A meeting recently in early October between the Northern Quebec Teacher’s Association and the NQTA’s Native Committee helped to formulate seven recommendations that, if implemented, could change the educational reality of the way Aboriginal children are taught in the north -and produce better test results and more highly qualified graduates.

The NQTA is based in Eeyou Istchee and Nunavik and it boasts 1400 members, 2/3 of which are Aboriginal. From its early origins as a union for non-natives, the NQTA and its large percentage of Cree and Inuit, are just beginning to realize their clout and are using their relatively new power to affect change and make the educational reality of the north better for the generations to come.

NQTA President Patrick D’Astous says that one of the more important recommendations to come out of the meeting is recommendation number three. It brings into question the education levels of the Cree and Inuit students and suggests a possible survey as a means to gauge what needs to be done to preserve Native languages and attain an educational level that will enable kids to be successful in today’s society.

D’Astous says that recommendation number three is key to ‘light the way’ for his organization over the next three years by making sure the next step the Cree School Board takes towards bettering the education system in Eeyou Istchee is the right one.

“Not that we want to go against the government or the School Board,” D’Astous told the Nation. “We just want to go along with the population and our members that are telling us maybe there is a problem there.”“Some of our teachers from the south are not motivated at the secondary level; they have students in their class that are not at the level they should be. The teachers think ‘I’d like to do my best, but it is impossible in those conditions.’”

The current curriculum produces students who, even if they graduate, are often not ready for CEGEP and they must enroll in a program like Cree Pathways at John Abbott College. That program helps Cree students acclimatize to the city and encourages them to brush up for a full year on subjects where their grades are weak.

D’Astous said that the current method seems to be to take those kids who do not deserve to be in a certain grade and try to make them learn to the best of their abilities, a system, he says, that is set up to fail and should be ratified as soon as possible.

These recommendations will be brought to a meeting with the NQTA’s Executive Committee on October 22 and 23 2008.

In order to deliver lessons properly, teachers must also pull up their socks and take more training courses to raise their teaching level and hone their skills.

“Recommendation four is kind of at the heart of the system,” said D’Astous. “Are we committed to really give the training needed by those new Native teachers, who are the pioneers in northern Quebec? Or are we, meaning society, the governments and myself included, just closing our eyes and pinching our nose expecting things to move on in the best way?”“Are we taking the time to ask those teachers if they feel they were trained properly? This is at the heart of the current education problem up north. We must make our teachers as qualified as they need to be to teach our kids,” said D’Astous, who is married to a woman in Waswanipi. They have a four-year-old son who will soon be entering the education system.

Cree School Board Chairman Gordon Blackned agrees with D’Astous, saying that it was the CSB who brought up the idea years ago, but, he added, finding the money is the biggest problem.

“We’re stuck right now financially to begin a program that is going to be community-based,” said Blackned. “We were supposed to begin this fall, but we have to hold off on it until the next budget review in April,” Blackned said of the four-year course with McGill to upgrade the teacher’s skills.

Recommendation number two is another important step for Aboriginal teachers.

A complaint was filed with Human Rights last year because for years previous, Native teachers were not allowed to pay into the Quebec Pension Plan because they do not pay tax. A nominal supplemental fee was given to Native teachers during those years, but after years of negotiation and the threat of legal action, the Quebec government finally allowed Native teachers to pay into the fund last year.