A Generation Abandoned: B.C. Native Leaders’ Latest $100 million is Meaningless Unless it’s Spent on their Children’s Education

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Appeared in the Vancouver Sun, September 23, 2005

Last week we had the wonderful scene of aboriginal leaders sitting in the British Columbia legislature for the provincial budget because, as Vancouver Sun columnist, Vaughn Palmer said, the government reached out to them.

Featured in Palmer’s column was the well-known militant Chief Stewart Phillip, the president of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs. Phillip, a practiced and clever user of both physical intimidation and the quotable quote, noted that he was there because he had to stop posturing and get real results for aboriginal children, including his own grandchildren.

Sigh, what a wonderful coming-together of a former Indian blockader and the B.C. government to solve the problems that afflict aboriginal children.

Perhaps. But what about the money? Phillip and his cohorts were there because the B.C. government offered them $100 million to help them develop their own capacity to manage their land, resources and social programs in cooperation with the government.

The pertinent question is: Will this money make any difference for the future of aboriginal children, Phillip’s grandchildren included?

The evidence of what it might do is in the report released last year by the Fraser Institute of the success of aboriginal children in the province’s schools. Catastrophic is the right word to describe the results.

Fifty-three per cent of those aboriginals who enter the school system fail to graduate. Of those who do, only one in five takes any advanced subjects beyond the required English course. So, that $100 million might accomplish some good things if it is applied as intended, but it isn’t going to make a whit of difference to the future of aboriginals in our province.

How can it when only one in two Indian children who enter the high school system graduates from it? How can it when educational achievement and skills acquisition is the main predictor of economic success?

The future of Indians in B.C. for some time to come is already cast in the abysmal results they are achieving in the province’s schools.

Last year, when the Fraser Institute released its report card on aboriginals in the school system it got a variety of reactions from educators and the leaders in the aboriginal community. But many of them were based on the attitude, Why are you publishing these numbers? We already know that Indians are doing terribly in the school system. Publishing these results will just make them feel bad.

Right, we need to make aboriginals, and especially their leaders, feel good about themselves.

We need to give them another $100 million to keep them busy with self-governance and re-establishing their cultural identity. If they keep really busy doing that, they can forget about the next generation of Indian kids rendered uneducatable by fetal alcohol syndrome, parental neglect and abandonment by their leaders who are too busy seeking lolly at the legislature or in treaty negotiations to focus on the monumental catastrophe that is building in their families and communities.

For the sake of the children, we have to stop this. If we, right now, in September 2005, do not stop it, when will it stop? It is time for aboriginal leaders to recognize that unearned money extracted from a guilt-sodden legislature is not the solution, but the poison for future generations of Indians.

Young Indians are failing in schools in B.C., and across the country, for two reasons.

First, young aboriginals don’t have to succeed in school. Many of their elders and potential role models also did not succeed -- in school. Tragically this lack of educational success has been rewarded by government after government with big payouts. So educational failure is indelibly linked in the Indian lexicon with wealth and influence. Just raise the spectre of historical maltreatment and get paid off. No need for education to do that.

Second, young Indians don’t succeed because there is no real targeted effort to get them to succeed academically. We need to find the teachers and principals who are capable of solving this problem. We need to recognize excellence in this regard and promote it in the province.

People like principal Gregory Hodge in New York’s Harlem have managed to make children succeed in spite of their disadvantaged backgrounds. Dame Sharon Hollows did it in the hellhole of London’s East End. Compared to these challenges, getting B.C. aboriginals to succeed should be a piece of cake.

The education ministry, like aboriginal leaders themselves, seem to have abandoned this generation of kids. They are not seeking to achieve aboriginal parity with the rest of the province until 12 years have passed.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if schools were rewarded for success in teaching Indians? Wouldn’t it be great if aboriginal leaders demanded that there be even more reporting of the extent to which schools are succeeding in educating their children?

Wouldn’t it be revolutionary in the best sense if aboriginal leaders actually did something to ensure that schools under their jurisdiction achieved results comparable to those achieved in successful schools all over the province?

Wouldn’t it be fantastic if Chief Stewart Phillip were to read this column and decide that he and his colleagues should make it their No. 1 priority to solve the problem of aboriginal education in the next three years?

They’ve got $100 million; unless they spend it on this project, whatever else they do will be a waste of money and their children’s futures.

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