Achievable goals must be set for Indigenous representation in education system: WIEC

Cortez Deacetis

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A newly released study shows there is a significant lack of Indigenous representation in school boards and among school teachers in Winnipeg and one organization is now calling for changes and for action to see far more Indigenous representation in the city’s school systems.

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This week the Winnipeg Indigenous Executive Circle, (WIEC) a formal membership of organizations that works to support the urban Indigenous population in Winnipeg, released the findings of their second annual State of Equity in Education Report.

According to WIEC the purpose of the report is to promote the development and implementation of “equity-based” education policies and programs for the Indigenous students enrolled in the public schools in the city of Winnipeg.

“A guiding principle of the report is that to improve educational outcomes for Indigenous students, they need to see themselves better reflected in the curriculum and all staff positions within the public education system,” the report states.

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Data from the report shows that in Winnipeg’s school boards there is a significant lack of Indigenous representation, as currently only five of the 54 school trustees at Winnipeg’s six school boards identify as Indigenous.

As well, it shows that currently four of the six school divisions in Winnipeg do not have any representation of Indigenous people on their school boards.

The study also shows a lack of representation of Indigenous school teachers and education graduates, as data shows that over the last 20 years an average of 35 Indigenous Bachelor of Education students have graduated each year between both the University of Manitoba’s and the University of Winnipeg’s education programs.

According to WIEC, that graduation rate means that it would take almost 20 years to address
the underrepresentation of Indigenous teachers in Winnipeg, as currently there is an underrepresentation of between 600 and 700 Indigenous teachers in Winnipeg schools, according to the report.

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And while the study shows a lack of Indigenous representation in schools and school boards, it also calls for “concrete actions” to address the issue and to help see more Indigenous people working and serving in Winnipeg’s school divisions.

“Concrete and authentic change comes from addressing deeply embedded systemic issues of colonialism and racism, engaging in difficult conversations, and being transparent and accountable to the community,” WIEC said in their report.

The report highlights four Calls to Action that WIEC says must be undertaken to improve and increase Indigenous representation in Winnipeg’s schools and school boards.

As part of the Calls to Action, WIEC said they would like to see a Bachelor of Education in Indigenous Knowledges program created and would like to see the program run in a similar way to the current Masters of Social Work in Indigenous Knowledges program currently offered through the University of Manitoba.

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The report also calls on both the province’s and Winnipeg’s school boards to create positions that would work to make a “comprehensive commitment to implementing employment equity and student equity policies and programs.”

“The provincial government and locally elected school boards must establish an Education Equity Secretariat within the provincial government, and Education Equity Offices within school divisions,” the report states.

WIEC also said in their report that they have purposely created what they say are “achievable” goals and action plans and ones they think could be implemented quickly in Winnipeg’s schools and school divisions.

“The history of developing reports on issues of equity-based education has been long on rhetoric and short on achieving measurable outcomes,” the report states.

“Depth rather than breadth is the strategic approach taken by the report to best monitor the action and progress made on these critical areas of concern.”

— Dave Baxter is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the Winnipeg Sun. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.

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