Dr. Jeff Orr



15 November 2016

Thank you very much Jim. And it is an honour to be here with you Mr. Martin and to think of the great work you did as Prime Minister and the great work you're continuing to do with your Foundation which I think is a shining example of living reconciliation. It is important to celebrate that the future of Nova Scotia, I believe, in relation to Indigenous education, hasn't really been this positive in about 500 years. Why do I say this? I say this because I think the constellation of the TRC Calls to Action, I think there is very much new energy in political circles both federally and provincially here in Nova Scotia to support reconciliation. I think there is a deepened interest in public school leadership circles and in Atlantic universities to take up the TRC’s Calls to Action. The Atlantic university presidents have an interest but most importantly, there is strong leadership in Mi'kmaw communities, the Chiefs, and Mi'kmaw Kina'matnewey which is the education authority representing 12 of the 13 First Nations communities in Nova Scotia. All of these forces, aspects of leadership are leading towards a new partnership for reconciliation. I just want to mention a few things tonight that are going on in this province, some of which have been going on for a while, that I think resonate with the work that you're doing, Mr. Martin.

First of all, to recognize that the province is making some advances in relation to investing in Aboriginal education. The provincial government has established a small modest research fund to seek to better understand through research informed ways on how to redress the achievement gap that is being experienced at this moment by Mi'kmaw students, Africa-Nova Scotian students, and families with children living in poverty. Here at St. F. X. there are four such funded projects addressing this and overall, ten in the province. Mi'kmaw Kina'matnewey alongside the provincial Department of Education and Early Childhood Development and St. F. X. have developed a new Treaty Education Curriculum Framework for provincial and band-operated schools. That is possible because of the leadership and relationship between the Premier of the province who signed an M.O.U. with the 13 First Nations communities. This framework is going to help address the ignorance that still exists in public school curriculum in relation to who are the Mi'kmaw historically and today? What are the treaties and why are they important? What has happened to the treaty relationship in Nova Scotia? And, what are we doing to reconcile our shared history to ensure justice and equity? The M.O.U. that was signed between the Chiefs and the Premier committed the partners to work on insuring that those four questions are taken up in every grade and every classroom from primary to 12 in Nova Scotia. We have a lot of work to do to prepare teachers to take that up, but there is a strong effort being made and the framework is there.

I want to now turn to the state of Mi'kmaw Kina'matnewey which has been, I think, a shining example of a collective consciousness and leadership across 12 of the 13 First Nations communities led by the Chiefs of this province. Overall, the state of band-operated education in Nova Scotia is better every year. There is now capacity in the system - the Mi'kmaw system - to insure a good balance of highly-skilled Mi'kmaw educators working along side a group of non-Indigenous educators. Today in any band-operated school across Nova Scotia, Mi'kmaw students can find strong Mi'kmaw role models from their communities. Twenty years ago, janitors were usually the people that were there from the Mi'kmaw community. That has changed. Eskasoni has built the capacity to staff an entire elementary school with fluent, credentialed Mi'kmaw speakers so that every word that's spoken and written there is in Mi'kmaw. This was possible because of capacity-building which meant that two Mi'kmaw educators in Eskasoni, supported by a team of researchers here at St. F. X., analyzed data which concluded that Mi'kmaw children who study for the first three years in their first language of Mi'kmaw actually out-perform students who studied entirely in English, in English literacy, by grade 5. As well, those students also have a strong sense of Mi'kmaw identity and language fluency. Our comparative case study that we did here, research has also confirmed, that Mi'kmaw students who attended a band-operated secondary school in this province, reported feeling a greater sense of cultural safety and felt more supported in their identity than did Mi'kmaw students attending a comparative provincial secondary school. We also know that for schools under the Mi'kmaw education authority, high school graduation rates among Mi'kmaw students in Nova Scotia have peaked in 2014-15 at 89.6%. This graduation rate is more than double the graduation rate of most Indigenous students experiencing education across the country. More than 500 Mi'kmaw students are enrolled in post-secondary education in Nova Scotia which is up 25% since 2011-12. More than 80 students successfully graduate from post-secondary education annually in Nova Scotia.

The reasons for this success, I would suggest, are related to several interrelated factors. The first of these, I believe, is that Mi'kmaw students attending band-operated schools are most certainly going to be taught at some time in their career by Mi'kmaw educators in some or most of their schooling. And they know that they can have their ancestral language and home culture taught by these teachers and embraced by the school. Whereas Mi'kmaw students attending provincial schools are currently more likely to have limited opportunities to understand Aboriginal knowledge, culture, and issues. This capacity is successful because of two universities: Cape Breton University has developed programs that affirm and teach Mi'kmaw language, law, knowledge, ethno-botany and history and now started a small B.Ed. program. And St. F. X., which attracts a small group of Mi'kmaw students who specialize in Indigenous knowledge in anthropology, usually after they meet Jane, and has graduated a huge number - more than 130 to date B.Ed. Mi'kmaw students have graduated from St. F. X.

