A letter to the editor of the Montreal newspaper Le Devoir has triggered an uproar in Mistissini. Published in early April, it bashed the system that schools the kids of Eeyou Istchee, and in particular the community of Mistissini. The surprising part is that it was the Mistissini School’s Principal, Alain Bellemare, who wrote it.

I’ll go out on a limb here and say that the negative reaction is due to the fact he is white. It also might have caused a gut reaction because there is truth to it.

Bellemare’s letter reads: “The majority of young native people attending ‘reserved schools’ in the North of Quebec, Cree, Inuit, Algonquin, Innu, and the Naskapi’s, currently fail under inadequate educational systems imposed by the Canadian and Quebec rules and regulations. In concert, these two levels of government seem to have linked their efforts to limit the educational success of these new generations of Native children whose growth rate has largely exceeded that of their fellow-citizens.”

It’s common knowledge that our school systems are not as strong academically as our non-native counterparts’. Just ask the kids who graduate from them what a shock it is to try and keep up in college.

Case in point: the high school I attended, the Kahnawake Survival School, was set up so we could survive as a people and still learn the ways of the rest of the world. Well let me tell you, if I was transferred to a non-native school at any time I would have failed. Not because I wasn’t a smart guy but because I would have been ill-prepared based on what I learned there.

I knew I wasn’t learning what I needed to prepare for college.

Some kids didn’t receive French-language instruction and learned some irrelevant and obscure subject instead because those were the wishes of their parents.

Certain people up north feel that their kids can always fall back on the hunt if they aren’t good in school. I’d say that as much as we don’t like to admit it, the ways of our ancestors are disappearing and one of the best ways to fight for our rights is through the school systems.

There are many reasons why kids in Eeyou Istchee and in other reserves across Canada don’t attend school on a regular basis or don’t excel when they do. Some come from bad situations at home and cannot concentrate on schooling when they’re concentrating on avoiding physical abuse.

These are also things we must address – and fast. Parents need to take more of a proactive role in ensuring their kids are at school every day and that they get the help they need with their homework at night.

The letter went on to say: “In spite of the fact that these dreadful and discriminatory situations for our Native children are occasionally denounced as well by Native leaders as by some non-native administrators and educators, Quebec and Ottawa seem to get along for once on a common approach in regards to Indian education that I would qualify as the conspiracy of silence.”

Good point. The trouble in Eeyou Istchee with its high drop-out rates and an overall lackadaisical attitude towards school starts at the top. Maybe it’s time the leaders take an approach that is more relevant to the reality of the north when examining the reasons why the curriculum is not up to par, and why the kids don’t seem to care.