It can be done.

The Gesgapegiag First Nation community in eastern Quebec has developed an active housing program using government subsidies and credit from the local Caisse Populaire Desjardins. The band negotiates loans for residents willing and able to take on a mortgage and also trains and provides local labour to keep construction costs down.

Aboriginal Control of Aboriginal Education:
Still Waiting

Aboriginal people often say, "Our children are our future." By extension, then, the future depends on the effectiveness of education. Education shapes the pathways of thinking, transmits values as well as facts, teaches language and social skills, helps release creative potential, and determines productive capacities.

Aboriginal people are well aware of the power of education. Greater control over their children's education has been a demand for at least three decades.

Parental involvement and local control of schools are standard practice in Canada - but not for Aboriginal people. Instead, they have long been the object of attempts by state and church authorities to use education to control and assimilate them, during the residential school era, certainly, but also, more subtly, today.

By seeking greater control over schooling, Aboriginal people are asking for no more than what other communities already have: the chance to say what kind of people their children will become. In the main, Aboriginal people want two things from education:

The present education system does not accomplish either of these goals. The majority of Aboriginal youth do not finish high school. They leave with neither the credentials for jobs in the mainstream economy nor a grounding in their languages and cultures. They are very likely to have experienced the ignorance and hatred of racism, which leaves them profoundly demoralized or angered.

As we work towards establishing Anishnabe political systems, we need to
give attention to education as a way of achieving functioning Anishnabe
            Vernon Roote
            Deputy Grand Chief, Union of Ontario Indians

Many of our proposals for change in education have been advanced before, by commissions and task forces stretching back to the 1970s. It is clear what needs to be done, and it is long past time to do it.

Even so, Aboriginal people retain their conviction that education can be a positive force in the pursuit of bicultural competence and confidence for their children and themselves. They believe that education can contribute to the holistic development of Aboriginal people of all ages, from infants to elders.

To this end, we recommend the development of Aboriginal-controlled education systems, recognized by all governments and able to plan and deliver lifelong learning. Further, we are recommending that provincial and territorial schools take steps to ensure that the education they provide is fully appropriate for their Aboriginal students.

Education policy needs to ensure that appropriate learning takes place at each stage in the life cycle.

Aboriginal education as assimilation has always, everywhere, failed and
failed miserably and failed destructively... Aboriginal education for
self- determination, controlled by Aboriginal people, succeeds.
Dr. Eber Hampton
President, Saskatchewan Indian Federated College

Early Childhood Education

In education, as in health, childhood is the foundational stage. Traditional family life provided a firm foundation of security and encouragement for Aboriginal children. Aboriginal families of today are not always able to provide this. Parents may be hampered by the effects of poverty, alienation, residential school experience, and dysfunctional family or other relationships. Many Aboriginal children arrive at school with special needs for understanding and support to liberate their in-born capacity for learning.

Like all children, Aboriginal children need to master the intellectual, physical, emotional and spiritual tasks of early childhood. Equally, they need grounding in their identity as Aboriginal people. We propose that all Aboriginal children, regardless of status or location, have access to dynamic, culture-based early childhood education. For elementary schools, we propose that

We as Anishnabe are the most influential people to provide educational
development for our future generations. We can accomplish this through
spirituality and communicating in our language.
            Isadore Talouse
            Teacher, Wikwemikong First Nation community

Education for Youth

Aboriginal adolescents straddle two worlds - one where Aboriginal values and beliefs prevail, and another where television, popular culture and peer pressure offer competing values and priorities.

Aboriginal teenagers need a secure sense of self-worth to keep their balance in the storm of conflicting messages and demands. Many have not found that balance. Their confusion and distress are evident in high drop-out rates, teen pregnancy, substance abuse, defiance of the law and suicidal behaviour.

Aboriginal youth who spoke to the Commission said that they felt marginalized - unable to make their voices heard at school or in their home communities. We discuss several ways of empowering them in the next chapter.

It is critically important for Aboriginal adolescents to be able to live at home while attending secondary school. At age 13, they are not prepared for life away from a family and cultural base. Eventually, high school should be available in all Aboriginal communities. Where communities are very small, distance education may help make local high school programs possible.

Aboriginal youth who drop out before graduating need support and encouragement to return to school later. This is especially important for young women who leave because of pregnancy. Aboriginal and provincial authorities should take steps to make school re-entry easier and more attractive to Aboriginal youth.

