Opinion

Open letter: Against the Aurora College funding cuts

2011_10_23-Culture-camp_Meagan-Wohlberg
Dene Elder Francois Paulette (left) shares stories with Teacher Education Program students at Aurora College's annual Thebacha Campus culture camp. Credit: Meagan Wohlberg

My name is Jamesie Fournier. As an employee of the GNWT, a high school teacher, and a student of decolonial education, the recent decision to terminate the Bachelors of Education and Social Work from Aurora College has left me aghast.

Fortunately, I am not at a loss for words, and for that I have the Bachelor of Education’s Teacher Education Program to thank.

With the abolition of the Education and Social Work programs, students and communities are left at the behest of southern ideals opposed to our own modes of cognition, education, and healing.

I am a recent graduate of the Bachelor of Education program and am grateful for the education that I received through Aurora College. They have empowered me as a Northern teacher with a culturally sensitive, locally-sourced education. This program enabled me to acquire an education in my home territory in a Northern community; an education which I now utilize to educate and support students in a culturally responsive manner. And now, this beautiful opportunity that was afforded to me and other Northern educators is no longer considered worthy enough to offer to future generations.

These programs have stood and supported Northern academia in the ability to train educators and social workers who are sensitive and responsive to the needs and issues specific to our Northern communities. With the abolition of the Education and Social Work programs, students and communities are left at the behest of southern ideals opposed to our own modes of cognition, education, and healing.

Sound familiar?

Historically, residential schools were designed to train Indigenous people as trades people under the prejudiced reasoning that trade work was the only thing Indigenous people were suited for. Residential trade schools such as Aurora College restructured from the Fort Smith Indian Residential School (opened 1955) to Arctic College’s Adult Vocational Training Centre (opened 1969). Aurora College, as an institution, has since evolved to offer programming that recognizes Northern Indigenous peoples as individuals to define, lead, and nurture education in our own home communities. However, the decision to cut the Teacher Education and Social Work Programs from Aurora College harkens back to that outdated, narrow understanding.

In 2015, to redress the legacy of residential schools and advance the process of Canadian reconciliation, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) made numerous calls to action regarding Indigenous peoples and education. 

Under the ‘Legacy’ section, the TRC’s writes:

11. We call upon the federal government to provide adequate funding to end the backlog of First Nations students seeking a post-secondary education.”

Cancelling post-secondary programs specifically geared towards Indigenous people with their own understanding of the idiosyncratic needs and responsibilities within their home communities runs contrary to this recommendation. This call, which is targeted toward the federal level, is an argument the territorial government could utilize to protect the Teacher Education Program, safeguard education, and seek out the necessary funds from the federal government.

As an institution of education in Northern communities, Aurora College has the duty to aid in the process of reconciliation rather than limit post-secondary options to industry demands in lieu of student interest.

Further, under the TRC’s section on Education and Reconciliation, the TRC also recommends a more specified action at the territorial level:

62. We call upon the federal, provincial, and territorial governments, in consultation and collaboration with Survivors, Aboriginal peoples, and educators, to:

II. Provide the necessary funding to post-secondary institutions to educate teachers on how to integrate Indigenous knowledge and teaching methods into classrooms.

Discontinuing post-secondary education programs, especially those directly involved in the training of Indigenous teachers with Indigenous content, runs antithetical to truth or reconciliation, let alone to any remote, superficial semblance of adherence to or observance of the TRC’s calls to action. As an institution of education in Northern communities, Aurora College has the duty to aid in the process of reconciliation rather than limit post-secondary options to industry demands in lieu of student interest. 

Taking away our ability to address issues on our own terms is short-sighted, ignorant, and usurious. Denying the opportunity for Northern students to learn in their home territory limits the capacity to produce our own frontline workers at a time when the demand for distinctly Northern and community-based social and Indigenous-led education is desperately needed.

But this isn’t a surprise. The writing has been on the wall — or, more aptly, on the land.

This is a turn away from academia. Focusing our students and future towards a labour defined workforce within petro-capitalist economies and environmentally exploitive fields is offensive. This tells our future generations that they should not think for themselves, and instead succumb to the pressures of industry and define their existence according to resource development; that the best they could hope for are careers as labourers for foreign interests whose sole purpose is to take from a land not theirs by subjugating the native population to serve their own economic, exorbitant needs.

Following a long and bloody history of resource development in the North, you would think we would have learned our lesson to not put faith in the indifferent boom-and-bust resource industry. Reducing post-secondary options defines both the GNWT’s and Aurora College’s position on educational development as indifferent towards student desire, and instead sympathetic to an industry only interested in what we have and not who we are. Here, the opportunity to heal, teach, and counsel ourselves against a history of cultural exploitation is being taken away from us, as educators and social workers are challenged in their limitations to educate in their own home communities. 

If our own post-secondary institutions no longer offer these programs that enable Northern educators to empower, enrich, and nurture community-based knowledge, then who will? Regardless, we will continue to support each other even if these institutions have decided we are no longer worth the effort.

I write this criticism not in spite of but in service to my employers. As a student of decolonial education, I was hired to call attention to and caution against practices unfair; practices responsible already for much pain and regret.◉

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