FNMI Summit Blog: Day 2

by Joey Flowers, The Circle on Philanthropy and Aboriginal Peoples in Canada

Today at the Ashoka Changemakers celebration, I had lunch with Dr. Christy Bressette, who works as coordinator for the Aboriginal Education section of the Council of Ministers of Education, Canada.  Our discussion led to her telling me, “You should write about that.” Dr. Bressette, thank you for the great suggestion. Here goes!

Dr. Bressette and I were discussing our experiences as individuals working to contribute to our respective communities’ education policies. In 2008, she defended her Ph.D. thesis, focussed on de-colonizing research methodologies, Understanding Success in community, First Nation education Through Anishinabe Meno-Bimaadziwin Action Research. Now she continues her work with the 13 ministers of education across Canada to engage Indigenous groups in developing their own education policies. Instead of continuing the education policies aimed at experimenting with (exterminating?)  Indigenous peoples in Canada, Dr. Bressette, like the laureates of the Ashoka Changemakers awards, is designing, implementing, and supporting projects in partnership with Indigenous peoples.

In my case, I recently completed a report under the Jane Glassco Arctic Fellowship program, sponsored by the Walter and Duncan Gordon Foundation. My report, Pijunnanivunnut – fulfilling our potential, examined the post-secondary support program available to Nunavik Inuit through the Kativik School Board. My research aimed to generate policy ideas from within the Inuit community affected by the program.

This theme – Indigenous control of Indigenous education policy – is central to the Changemaker awards that we saw today. And my conversation with Dr. Bressette reminded me of the value of the contributions of each individual who has the energy, passion, and courage to stand up and say, in the words of our morning keynote speaker, the Right Honourable Paul Martin, “I’m not going to accept the status quo any longer!”

Indigenous people in Canada are a diverse group of people, with various languages, ceremonies, geographies, traditions, histories, economies, political situations, governance systems, protocols, and world views. The laureates of the Changemaker awards constitute an inspiring sample of those individuals and groups. They demonstrate the excellent work being done on education policies and programming by Indigenous peoples and in collaborative projects with Indigenous peoples in Canada.  

It is heart-warming to hear about the innovative and inspiring projects that are happening in Indigenous education in Canada. Seeing support from philanthropic organizations for these projects gives me much hope for future generations of Indigenous and non-Indigenous learners in Canada.  From my direct experience with the Jane Glassco Arctic Fellowship program, I know first-hand how it feels to have high-calibre talent say, “We want to hear from you. Tell us what’s important to you. We’ll support you.” I feel like I have found my voice, and that I have something to say that matters to my community. At this conference, I’ve seen and felt evidence that this is happening across the country in many different ways.

Elders Pauline Shirt, Levina Brown, and Alis Kennedy keep reminding us that each of us can be a Changemaker simply by being inspiring individuals in our communities. We each have something to give, no matter what our background. In this vein, I recently received an email from an inspiring young Inuk student. The student told me about seeing successful Inuit who continue their education, and how this is so inspiring to those Inuit who have higher education goals in mind. My friend wrote, “we, as Inuit, are clearly capable of doing many things. Many things that we are proud of.”

This conference confirms that my friend’s email rings true, not just for Inuit, but for all Indigenous people.  I certainly look forward to Day 3.