Friday, November 8, 2013

Family trumps everything...

Happy Birthday Dad

My Dad's 96th birthday falls in the middle of my busiest season. At this time of the year, I am always on the road sharing the gift of reading and culture. Conferences, schools, PAC meeting - I'm almost everywhere but home. This week however, my friend/agent Chris booked me at home to be near my dad.

In 1917, my dad, Wilbrod Bouchard, was born in Beauchamp, Sask. Beauchamp was a small Metis community in Northeastern Saskatchewan. The Catholic Church did as it so often did...they built a church in St. Front allowing our French speaking Metis families to move into a new situation that would allow them to think of themselves as French and not Metis. For a time, it worked but as with all things...life moves in circles. I found out. Others found out. The Metis of Willow Bunch figured it out. Communities across our Prairie are coming to see themselves for what they are; Metis.

Dad grew up in St. Front. He farmed and joined the army at 24. He was a military policeman for the Royal 22 Regiment. He met mom after the war. They were married...then gave birth to Diane in 1949 and me in 1952.

Dad and mom sold the farm in 1954 because of flooding. They took what they had, moved to Swift Current to learn how to cut hair. They were hair dressers in Gravelbourg, Sask. from 1955 to 1967, allowing me to study at College Mathieu. They moved to Regina in 1967 where dad bought Western Patrol Security.

When I moved to West Vancouver in 1969, Diane and Ken followed with mom and dad in tow. My family settled in Sidney while I worked as a school administrator in West Van. Vicki and I moved to Victoria in 2000 when I began writing and touring full time.

Mom passed in 2011. Dad moved into the beautiful facility at Broadmead Lodge and on Wednesda, we celebrated his 96th birthday.

My sister and I have been blessed with two wonderful human beings for all these long, wonderful years.

Pictured here: Diane, her husband Ken...our Dad...me and my wife Vicki

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Geoff Johnson: First Nations education plan falls short

...This is an article from this morning's Times Colonist. The problem remains the lack of respect. Each and every carrot dangled includes "FN education meeting provincial standards". How does this speak to respect or autonomy? Like many, I am disappointed and growing tired of never ending posturing. The time has long come and gone for governments to turn education over to FN people. My FN cousins have it right in their movement Idle no More! 

The federal government is proposing a sweeping education overhaul on First Nations reserves to bring aboriginal schools up to provincial standards.
Predictably, aboriginal groups and education advocates, suspecting political rather than educational purpose, have warned that the Harper government risks repeating the top-down paternalistic mistakes of the past in its proposals for increasing the success rate for aboriginal children.
Tyrone McNeil, president of the First Nations Education Steering Committee in B.C., expressed his disappointment.
“The Harper government says this new legislation will give greater control to First Nations,” he said. “That is bogus … if anything, the minister becomes superintendent of First Nations schools.”
While at first glance it seems that the proposed First Nations Education Act is intended to raise the standards of on-reserve schools, there is no question that the graduation failure rate among aboriginal kids, both in reserve schools and off-reserve public schools, is a bigger problem than the proposed legislation addresses.
Under the legislation, aboriginal councils would remain responsible for schools on their reserves, with the option to contract out work to provincial school boards or private educators.
In 2009, B.C. agreed to fund First Nations schools for students eligible to receive a provincially funded education.
This program is called reciprocal tuition because First Nations remain responsible for the tuition of students who live on reserve but who choose to attend public schools.
In an ideal world, that funding would be passed to the school district.
Statistically, on-reserve schools seem to be even less successful than public schools in guiding children to provincial graduation standards.
The proposed bill also allows native councils to form First Nations education authorities that control all aspects of the running of the aboriginal on-reserve schools.
Those authorities hire teachers and principals, manage budgets and develop curricula that meet provincial standards while focusing on aboriginal culture and language.
Where the proposed legislation seriously misses the mark is the absence of any change in funding support for the majority of aboriginal children in public schools.
In B.C., there are about 54,000 aboriginal children living off-reserve and fewer than 10,000 living on-reserve. For on-reserve children attending public schools, their education remains a provincial matter and is governed by provincial legislation.
In B.C., students of aboriginal ancestry attend 1,400 public schools and generate significant additional funding of $1,160 per student.
This additional Aboriginal Education Funding must be allocated only to the provision of culturally oriented aboriginal education programs.
If aboriginal children, for whatever reason, are falling behind academically, the money cannot be used to provide extra academic support.
In a few cases, the additional funding is administered by the local aboriginal community and the money is used to employ tribal elders and others to teach aboriginal culture in the school the children are attending.
In other cases, the school district employs a First Nations language and culture teacher to deliver or supervise cultural aspects of the curriculum.
Either way, while there is no argument about the value of cultural support for aboriginal kids, many teachers think there is a more compelling argument that any additional funding should be directed first toward academic support that might improve those poor graduation rates.
As many educators who work with aboriginal communities within school districts will tell you, there is a poor fit between the organizational expectations of public schools (daily attendance, being in class on time, completing homework projects) and the expectations held by aboriginal communities for their children.
The newly proposed First Nations Education Act does not address these core issues.
That causes many educators, both aboriginal and non-aboriginal, to wonder if this is just a political initiative that falls well short of grappling with the issues that must be resolved before graduation rates for aboriginal children begin to match those of their non-aboriginal counterparts.

Geoff Johnson is a retired superintendent of schools.
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