Letter 1

First, I would like to encourage youths to write and express your concerns with your education in our communities. It is a healthy attitude to partake in your destiny especially something as important as education. As an elementary vice principal and a former high school teacher, I can understand the frustration you feel. That is why I felt the need to respond to your article which was very well written and it showed me that whoever you are, you did not lack the education you speak of in our community. I congratulate you on your accomplishments and hope you will use the knowledge you have acquired to aid others who have not had the opportunity to share in your education program.

I have been the elementary vice principal at the Voyageur Memorial School for three years and in that period of time, there has been notable changes in our school. It took a lot of planning by concerned community members to make these changes. Community members who sit on committees to bring forward a better schooling and environment for our youth. People who volunteer hours of planning; who overcome many obstacles to determine the outcome in favour of the betterment of the students.

There are 458 students from Pre-K to Grade 6 and 34 teachers on our elementary staff. In addition to this, there are two shadow educators, two classroom technicians, a full time French tutor, and an after school reading program for the English sector. All of this to improve the quality of our education for the students. In the new school year, we are implementing an accelerated reading program which is highly successful in MacLean’s Memorial School in Chibougamau. The school has always opened its tutoring program to parents and students who have requested tutoring.

Our school is a thriving school; always looking for new ways to improve and reach all students. In a time period of one week at least 50% of the teachers will visit the office to show me something they are working on to improve the reading and/or other subjects in their class. When I visit classrooms, I see displays of student work and/or bulletin boards with stars or other methods used to encourage students to work harder in class. Most all teachers teach with their doors open and I am able to peek in to greet the students and the teachers. The atmosphere in our school is pleasant and harmonious. Our new library and computer room is scheduled to a classroom of contented and happy students.

In a very short time, the Grade 6 students will leave to attend their first year of high school. Our teachers and staff are encouraged to prepare them for this transition. We will miss them and hope we will see them from time to time.

Our teachers give the students their best. It is not always easy to do so. The vicious circle of placing the blame from one to another does not solve the problem. Each of us must take an active part in the education of the students. Parents, teachers, administrators, support staff are all part of the learning process of the student. Our system will break down when one of these persons is not actively involved.

This is not intended to give the impression that we have all the answers but rather to agree with your article that we need to try every possible solution to help every student to be a successful in our school. In the number of years that I have been in education, I have observed a drastic change in the behaviour of our students. Outside influences that were not present not so long ago now play a major role in the attitude from students who display aggressive behaviour in our schools. This a major issue in all schools and one that our school tries to control each day. This is an area where we must work together to promote a better environment for students, teachers, administrators and parents.

Taking responsibility is a task we must all accept.

It has been the greatest privilege of my life to work with the youth in our community. Each child is different and each child is a loving individual. Children thrive on love and care. The learning comes from teachers who see their professions as an opportunity to guide, care and build confidence in students who will carry these early teachings into their adult life. As the role of vice principal of Voyageur Memorial School, I have learned much from teachers and students. I have learnt that the function of a good school comes from all those who work together in our school.

Dorothy Nicholls

Letter 2

This letter was prepared on March 11th, 2003, in anticipation of critical response to its predecessor, “Encouraging Self Sufficiency By Way of Meaningful Self-Governance” which was featured in the Letters section of the Nation, March 7th, 2003.

Some Notes of Clarification

A select group of “teachers” in Mistissini have seemingly taken offence to my previous letter, which briefly brought to light some of their occasionally unscrupulous doings. As I understand it, a group of teachers approached one of Mistissini’s councillors at their home and expressed their outrage, early Tuesday morning.

I am told they are reproducing the letter and distributing it among the staff at both schools. It is probable that particular teachers in Mistissini would have you believe that my statements are entirely specious and aimed at driving a wedge between the Cree and Quebec. More specifically, these rogue “teachers” may seek to demonstrate to the Cree that this author maintains prejudiced opinions concerning French-Canadians. This is not the case. Let us now briefly examine the history of Quebec when dealing with its indigenous peoples; residential schools, James Bay (JBNQA), Restigouche, Oka, enough said. There is a distinct difference between cultural intolerance and political realism; that is, sociological objectivity. Have you ever tried getting English language service in Roberval? Have you ever tried getting Cree language service anywhere but in Cree territory? What need is there to drive a wedge into a rift that is kilometres wide to begin with? To what avail are personal, cultural or otherwise racial hatreds? I have no use for such fruitless endeavours.

