Living in a clime of minus 20 degree winter weather, I am inclined to frequent the downtown coffee shops. Over an American Decaf, I was having a chat with fellow educator musician, who is of First Nation ancestry. The principal/chief (pun intended) discourse of our coffee chat was the perceived defective school system as it relates to First Nation’s education, and of course, the Idle No More movement, the headliner as of late in the Canadian news reports.
I stated that certain school boards ought to create a treasure of creative and highly enthusiastic, socially alert and student-centered teachers, and place them into a collective educational environment with a student population comprised of volunteer First Nation, Aboriginal, and Metis students, and any others with a particular interest … and then allow a new and necessary curriculum to unfold.
With my hands wrapped around a piping hot coffee, my colleague icily accused that it was precisely my kind of arrogant attitude that was the cause for the Aboriginal lack of academic achievement and, never mind, the very root and concern of the Idle No More movement. He went on to present his bright-line demarcation by stating that it was I, in fact, who was the problem.
I do agree that the problem is of public concern. Here are just some of the quantifiable facts:
Canada has a population of 30 million people. The Aboriginal population in Canada is upwards of 1.3 million. 868, 200 are registered Indians, 404,000 are Metis, and 53,000 are Inuit. There are 615 registered Bands across the country. Heart disease is 1.5 times higher among First Nations than that of the rest of the population. Tuberculosis and Hepatitis C are many times higher among First Nations, than that of the rest of the population. The rate of suicide is six times higher. Life Expectancy is eight to ten years shorter. Among Aboriginal children, accidental deaths are four times higher than that of the rest of the population. School graduation rates of First Nations members are considerably lower and incarceration rates considerably higher when compared to those in the rest of the population. (Shawn Atleo, National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, has stated that First Nations children are more likely to go to jail than to graduate from high school!)
And now for my busker’s narrative redaction, which is neither a bully pulpit nor a contest in humility -- And I'm not usually such a qualitative liar:
When I was five years old my parents separated. For reasons I am unwilling to express at this time, I was sent to a rural community to live with my Grandmother, Ollie, and her second husband, Sid. Ollie and Sid were poor. Every morning before sun-up, they swept the Post Office, the Royal Bank, and on weekends, the movie theatre. In our village, we were considered janitors. In our village, I was the only child from a broken home.
When I was in high school I worked in concert with my peers at lots of part-time town and country jobs: cleaning elevator boots, picking rocks, throwing hay bales, building corrals, demolishing old houses, building granaries, shoveling wheat, harvesting and hauling grain, constructing rural telephone lines.
After my grade 12 graduation I chained on Saskatchewan highways, I climbed Saskatchewan telephone poles, and I guided the booms of construction cranes over the Saskatchewan River.
During my undergraduate university days I moiled in the muskeg of the North West Territories, I walked the valleys of the West Coast and Rocky Mountains in British Columbia, and I worked the windy prairies of Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba on pipeline construction.
When I was a young teacher, for two months every summer I served booze in bars in the evening and during the day I was a swimming instructor.
Nowadays as a full-time guidance counselor from September through June, I teach part-time at the university in both the Fall and Winter semesters, and in July and August I busk as a social entrepreneur for the Canadian Mental Health Association, the Saskatchewan Schizophrenia Society, and any other agency that advances the social welfare of those who are disparate and/or disenfranchised, including the clients of SEARCH -- a Four Directions Health Centre for First Nations.
(Scroll the left side headliner on this blog for more information on any of these above-mentioned agencies.)
To the notion of my musician, teacher colleague I shall not kindly acquiesce. I am not the enemy. I most certainly do not contribute to fester the political debacle, and the community conundrum of the First Nations people. And if the perception persists ... that I am to blame for the grief and the despair and the poverty and the discontent and the inequity of the First Nations communities across Canada, then this problem shall never, ever be resolved.