A Conservation on Indigenous Issues


15 November 2016

Thank you very much. Thank you very much for those words President MacDonald. And Kent, I wish you would express to all of St. F. X. what a wonderful pleasure it is for me to be here. And thank you for your kind words. And thank you all for standing up. Ever since I left office, nobody stood up! I also want to add my words of recognition that we are on unceded territory of the Mi'kmaw People. Delighted to see you here Chief. But I also would like to acknowledge that we are in the home, the home town of Allan J. MacEachen. Let me just speak very briefly about Mr. MacEachen. As all of us know, he is one of our greatest Canadians. His contribution, obviously to this University, but to Antigonish, to Nova Scotia, to Atlantic Canada and to our country, and indeed, when you travel the world, his contribution to so much of that world, is something that we all recognize and I must say, makes me just a little nervous speaking to you. He was one of my father's closest friends. I am here, obviously, because of your very kind invitation, but I am also here because of what I remember and because of my unvarnished admiration for Mr. MacEachen. I won't go into all of his history because you know it. But those of you who were perhaps in their 20s or 30s, will know the problems you have when you have so many, when you meet so many people, and you are with your father or something else and nobody can remember your name. I've got to tell you something, just think about this. This is one of Canada's greatest Cabinet Ministers, and every time I would see him in Ottawa, he would say 'Hello Paul.' He is the only person who could remember my name and I will never forget that. I will never forget a story as well. One day when he was the Minister of External Affairs, I got on an Air Canada flight and I was looking for my seat, and everyone else had gotten on. I was late and looking for my seat and all of a sudden I heard this voice saying "Paul, come over here." And I turned around and there was Allan J. and he had an empty seat beside him. He was the Minister of External Affairs, that was in the days before. And he said "come and sit down beside me." And so I did. And all the way, I can't remember where we were flying to, we talked foreign policy. You think about this. Here I am, I'm 25 or I'm 26, I'm sitting down beside Canada's Foreign Minister and I'm giving him my opinion on what the world needed. (He didn't follow it.) But in any event, I've never forgotten that story. And then I got home and I told my father that I just talked to him. And I told my father what my opinions were and my father was shocked. He said you can't have said that. He's one of my friends. He's going to repeat this. In any event, I have never forgotten it. The one other thing that I have never forgotten, and the Chairman said to you that I was going to speak briefly. Well let me tell you, I'm going to do so because one day when I had gotten into politics I was somewhere with Mr. MacEachen and I gave a speech. And I came down and I was full of myself and I said "how was it?" He said, “you're like your father, you speak too long.” So I promised, I'm not going to speak too long today.

In fact, what I would like to do - because we are here to talk about indigenous education - and what I've been asked to do is to tell you some of the programs that the foundation that I have put in place has set in place. I would do them not so much to tell you about these programs but I would cover them essentially and in the discussion that follows, we can talk about some of the issues that they attempt to address. The first item is that we spend a lot of time essentially saying to the First Nations, well, can't you get your economic act together? Why don't you, why aren't you out there doing more entrepreneurship? Why aren't you contributing to the economy? I can tell you that I've seen this. There is not one business course in one high school in this country that is dedicated to the First Nations, to their capacity-building and yet, the fact that if you looked to the history of the First Nations it really is one of trade. That's what built this country. That's what allowed us to come here. And yet, we have never developed a course that would, in fact, fit within the context of the First Nations. So, sometime ago, we decided that we would set up a business course. It would be a business course in grade 11 and grade 12, and what we did, it was based on entrepreneurship, and we hired a couple of teachers and we put together a business course based on the best of the provinces’ business courses, but hopefully one that would be applicable. To show you just how some of us just don't think, about two years after we had started, we started in a reserve school in Thunder Bay Ontario, serving kids who lived in 300 people communities down the shores of Hudson's Bay. And it was a success. So we took the course into another school, one in Winnipeg. Then one day I walked out of the school in Winnipeg and a young boy, a Cree, came up to me and said, “Mr. Martin, I like your course. It is a real success. But, he said, it is only for Indigenous Canadians, Aboriginal Canadians, First Nations." And I said yes. “Then how come all of your examples are in Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver, and not one is in one of our communities?” And he said, “how come all of your role models are Montreal, Toronto or Vancouver business people?” And suddenly the light went on and I realized what a dope I had been. And so what we did was, we took two of our teachers, both Indigenous, and they took two and a half years off, working with a publisher, and we produced the first set of textbooks and workbooks within the First Nations’ context, from the symbols to the role models to the kinds of things they were doing. And within three years of that, from two schools we grew to 40 schools. And what it shows really is that if you give people the tools to do the job, they will do the job. And now what has happened is that the course has done so well that it is now going to be extending to adults who have gone back to school in Indigenous learning centres across the country. And one of the things I think that as educators in this great hall, and in this great university, is we've got to understand that we've been talking about mathematics with some of you, we've got to understand that the cultural backgrounds and traditions of the First Nations are so incredibly rich in their way of looking at things. That when we essentially take what is such a common thing for all of us like business, and we put it in the context, their context, they will undoubtedly make a success. And I will come back to this.