A common concern of parents is when...the values and world view that
prevail at school contradict or ignore the existence of a different
perspective the child lives with at home...
            Elsie Wuttunee
            Calgary Catholic Separate School District No.1

Education for Adults

Many Aboriginal people reach adulthood without the skills, knowledge or credentials they need to find jobs or take up positions of responsibility in their communities. Their needs range from basic literacy and numeracy to advanced professional training. Federal, provincial and territorial governments have sponsored a range of adult training programs, but Aboriginal candidates face special barriers:

Aboriginal colleges, such as the Saskatchewan Indian Federated College, Old Sun in Alberta and the Nicola Valley Institute of Technology in British Columbia, have grown up to meet some of these needs. Most are small, community-based institutions that tailor their programs to adult learners whose previous experience of schooling may have been very bad. They have proved themselves able to retain students until they graduate, often with high levels of achievement.

All governments should co-operate to increase the number of these institutions, to put them on a stable financial footing, and to secure their place in the post-secondary system.

Mainstream colleges and universities see high drop-out rates among their Aboriginal students. To improve retention, barriers to success must be dismantled. Students may require assistance to qualify for entry to colleges and universities, and they may require special supports to stay the course. Models of support can be found in a number of provinces and institutions.

Aboriginal nations will want to pursue funding for post-secondary education in their treaty negotiations. In the meantime, the federal government should continue to pay the full cost of post-secondary education for status Indians. It should also provide a special post-secondary scholarship and assistance fund for Métis and non-status Indian students.

The Splats'in Daycare Centre of the Spallumcheen First Nation in British Columbia was designed on a traditional, extended family model. Elders and children participated in everyday activities such as caring for animals, cultivating a garden and doing traditional crafts together. Through daily exposure to the Shuswap language, the children started to become Aboriginal language speakers.

Education for Self-Government

Aboriginal people and nations need the right kind of education to make self-government a reality and a success. First, they need an array of trained people for the jobs that will be created. Second, they need educational institutions to safeguard and advance their cultures, languages and knowledge bases and to apply traditional knowledge to the problems of the modern world. These needs can best be met by institutions operating at the regional or national level.

The most pressing need is for trained people. The availability of these resources varies from one Aboriginal nation to another. But all nations face growing demands for skilled managers and staff to fill a range of public service jobs: jobs in economic development, health and social services, public works, education, sports and recreation, and so on.

Detailed forecasts of personnel needs will emerge from planning by Aboriginal nations, but it is safe to say that there are not enough trained Aboriginal people to fill the posts that will be available.

The Commission proposes that Aboriginal nations investigate and establish targets for human resources development in key fields and that Canadian governments enter into partnership with them to offer flexible training opportunities, internships and exchange programs to achieve targets in designated areas. Governments should co-operate to mount a campaign to make Aboriginal youth aware of the opportunities soon to be available. The time for these steps is not after treaties and other agreements are in place but before, so Aboriginal nations are as ready as they can be to implement self-government. Education is a key ingredient in readiness.

As Aboriginal nation governments are put in place, they will increasingly take charge of planning and delivering lifelong learning to their citizens, co-ordinating their efforts with provincial and territorial institutions. Aboriginal education authorities are already being run by some local communities. The Nisga'a in British Columbia and the Mi'kmaq in Nova Scotia have signed agreements establishing comprehensive education authorities for their nations. Our recommendations encourage this trend.

The objectives of Métis self-government and economic development cannot
be achieved in the absence of educated and technically trained
individuals within our Métis communities...
            Claire Riddle
            Vice-President, Winnipeg Region
            Manitoba Metis Federation

We also recommend education measures to protect and develop Aboriginal cultures:

Protecting Aboriginal Arts and Heritage

Traditional Aboriginal cultures embody complete ways of being in the world. Cultures are shaped by particular landscapes and guided by a philosophy that assigns life and spirit to everything in the circle of being. The Aboriginal conviction that all things have a place and a purpose and are connected in a web of interdependence is reflected in ethical codes meant to guide human behaviour toward balance.

Aboriginal cultures have never been static. They have always responded to the flow of human experience. They are not frozen in irrelevance; neither are they 'lost' or 'dead'.

More and more Aboriginal people are opening their hearts and minds to the relevance of traditional beliefs and practices for life in the modern world and to their powerful role in restoring a sense of self, collective identity, and purpose to those who have lost their way.

