In the wake of the Grand Economic Circle of Indigenous People and Quebec, the provincial government announced multiple funding initiatives November 26 to address significant gaps in Indigenous education, which studies have shown is closely correlated with family income and health outcomes.
Premier François Legault launched a $10 million fund to support a new First Nations Executive Education (FNEE) school over the next five years. The innovative initiative was launched by Manon Jeannotte (Mi’gma) and Ken Rock (Innu), both graduates of the Executive MBA program offered by McGill University and HEC Montréal, which are co-developing the program.
“Something needs to be done for First Nations leaders,” Rock told the Nation. “The leadership at HEC Montréal were really open to something like that – we didn’t have to convince them. We participated in that development. It’s not just a program designed by non-Native people for the benefit of Native people.”
The first cohort began December 9 with 17 chiefs and leaders of Indigenous organizations, such as Creeco president Derrick Neeposh and Innu Chief Mike McKenzie. With the goal of empowering community leaders to strengthen self-determination, the initial modules addressed fulfilling your vision, collaboration with local government to bring change, and exercising leadership with integrity.
“What’s interesting is there are really good leaders among the participants exchanging with each other,” said Rock. “Spending time talking to each other, the participants bring as much experience as the trainers. Of course, the others will be eager to learn from Derrick Neeposh how the Cree people invested in such big projects as the new $100 million building in Montreal. It will bring inspiration to other communities.”
With curriculum co-created by experienced faculty and Indigenous leaders, the short program features Assembly of First Nations of Quebec and Labrador Chief Ghislain Picard and Mi’gmaq Chief Darcy Gray. Courses are currently delivered in a flexible hybrid format to accommodate the busy schedules of its participants, with classes offered in communities such as Wendake to address real-world issues.
“While they share information, they can bring challenges they have locally and they’ll have people to support them,” said Rock. “We strongly believe that the leaders will be in a better position to improve conditions in their communities. There’s a new building being built downtown so we’ll have our own school for First Nations and eventually there will be other courses.”
Before FNEE, the Kiuna Institute was the only post-secondary institution “for and by First Nations” that offered provincial diplomas in Quebec. Founded by the First Nations Education Council (FNEC) in 2011, the Odanak-based college was the symbolic setting for Quebec’s announcement November 30 of $19.4 million to support reconciliation through various education initiatives.
The series of measures are intended to better integrate young Indigenous people into the education system while better informing the broader population about Indigenous realities. In collaboration with Indigenous partners, new instructional material will be made available to teachers and programs of study will be reviewed to revise certain content and better incorporate Indigenous perspectives.
School boards will also be adapted to develop “culturally reassuring services” and guidance tools that support the transition of first-year Indigenous students to institutions away from their communities.
“I think that the three actions will allow us to improve the social climate in Quebec,” said Education Minister Jean-François Roberge. “We want [Indigenous students] to blossom, to take their place in the community and in Quebec. We also want to inform all Quebec students about the history, perspectives and realities of Indigenous people.”
FNEC director general Denis Gros-Louis is co-chair of the Table on First Nations and Inuit Student Success. Gros-Louis told the Nation that his organization had demanded funding to address the gaps in Indigenous communities, which have only increased since this government began investing substantially in the provincial education network.
“We were very vocal that there was some catch-up to be done,” said Gros-Louis. “We have to play on a level playing field. It was quickly heard – I would say within weeks, we got a reply. It was key for us that it be done in collaboration with First Nations organizations.”
With growing interest in Indigenous issues, the FNEC couldn’t keep up with the volume of requests from teachers. Gros-Louis said the bulk of funding will go towards new service centres that update content to remove offensive stereotypes and focus on the realities of First Nations near each school.
“If one Nation is prevalent in the community, we would say the history is taught around those communities,” Gros-Louis explained. “For instance, if we’re in Gaspésie it would be obvious to speak about the Mi’gmaq and their relationship with the fisheries and all the harvesting they’re doing in the water. What’s more important is how their spirituality is being exercised today.”
About $4 million will be invested to remove old books so curricula will better reflect modern realities. Teacher training is also being reviewed to ensure that basic competencies include an accurate understanding of Indigenous cultures and communities.
“When you graduate, you’ll want to come work in our communities and be better equipped to teach students with a different background,” said Gros-Louis. “We want to build citizens on both sides who will learn to grow together and be leaders of tomorrow, rather than the foundation of distrust that we’ve learned for the last 300 years.”
by Patrick Quinn, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter