TORONTO ‑ An important milestone in
Indigenous post-secondary education was celebrated Sept. 26 in Toronto in the
lead up to the 2018 National Orange Shirt Day, which recognizes the legacy of
Residential Schools with the slogan ‘Every Child Matters.’
“It is exciting to be part of such a
diverse group of experts determined to build a brighter future for students,
graduates and employers in Indigenous communities, Ontario and Canada,” Laurie
Robinson, executive director and chairwoman of the Indigenous Advanced
Education and Skills Council (IAESC) said during opening remarks.
Robinson was speaking at IAESC’s to
representatives of Indigenous Institutes, Province of Ontario, Colleges
Ontario, Ontario Council on Articulation and Transfer, Council of Ontario
Universities, Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities and special
Being unveiled was the organization
review and application process, the first step in IAESC’s quality assurance for
Indigenous Institutes to receive approval to grant post-secondary certificates,
diplomas and degrees. Standards are set out by the Council’s quality assurance board and approved by the Council, which has a memorandum of understanding with
the World Indigenous Nations Higher Education Consortium to use its review methodology.
IAESC was created through legislation
last year to make Indigenous Institutes an official pillar in the province’s
post-secondary education and training landscape to help students across Ontario
better prepare for their careers and employment.
MPP David Piccini, Parliamentary
Assistant to the Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities recognized the
importance of the initiative.
“Today is an important step towards
creating distinct pathways for Indigenous students in earning a diploma,
certificate or degree from an Indigenous post-secondary education institution
that reflects Indigenous knowledge, culture and language,” Piccini said.
“I have no doubt in my mind that as you
continue down this path you will empower more Indigenous learners to reach their
potential … something that will not only benefit them, but also their families,
their communities and our province.”
Institutes Act, which received Royal Assent Dec. 14, 2017, acknowledges the
United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which Canada
became a signatory to in 2016. It gives recognition to the right for Indigenous
people to control their education systems and provide education in their own
“It was a timely and momentous signal
to educators, administrators and leaders that tangible partnerships are within
reach … if you’re willing to answer when opportunity knocks,” Robinson said,
adding there are more challenges ahead.
“How can new curriculum, including
language programs unique to each nation and community, be developed? Who will
facilitate this development? And are there additional or alternative resources?”
she said, noting how vital it is to tap into the human resources of language
and culture holders in the communities.
Robinson made reference to how they can
find motivation in the knowledge that the opportunities they are working to
create were not available to generations lost to Residential School system.
“We must find the answers to the
questions we have… we must do it for the kids of today and tomorrow, and to
honour those who had a different experience but deserved a bright future too.
It is on their shoulders where we stand today. It’s for them we must forge
ahead regardless of the hurdles before us.”
Ann Wykes, a graduate of Seven Generations Education Institute and now an employee, shared her 2017 valedictorian address to open the proceedings. Wykes commented afterward about the value she places on being able to get her education at a community-based post-secondary school.
"I think this is very important. We need to be
able to provide education to all people in all places, including remote places,
and being able to have the hard work they put into their education mean just as
much as any other student at any other educational institute," she said.
"I love that there’s a chance that my children
will be able to go to the same school that I went to and they will walk out
with a diploma that will say Seven Generations Institute and not another sister
college, as great as those colleges may be, Seven Generations is in our
community and it just means a little bit more."