Because of past policies that ignored and suppressed Aboriginal languages, ceremonies and living traditions, Aboriginal cultures are endangered. Positive action is needed to help those seeking ways to express, conserve, restore and document their cultures, in all their richness and diversity.

Still we survive, and we will continue to survive. Our language is
still alive, as well as our culture, and we are very proud to be Indian.
            Roly Williams
            Noee Kwe Adult Education Centre
            London, Ontario

Protective action should extend to the material forms of Aboriginal cultures (artifacts, works of art and craft, historical sites) and to their dynamic forms - songs, dances, stories and teachings that bring collective memory, insight and inspiration to Aboriginal people and to the world.

The living, changing cultures of Aboriginal peoples have an important role in helping to overturn the myths and stereotypes, twisted facts and misunderstandings that prevail in much of non-Aboriginal Canada. Doing so will require dialogue with knowledgeable Aboriginal communicators.

Knowledge of one another, and a sharing of wisdom, are essential to a true partnership of peoples.

All along the Foothills, ceremonial leaders are spiritually guided to
conduct ceremonies at specific sites, some of which are off-reserve,
located on provincial or federal Crown lands. Our Elders are being denied
full access...
            Alvin Manitopyes
            Assembly of First Nations Environmental Committee

Cultural Heritage

The cultures of Aboriginal peoples are tied to the land - to specific places held by tradition to have been given to them to care for and to supply what they need. Their histories and mythologies are tied to features of the landscape. The bones of their ancestors are buried there. With resources from the land, they have fashioned sacred objects for ceremonial purposes. They have carved masks and crests to record family histories and lineages and told of memorable events in songs, stories and dances.

But Aboriginal people have lost control of many of their sacred sites. They have watched as objects of great power and significance were taken away by outsiders and displayed in distant museums, often out of context and in ways that offend their sacred value. Aboriginal people have made justifiable demands for

Some site protection issues are being resolved as part of treaty making and renewal. Some museums and galleries have been willing to give back sacred objects. Some artists, writers and archaeologists are showing sensitivity to the use of Aboriginal images and stories. But the understanding shown by a few is not enough to protect cultural heritage as Aboriginal people desire.

Governments should co-operate in making an inventory of sacred sites, in part so that those threatened by development or natural erosion can be saved. Elders should be involved in identifying sites requiring urgent attention.

We also urge museums and cultural institutions to adopt ethical guidelines for the collection, display and interpretation of artifacts related to Aboriginal cultures. Aboriginal people need greater access to their own cultural heritage, more opportunities for cultural education, and increased resources to develop their own facilities for display and study.

Language is one of the main instruments for transmitting culture from one generation to another.

Living Languages

Language is one of the main instruments for transmitting culture from one generation to another and for communicating meaning and making sense of collective experience.

In Canada, there are 11 Aboriginal language families and more than 50 different languages. The number of Aboriginal language speakers is only a fraction of the Aboriginal population: about one person in three over the age of five. Most are middle-aged or older. Even the languages in most frequent use - Mi'kmaq, Montagnais, Cree, Ojibwa, Inuktitut and some Dene languages - are in danger of extinction because of declining fluency in the young.

One Elder has said, ‘Without the language, we are warm bodies without a
            Elder Mary Lou Fox
            Ojibwe Cultural Foundation
            Sudbury, Ontario

Minority languages all over the world are declining in the face of culturally dominant languages - especially those used in the media and popular culture. Aboriginal languages suffered a severe blow during the era when every child was forced by school policy to speak English or French.

The threat of their languages disappearing means that Aboriginal people's distinctive world view, the wisdom of their ancestors and their ways of being human could vanish as well. Language protection requires

Where languages are declining or severely threatened, school immersion programs can help - but a language will not live if it is not used in everyday life. It must be the medium of communication at work, in school, in the media, in government - and most of all, at home.

Each Aboriginal nation will have to decide how far it can go in preserving its languages and develop policies to match. In the meantime, the speakers of Aboriginal languages are aging and dying. We propose the establishment of an Aboriginal Languages Foundation to document, study and conserve Aboriginal languages and to help Aboriginal people arrest and reverse the loss of languages that has already occurred.

I Lost My Talk
by Rita Joe

I lost my talk
The talk you took away.
When I was a little girl
At Shubenacadie school.

You snatched it away:
I speak like you
I think like you
I create like you
The scrambled ballad about my world.

