The July 21st issue (on the stands now) of Macleans Canada has a lengthy article by Tamsin McMahon on the dire straights of the youth in aboriginal communities in Canada. It cites statistics on the unequal funding of education for students in remote areas, the social pressures which result in a high rate of substance abuse and suicide among the youth in such communities, and political maneuvering that puts chiefs at odds with each other, throwing out prior accords that would redress the imbalance, and feeding the natural distrust which remains after the residential education system travesty. There is a further complication due to the fact that Aboriginal government is split between their own organizations but falls under Federal jurisdiction while education in Canada is a provincial matter with some funding from the Federal government. We’re one of the richest countries in the world and we can’t give all our children equal education. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch gives Canada an extremely low rating.
The article seems to have a western slant, mostly focusing on isolated communities in B.C. and leaves out mention, for whatever reason, of Ontario communities such as Attawapiskat where students have been learning in unheated portables with limited supplies and resources for decades due to their original school being built on a toxic waste site. Students from these communities have traveled (with ground roots support) to the UN conference on children’s rights in Geneva to protest the inequality of the system. Two years ago the Harper government finally called for tenders to rebuild the school. It was scheduled for completion for June, 2014. (You can check the history of this here.)
McMahon does tell about the success story of Mike McKenzie, 21, whose older brother committed suicide 11 years ago and who subsequently dropped out of high school himself 4 years ago. After attending an aboriginal youth conference, he realized that he was not alone in his frustrations; since then he’s become an activist for change, not just in his own community of Skeetchestn in the B.C. interior, but for all native youth in Canada. It is a daunting challenge considering the level of infant mortality, domestic abuse, poverty, violent crime, and alcohol-related deaths rampant throughout these communities but Mike is volunteering in his community, “counselling young people”, has returned to school, become a certified firefighter and is contemplating either university or joining the RCMP. But for many others, trying to get an education to improve their standard of living is very much a Catch-22.
For further reading, Maclean’s also published an article in August 8, 2012 by Andrew Stobo Sniderman.