Report calls for more Indigenous representation in Manitoba school boards, universities

The Winnipeg Indigenous Executive Circle (WIEC) released its findings on the first annual State of Equity in Education Report on Tuesday.

The Report is based on a survey conducted in the spring of 2019 of the six school divisions in Winnipeg, as well as the faculties of education at the Universities of Manitoba, Winnipeg, St. Boniface and Brandon.

Its purpose is to promote evidence-based strategies for the development and implementation of equity-based education programs and policies in Winnipeg.

“The WIEC has a mandate and a priority set out for the community, with education being one of those mandates. In our community-level sessions, we focus on the fact that Indigenous students are still graduating from regular school systems,” said Heather McCormick, Chairperson of the Education Committee at WIEC on Tuesday.

“We want everyone to take a look at why that is still happening and more importantly, what can we do to try to help address this situation. We want to come at it from another approach and see whether we can address these issues in a concrete way.”

The WIEC will be calling upon the federal and provincial governments, school boards and faculties of education to address the 10 Calls to Action identified in the Report.

Currently, there is an underrepresentation of Indigenous peoples on school boards in Winnipeg, as noted in the Report. Only two of the 54 trustees in Winnipeg self-identify as Indigenous and only one of the six school divisions in Winnipeg have Indigenous representation on the school board.

The Report also identifies a shortage of 600 Indigenous teachers in Winnipeg based on the belief that the staff at schools need to be representative of the students being served.

To help solve this problem, the WIEC has a program called “Building From Within,” that provides Indigenous Grade 11 and 12 students with a pathway program to become a teacher. The program is made in partnership with the University of Winnipeg faculty of education and the Winnipeg School Division.

“We know there are very few Indigenous teachers in Winnipeg. In my experience, it was very difficult to become a school trustee, and Indigenous people just do not get to that table,” said Sonia Prevost-Derbecker, the creator of the Building From Within program.

“Certainly, we will support all school divisions to have equity hiring policies and the methodical approach on how to use them. We would challenge that the Building From Within program should be in every school division. In order to have more Indigenous teachers in front of classrooms, we have to graduate them. The first step would be to sit down with school division and governments and come to a solution that will support that.”

The Report also calls for all school divisions to develop and implement employment equity policies and programs, and release a report on results on an annual basis to the public to promote transparency and accountability.

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A Manitoba government spokesperson told Winnipeg Sun that they are aware of the State of Equity in Education Report released by the WIEC and that the report is being reviewed by Manitoba Education and will be consulted with other departments where appropriate.

Nicole Wong is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the Winnipeg Sun. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.

TORONTO STAR