Second, the second course that we introduced is, put yourself as a Principal of a school, an on-reserve school in northern Ontario, northern Saskatchewan, way up North. You have no school board, you have no ministry because Ottawa has no Ministry of Education, and more than likely you've been promoted to a teacher without any further background and you gotta run this school. You've become the Principal of this school. So what happened was a number of Principals approached us, and said look, can't you develop a Principal's course that would enable us to understand how to deal with band councils, and difficult chiefs sometimes too? How would we do this? And so, what we did was we gathered together 13 Indigenous experts, primarily First Nations’ experts on what the role of a Principal in a reserve school would be. And then we joined, you'll forgive me Kent, we joined with the University of Toronto in a partnership and with these 13 experts and our own people, and we put together a Principals' course. We did this a number of years ago, and the fact is that it has been a massive success. It has been a massive success because we didn't decide we were going to take an off-reserve Principals’ course, but we said we're going to design a Principals’ course from the very beginning. And we're going to have it designed by the First Nations experts. And then when we had spent a year and a half doing the modules - cause it is all going to be done online - we then brought in 20 expert Principals from across the country and we spent a year going through the course. And let me say to you, in terms of the richness that those Principals brought to this and in terms of the richness of the course, now in the province of Manitoba they're now asking if the course could be taught in the public schools. But what the essence of this is that this is not a course that we produced. This is a course that was produced by First Nations’ educators. And the important thing to understand is the difference that they brought to it. And they also brought the Aboriginal world view into place. And the Aboriginal world view and the deep richness in the way in which they look at the world, the way in which their students want to look at the world, is something that we as Canadians…it is impossible for me to understand how we've done it but I'm certainly at fault. How we have failed to understand that living with us are a people who have a philosophy and the worldview that goes back to the beginning of time. It has a perception that we now recognize in terms of the environment that let me tell you, goes far beyond that, and it shows up in this Principals' course.

And the other course that I would talk to you about is our literacy course. Fact is, that about 20 years ago in the province of Ontario, they had the worst literacy rates of any jurisdiction in North America. So what Ontario decided to do was to put together a literacy course that would essentially enable them to work on this issue, and they took their 100 worst grade schools, because if you can't read or write by grade 3, the odds are very great that you're never going to graduate from high school. So what they did, they took their 100 worst schools and they put a massive amount of money, a massive amount of expertise into a course that would essentially allow them to elevate the literacy capacity of their schools. Fine. And it worked. So about 5 or 6 years ago, 6 or 7 years ago, I went to the then Minister of Education in Ontario, now Premier, and asked if I could have the program. She gave it to me and then I asked if we could hire the people who put it into place? We hired two of them. And we took this into two on-reserve schools in southwestern Ontario. The purpose of it was to adapt it, to take this Ontario course, this public course, but to adapt it to the needs of the two First Nations which were Ojibwa Nations. Now let me just say that, to show you what can happen, is that in the province of Ontario they have a standard - now Nova Scotia I'm sure is the same, Minister, there is a, let’s say this is the standard - that you have to be able to reach by the end of grade 3, according to the Ontario standard. Seventy percent of Ontarians have achieved that standard. The average in Ontario on-reserve is somewhere between 5 and 13% can read. In the two schools into which we went, they were 13%. It is a four year course and then we monitor it for two years after that. So let me just say, Ontario is here at 70%, the average for Ontario, and our two schools were at 13%. We took this course and at the end of 5 years, 1 year after the course, at both schools they are reading and writing at a percentage of 81%. But what really, I guess, hit me when we did this, is that the Chief of one of the two schools at the time that these results were announced - we were at a meeting hall much like this, where they came in, the Dean of the Faculty of Education at the University of Toronto who did the evaluation then came in and said out those numbers - and the chief asked in the middle of this if he could take the podium. And he stood up and he looked at the audience and the tears pouring - this was a big tough guy - the tears were pouring down his face and he looked out at the audience and he said, “you know you people think that my kids can't do it but let me tell you, you give us the tools and we'll beat every single one of you.” And I've gotta tell you, I have never felt so good about being a Canadian.