My letter to the Nation was not intended as an arbitrary personal affront to all Québécois teachers in Mistissini. Rather, it contained situational generalizations that pertain specifically to Mistissini and, to some degree, to many Indigenous communities throughout North America. The paragraph in question (3rd) was meant simply to help illustrate the disparate condition of the high school in Mistissini. I, indeed, had unfairly neglected to point out that teachers who are perceived as being foreign to Mistissini are routinely harassed and even terrorized by Cree students when they attempt to properly discipline youth who are behaving inappropriately in class. I forgot to mention that many Cree high school students can be found wandering the halls in droves during class-time, or are forever going outside for “smoke-breaks.”

I forgot to mention that chronic absenteeism is an all too prevalent obstacle that Mistissini’s teaching professionals face on a daily basis. I failed to point out that the high school staff and administration often have to deal with kids drinking and using drugs during school hours. I callously excluded the cold hard truth that disciplining students at the high-school becomes, in too many cases, almost impossible due to the nearly complete lack of parental involvement concerning children’s educations in Mistissini. I honestly forgot to mention that the Cree peoples’ own, all too prevalent, doctrinal practice of auto-societal indifference is as much to blame for our education-related woes as our provincial legislators and ministries, who are simply not aware of or are otherwise indifferent to the problems facing our teaching professionals and students alike. As such, who could blame some of our teachers for being disenfranchised, disappointed or otherwise jaded?

For these oversights, I must now earnestly apologize. I am sorry.

The letter, no matter how I phrased it, was going to be quite lengthy. That is why this author hastily overlooked the above-mentioned considerations while composing the second paragraph of the letter, – “Cree students are indifferent to their own educations…” Perhaps I would have been more clearly understood if, after I stated, “In Mistissini, Cree students face (some) prejudiced, arbitrarily confrontational teachers on a daily basis…”

I had gone on to write, “…but happily they’re all off on paid leave, and are being replaced with industrious, local, substitute teachers to complement the more reliable members of the permanent teaching staff.”

In My View

The knowledge and skills that children and youth should be receiving while they attend elementary and high school should not be treated like a national secret. It is not to be doled out one tiny bit at a time or otherwise merely alluded to and then systematically tested, in accordance to Pavlovian theory; that is, with multiple-guess questions on pop-quizzes and subsequent periodical examinations. This method is suited, really, for only a small percentage of the population down south. Why, then, do we attempt to categorically apply this inherently foreign system of education to Cree students up north?

Rather, knowledge should be freely and openly dispersed to all, as individually as possible. Literacy in all three languages, Cree, English and French should be the primary focus of our elementary schools, along with a working knowledge of relatively complex mathematical operations. By the high-school level, Cree students should be exposed to the same vocations that students in the south have access to, while they are also given the opportunity to begin studying sciences, arts, philosophies and history at a reasonably advanced level. The Cree are obligated to meet certain curricular criteria, as defined by the MEQ; why, though, do we not meet these criteria, while simultaneously exceeding Quebec’s expectations?

I advocate Indigenous Provincialism partially so that Cree students who are educated in Mistissini are not as easily overwhelmed by the curricula and standards they encounter upon entrance into post-secondary programs in the south. I believe the Cree should have a province so that we, as a people, become the masters of our own collective destiny by exerting real control over our children’s educations. Moreover, confederation provides the Cree and Inuit of northern Quebec with a wonderful opportunity to implement True Democracy, and demonstrate to the rest of Canada and the World how a Truly Democratic, egalitarian, socialist/capitalist (anarchist) society is not just a pipe dream and may very well flourish. Yes, this probably means assenting to taxation within our provincial borders and possibly federally too. But it also means unreserved control of our own territory; that is, control of our natural resources. It means government jobs aplenty. It means accountable and responsible, “home-grown” provincial leadership. And finally, it means a prosperous future for the Cree and further assurance of a united Canada.

While Quebec’s ministers dutifully inundate Parliament with outrageous ultimatums and preposterous threats, let the Cree and Inuit of Northern Quebec present Canada with reasoned, workable solutions that promote Canadian unity while also further empowering Canada’s indigenous peoples; once again bringing the struggle of North America’s indigenous peoples for acknowledgement and cultural restitution into the limelight.

Lucas Aaron Wootton