Dear Ms. Sheila Dodds
Assistant Auditor General
Office of the Auditor General of British Columbia
Dear. Ms. Dodds:
The BC Métis Federation has learned of a Request for Proposal by the BC Ministry of Education for a research report on racism toward Aboriginal students in the BC public school system.
This RFP is presented as a “first step in responding to the Auditor General’s recommendation that the Ministry of Education collaborate with boards of education, superintendents, Aboriginal leaders and communities to address obstacles to ensuring safe, non-racist, culturally relevant learning environments.”
The apparent goal by the Ministry is to set the stage for a provincial anti-racism strategy for school year 2016/17, but they limit the report (and seemingly their ultimate policy response to the Auditor’s report) by excluding systemic racism and institutional discrimination.
The RFP clearly states, “For the purposes of this research project, racism will be limited to racism between students and between teacher and students.”
Although aspects of this project are important, in a broader sense we feel that this proposal reflects a lack of respect for Métis peoples, communities and nations in Canada, demonstrating a broken relationship between the current BC provincial government and Métis peoples.
The Ministry controls the content and parameters of the RFP report, and they exclude Métis as full decision makers right from the beginning of this process. This “selective justice” and marginalization contradicts Truth and Reconciliation in many ways.
Last December with the release of the final report on Truth and Reconciliation, Justice Sinclair acknowledged that Métis were left out of settlement and are still waiting for justice and fair treatment. Canada was faced with the reality that Métis are included in the orbit of both “Truth” and “Reconciliation” national conversations along with First nations and Inuit. The TRC report discussed a new vision for Canada to “fully embrace Aboriginal peoples’ right to self-determination within, and in partnership with, a viable Canadian sovereignty.”
Echoing the Truth and reconciliation Commissioners, Métis and other indigenous peoples have an important contribution to make to reconciliation. Their knowledge systems, oral histories, laws, and connections to the land have vitally informed the reconciliation process to date, and are, in the words of the Commissioners, essential to its ongoing progress.
In that light, Métis must be supported to work with British Columbians and their governments and other institutions in strong equal partnerships to share stories of healing from their own culture. We feel that initiatives and policies like the proposed RFP should include learners in context of accountability to community and Métis values, ways of being and connections to land.
In spite of strong public statements by the Ministry of Education claiming to support TRC report recommendations, they have forced a piecemeal and inconsequential approach when it comes to BC Métis people and communities. The Ministry actually continues to ignore specific calls to action by the TRC for curriculum that is inclusive of treaty relations and historical and contemporary contributions of Métis and other indigenous peoples.
The Truth and Reconciliation experience taught all of us that “education” became a tool for enculturation, subjugation, segregation, forced assimilation and dispossession. In the final TRC report Justice Sinclair stated, “we were told that they and their people were inferior, savage, pagans and heathens and that they were lucky that Europeans discovered them and saved them from extinction through civilization and Christianity.”
In fact, these ideas have a long history in our BC schools.” Here is a historical example of “Truth” discussions impacting Métis:
A superintendent of education visited a school near Langley. Writing in his diary on June 8, 1877, “Found 21 pupils, chiefly half breeds and Indians, half breed children very unpromising, dull and stupid, apparently incapable of learning.” (Source: June 8, 1877, entry, John Jessup, Diary, In British Columbia archives, GR-1468.)
The Province of British Columbia has never taken public steps to partner with Métis to reject these ideas and impacts. Similar to the Commissioners, we view education as a positive tool for reconciliation and new possibilities. Instead of piecemeal efforts or in addition to narrow approaches like “closing the gap” in education, our goal in reconciliation is to re-establish an accurate representation of Métis identity within the legal, political, cultural and social fabric of Canada. To achieve this, Métis communities and nations must embrace their role as translators to realize dynamic relationships through nation to nation negotiations. The goal is to educate Canadians on the historic and legal position of Métis communities.
Education is a way to renew “covenant” relationships. The TRC Commissioners put it this way:
“As First Nations, Inuit, and Métis communities access and revitalize their spirituality, cultures, languages, laws, and governance systems, and as non-Aboriginal Canadians increasingly come to understand Indigenous history within Canada, and to recognize and respect Indigenous approaches to establishing and maintaining respectful relationships, Canadians can work together to forge a new covenant of reconciliation. ”
The Truth and Reconciliation report talks about sustained political will from every institution, and every Canadian. Métis in British Columbia still wait for” justice and fair treatment” from the BC government Ministry of education.
Similar to language from the TRC Commissioners, we believe that every Canadian institution (such as our legal or education systems) must be transformed to ensure that Métis and other indigenous peoples have a “greater ownership of, participation in, and access to its central driving forces.”
As the result, we call on the Office of the BC Auditor General to recommend that the Province of British Columbia Ministry of Education discontinue the current Request for Proposal and negotiate with the BC Métis Federation on behalf of partner communities to establish meaningful policies and frameworks that reconcile Métis and British Columbians.
Thank you,Keith Henry President
cc BC Métis Federation Members
[ilink url=”http://bcmetis.com/wp-content/uploads/BC-Metis-Federation-Letter-to-Auditor-General-re-Education-January-29th-2016.pdf” style=”download”]Click here to download the BCMF Letter to Auditor General in PDF format.[/ilink]