‘It hasn’t been easy’

Na­tional ra­dio show broad­casts from Membertou for show on First Na­tions ed­u­ca­tion

Cape Breton Post - - FRONT PAGE - BY DAVID JALA

Broad­cast it and they will talk.

First Na­tions ed­u­ca­tion was the topic of dis­cus­sion on Sun­day when CBC Ra­dio’s na­tional call-in show, “Cross Coun­try Checkup,” was broad­cast live from Membertou.

Host Dun­can McCue, him­self a mem­ber of an On­tario Chippewa First Na­tion, set up shop in the gym­na­sium of the com­mu­nity’s ele­men­tary school, Mau­peltuewey Kina’motno’kuom.

About 75 peo­ple, in­clud­ing teach­ers, stu­dents and par­ents, com­prised the stu­dio au­di­ence, while across Canada an es­ti­mated 500,000 oth­ers lis­tened to the two-hour broad­cast that be­gan at 5 p.m. McCue opened the di­a­logue by ask­ing what the key is to cre­at­ing the best ed­u­ca­tion in First Na­tions com­mu­ni­ties. “The ed­u­ca­tional gap be­tween in­dige­nous and non­indige­nous stu­dents in this coun­try re­mains vast — it hasn’t been easy for in­dige­nous fam­i­lies to shake off the shadow of the In­dian res­i­den­tial school era,” said McCue, who was joined on­stage by Sen. Dan Christ­mas, Cape Bre­tonVic­to­ria Re­gional School Board chair Dar­ren Goo­goo and Dawn Stevens, prin­ci­pal of the Eska­soni ele­men­tary and mid­dle school.

Christ­mas, who was raised in Membertou and later served as the com­mu­nity’s se­nior ad­viser, at­trib­uted the band’s dra­matic eco­nomic turn­around, in large part, to Nova Sco­tia’s 1997 agree­ment with Canada that gave the prov­ince’s Mi’kmaq con­trol over their own ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem.

“We’ve had 20 years un­der that agree­ment, so we’ve been able to de­velop a lot of ca­pac­ity, a lot of ex­pe­ri­ence, and a lot of good peo­ple, and I be­lieve that trans­lates into a lot of the suc­cess we have been en­joy­ing,” said Christ­mas.

“The ques­tion of pub­lic fund­ing of First Na­tions schools has been so con­tro­ver­sial over the past 10 years at least and there are a lot of dif­fer­ent opin­ions about it, so I think hav­ing the ‘Cross Coun­try Checkup’ show do­ing this topic is just timely. It’s ideal and hav­ing it here in Membertou is one way of demon­strat­ing that First Na­tions ed­u­ca­tion can be suc­cess­ful.”

Goo­goo, a Membertou res­i­dent who was ed­u­cated in both the Mi’kmaq and Nova Sco­tia pub­lic school sys­tems, said a strong and healthy ed­u­ca­tion en­vi­ron­ment is im­por­tant both on and off the reserve.

“It’s im­por­tant to open the di­a­logue be­tween abo­rig­i­nal Canada and non-abo­rig­i­nal Canada, es­pe­cially around is­sues of ed­u­ca­tion — at the end of the day, we all want the same thing, we want to see our chil­dren grad­u­ate high school, we want to see them be suc­cess­ful,” said Goo­goo.

“As Canada goes down the road of rec­on­cil­i­a­tion, it’s im­por­tant to re­mem­ber that we live in com­mu­ni­ties side by side with the rest of the coun­try and we all need a strong ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem to make this en­tire coun­try stronger from begin­ning to end, from one coast to the other.”

While McCue went back and forth to his “in-stu­dio” guests and took calls from lis­ten­ers across the coun­try, he also turned to his live au­di­ence for in­put.

Kar­lee John­son, a third-year med­i­cal science stu­dent at Dal­housie Univer­sity, took to the mi­cro­phone to praise the Mi’kmaq school sys­tem that she at­tended and to credit the cur­ricu­lum and the teach­ers for pro­vid­ing her with the re­sources and sup­port needed to pur­sue her dream of be­com­ing a doc­tor with the hope of re­turn­ing to Eska­soni to prac­tice as a fam­ily physi­cian.

“I learned self-con­fi­dence — we learned about the Mi’kmaq and other cul­tures, the im­por­tance of dance, song and prayer, so the self-con­fi­dence I learned in the reserve schools helped me move onto higher ed­u­ca­tion,” said John­son.

An­other stu­dent plan­ning to move back to her com­mu­nity fol­low­ing univer­sity is Maisyn Sock, who at­tends Grade 12 classes in Eska­soni’s Ali­son Bernard Me­mo­rial High School.

Sock told the ra­dio show that her goal is at­tend Mount Allison Univer­sity, ob­tain a teach­ing a de­gree and re­turn to her com­mu­nity to give back to the ed­u­ca­tional sys­tem that she cred­its with keep­ing her on a pos­i­tive track.

“The staff, the teach­ers, push us and they don’t give up on us — they are more than ed­u­ca­tors,” said Sock, who gave a spe­cial shout out to teacher Newell John­son.

Re­cent fig­ures show that the high school grad­u­a­tion rate of Mi’kmaq stu­dents (75 per cent) is about twice as high as the na­tional av­er­age for abo­rig­i­nal stu­dents.

In last year’s bud­get, Justin Trudeau’s Lib­eral gov­ern­ment ear­marked $2.6 bil­lion over the next five years for First Na­tions pri­mary and sec­ondary ed­u­ca­tion.

DAVID JALA/CAPE BRE­TON POST

“Cross Coun­try Checkup” host Dun­can McCue, left, takes to the mi­cro­phone guests Sen. Dan Christ­mas, from left, Eska­soni school prin­ci­pal Dawn Stevens and Cape Bre­ton-Vic­to­ria Re­gional School Board chair Dar­ren Goo­goo look. The Canada-wide CBC ra­dio show was broad­cast live from the Membertou ele­men­tary school on Sun­day. The topic was First Na­tions ed­u­ca­tion.

+PIOTPO

Sock

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