You see, education is about building people's capacity. Mi'kmaw Kina'matnewey provides a level of intermediary services. Mr. Martin, you talked about the Principals in Northern Saskatchewan that didn't have a school board. MK decided a long time ago that the best way was to both preserve the local autonomy of communities but also work collectively to ensure that what are called intermediary services are available that support teachers so that matters of direct concern to Mi'kmaw communities - such as Mi'kmaw language pedagogy and culturally responsive mathematics and early childhood pedagogy - are supported. Teachers are supported to develop that. Furthermore, MK has developed the leadership capacity of Mi'kmaw educators who are serving in these intermediary service leaders roles and as school administrators. They didn't take your program Mr. Martin. They came to St. F. X., usually to do their M.A. in leadership. But more than 30 Mi'kmaw have graduated in leadership graduate studies at St. F. X. and some at other universities in the area. And there are currently 20 additional Mi'kmaw educators enrolled in M.Ed. work here at graduate leadership in Indigenous pedagogy. Thus, MK has the leadership capacity to support school programming excellence both at the intermediary services and the principalship. And lastly, MK has built a strong community-based governance model that is rooted in accountability at the community level while also building a collective leadership which speaks and acts with unity on issues of common importance for 12 of the 13 communities.

Mr. Martin, your Foundation has done some tremendous work. We are particularly interested in the work that you're doing in literacy, all of your work but the work that you have supported in partnership in literacy. It has been an amazing project. We have been following it and it is really significant. But maybe it is time to look at this sort of work in other areas of academic programming that are important for Indigenous communities and the one that I wanted to end with here, I want to mention treaty education too, but the other thing I really wanted to mention was Indigenous math and my colleague here, Lisa Lunney-Borden, who has been doing work in this area, she's developed programs related to 'show me your math' which is essentially showing students that mathematics can be fun and it can be culturally relevant and we know that if we like math, we're going to end up being better in it. If we don't like math, we're likely not going to do it, and she'd done a lot work related to that. Her doctoral work - which is rooted in her work in We'koqma'q First Nation, it was conceived there, essentially, as transforming mathematics education for Mi'kmaw students – has gone a significant way to developing Indigenous ways of doing mathematics. So Lisa's model focuses on pedagogical approaches that emerged from deep understanding of the Mi'kmaw worldview but primarily drawing upon Mi'kmaw language and values. She developed pedagogical strategies around ‘verbafying’ and ‘spacealising’ curriculum that she argues are good for all students but essentially for supporting Aboriginal students, integrating both these pedagogical approaches in the cultural context of 'show me your math,' in the context of MK schools, where an understanding of decolonizing education is already in place. And her goal is to work with two or three schools in a fashion similar to what you've talked about Mr. Martin with literacy, to deepen teachers understanding of these rich mathematics education practices. We believe that building a deepened sense of quantities reasoning - which is at the heart of mathematics - is a significant and important way forward for decolonizing and advancing Mi'kmaw education.

So what does all this mean for the future? What lies ahead? What's in need of development and what should we be doing about it? Currently, as a proportion of overall graduate students at St. F. X., there are more Mi’kmaw students pursuing research-based degrees in education than the wider Nova Scotian population right now. We have more Mi’kmaw students doing thesis-based work. What we're hoping is that a number of these Mi’kmaw scholars will pursue doctoral work and come back and populate this university and other universities across this country. Secondly, we think more research needs to be done to solidify our understanding of Mi'kmaw cultural-based mathematics pedagogy and to analyze the impact of this upon student achievement in mathematics. Thirdly, treaty education. Both PJ and Jane have talked about the treaties and Indigenous rights. Treaty education, I think, has a great potential to transform how the wider Nova Scotia society understands and respects its place in supporting reconciliation. And I would argue that without doing a good job of this in our schools, it is going to be a deferred success. There needs to be more money spent by the Department of Education & Culture in Halifax to ensure that this treaty education is implemented properly so that the next generation of adults who are entering the wider world beyond schools are aware and are committed to reconciliation.

Those are my words tonight. Thank you very much.


Political Science Department

4th Floor Mulroney Hall
2333 Notre Dame Avenue
Antigonish NS B2G 2W5