Two ways I talk
Both ways I say
Your way is more powerful.

So gently I offer my hand and ask,
Let me find my talk
So I can teach you about me.


Canada has always been held together in part by its communication links - from the river systems of the fur traders to the transcontinental railroad to the satellite signals linking us today. The information passing along these channels shapes and defines our view of the world and of one another. The need for accurate information and realistic portrayals of Aboriginal people is evident.

But Aboriginal people are not well represented by or in the media. Many Canadians know Aboriginal people only as noble environmentalists, angry warriors or pitiful victims. A full picture of their humanity is simply not available in the media.

Mainstream media do not reflect Aboriginal realities very well. Nor do they offer much space to Aboriginal people to tell their own stories - as broadcasters, journalists, commentators, poets or story tellers. Aboriginal people have little opportunity to tell Canadians in their own ways and their own words who they are.

Because Canadians do not hear Aboriginal points of view, they are often left with mistaken impressions about Aboriginal people's lives and aspirations and the reasons for their actions.

I quote from Louis Riel: ‘My people will sleep for 100 years, and when
they awake, it will be the artists who give them back their spirit.'
            Marie Mumford
            Association for Native Development
            in the Performing and Visual Arts

Aboriginal people are also severely limited in their opportunities to communicate with one another. They have few media services of their own - and even those lost almost all their funding in recent cuts. Domination of the media by the imagery and preoccupations of non-Aboriginal people contributes to the weakening of Aboriginal cultures. In the North, for example, the arrival of television in the 1960s helped transform the society in just one generation.

We make proposals in four areas:

Visual and Performing Arts

For Aboriginal people, as for all people, the arts are both a reflection and an extension of their history, mythology and spirituality. They are a mirror Aboriginal people hold up to see themselves more clearly and a window they hold open to let others see in. Whether they explore traditional forms of expression, modern forms or both, Aboriginal artists, performers and writers are contributing to their own cultures and to Canada's cultural identity as well.

After [poet] Pauline Johnson's untimely death in 1913, almost six
decades were to pass before another Aboriginal author would be published
in Canada.... In spite of all it has to offer, Aboriginal literature is
still discriminated against in the Canadian publishing industry.
            Greg Young-Ing
            Theytus Books
            Vancouver, British Columbia

Given their importance, it is perhaps surprising how little public or private support Aboriginal arts and artists actually receive.

The expression of Aboriginal voice, rooted in unique cultures and world views, was actively suppressed in the era of domination and assimilation. Even in this era of renewal, Aboriginal arts and artists are neglected by Canadian institutions, both public and private.

The Commission sees a need for active support for at least a generation, to encourage revitalization and development of visual, literary and performing arts. We propose establishment of an Aboriginal Arts Council, a review of granting criteria in mainstream institutions, and increased support for training and facilities for display and performance.

Better Lives for Aboriginal People

Discussions of Aboriginal affairs sometimes seem weighted toward issues of governance, law, constitution making and institution building. But the real point of these mechanisms is to make Aboriginal lives better.

Among the Gitksan and Wet'suwet'en, there is no mother tongue word for
health. However, they do have a word for strength, which is
interchangeable [with] health. They also speak of well-being. This
well-being is associated with high self-esteem, a feeling of being at
peace and being happy... This includes education. It includes employment.
It includes land claims. It includes resource management. All of these
lead back to wellness and well-being.
            Rhea Joseph
            Native Brotherhood of B.C. on Health Issues

Over the years, much time and energy and many dollars have been spent trying to do this. Yet serious problems of ill health, miseducation and disturbed family life remain. Aboriginal people and communities are worn down by the persistence of these problems. Canadians feel them as a drag on national progress.

Are the social problems of Aboriginal people intransigent? Hopeless? Certainly not. But ways of organizing and delivering human services for Aboriginal people must change fundamentally.

Patterns of distress, violence and self-destructive behaviour will never shift fully toward well-being without a concomitant shift of power, control and resources. But Aboriginal control is not a panacea - self-government is not a magic wand, and it is no guarantee of good results. It is always possible that Aboriginal control will be exercised badly from time to time. In any case, it will take time for self-government to have an impact.

In the meantime, improving the lives and strengthening the capacities of Aboriginal people is a worthwhile end in itself. It is also part of making Aboriginal control work, as illustrated by the circle of well-being described at the beginning of this chapter.

How can it be done? In four ways:

Back Last Updated: 2000-06-21

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