Now, there is a reason I'm talking to you about that course and with the language that I did. Kent in his introduction talked about the G20. Every year since I stepped down from government - that's a euphemism for losing the election - every year since the G20 has been elevated to the leaders' level, I have been asked to go to the host country who have set up pre-meetings, usually about 6 months to a year before they are going to host the summit. I was in China last year and I was just in Germany. Germany is going to hold the next G20 summit. And basically what I do is talk about exciting things like derivatives and you know, austerity, and the kind of things that makes finance ministers happy. But normally what happens is I end up speaking at a university. And so in Berlin, I spoke at one of the major universities that night. And I spoke to them along with number two in the German Central Bank and we talked about economic matters and we talked about how the global economy looked and this kind of thing. But this was very clear and this was at the time when German Chancellor Angela Merkel had already announced that they were going to take as many refugees as they possibly could, but she was in deep political difficulty as a result of it. And so the questions from the students had nothing to do with the decimal points, or how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. The questions were all about what were refugees going to do to our country? Should we accept these refugees? What kind of a country are we going to have if we bring all these people in? And it was really not a very pleasant discussion in terms of the future of Germany. And then one student, a German student, stood up and said “Mr. Martin, you seem to come from one of the very few countries in the world who was able to handle diversity. You come from one of the few countries in the world that have taken refugees in, have taken immigrants in. You've had no trouble. You haven't, basically, contextualized people. You haven't divided people off according to their beliefs. And you've been able to build a country that is actually stronger because of that diversity. And how do you do this?” This opened up a huge number of questions from all of the students. And they were saying: How do you do this? What is Canada about? It was an extraordinarily wonderful thing, if you were a Canadian speaking to them. And so I answered their questions and I explained to them why I thought we had succeeded in this area and then we got on to talking about the rest of Germany. And you see what is happening in the rest of Europe. You see what is happening in Europe as they are tearing themselves apart, as they are unable to handle this threat (they believe) to what is their own internal integrity. And we know what's happening south of the border. And so, when it was all over and I left, there was a group of 10 Canadians. There was about 500 students who were there but there was about 10 Canadians going to this university and they asked if they could meet with me separately in a room. So we did and the students were obviously chuffed, they were so pleased with the fact of what had happened. They were so pleased with the fact that the German students had recognized what we had done in Canada. And so I said to them, you think there was anything missing in the discussion? And I was very proud of them because one of them immediately said yes, our treatment of our First Peoples. How can we really be praised for our ability to be fair to everyone when we have so treated our First Peoples the way we have? And so, what made me feel very good about that, however, is I believe if I had had that discussion 20 years earlier, no Canadian would have ever pointed out the fact that we have made such a hash, such a tragic mess, of how we have treated the First Peoples of this land. So I got into a discussion with these students about what kind of a country we're going to build and it was overwhelming. Here were students, Canadian students studying economics at a major university in Berlin, and the subject that concerned them was fairness at home. The subject that concerned them was what kind of a nation we were going to build.

And that's why, when I talk to you about the education; when I talk about the course and how good I felt about the literacy course; when I talk to you about what it is like to have Principals who were First Nations really determine the future of their schools; and when I talk to you about how the First Nations can do business. I really believe that I am talking to the values of our country. And we're talking about the future of our country and we can get into this but let me tell you something. We talked about being the Minister of Finance. If anybody thinks in a country which has an aging population such as ours, that we are going to build a nation that is going to succeed, when we basically say to the youngest and the fastest growing segment of our population that they're not going to go to the same kind of good schools that we can go to, that they're not going to get the same kind of health care.

Let me give you just one last example. I'm going on too long, I hope Mr. MacEachen you're not listening. But let me just say to you, there is another course that we are in the process of looking at. The fact of the matter is we have got to build a country. We have to have a school system where young Aboriginal students don't have to constantly make up for the mistakes that have occurred before they went to school. The fact is that the most important years in a person's life are the last 3 months in his mother's pregnancy and the first 4 years of his life. Our brains do not, basically are not born fully formed. You learn more in the first 5 years of your life than you will in the rest of your life. And how we perform in the first 5 years of our life, will determine whether in fact we're going to succeed in our lives. And we know this and the science is out there. It is unequivocal. And we're starting slowly to put it into the schools. Well, let me simply tell you, that if we do not understand that the fact is that young First Nations, young Metis Nation, young Inuit kids, from the ages of 0 to 5 have got to be given the same chance that every other child has to succeed - that we will never make it.

And so as I now finally do, put the podium down and turn it over to the panel who are going to talk. I believe in this country with every fibre of my being. I believe there is no country that can touch us. I believe that as the rest of the world goes through what is going to be a very difficult time, over the course of the next 4-5 years, as nativism, as nationalism – inward-looking, blind nationalism - takes over so many countries in Europe, and maybe our great neighbour to the south, I believe there is going to be an opportunity for Canada to speak for itself and to speak for the rest of the world in a voice we have never heard. We will only do that however, if it is very clear that we live up to our values. And that is what we are talking about tonight.

Thank you.


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