Criticizing the state of education in NWT Dene communities, the Dene Nation now plans to hold its own education summit for the first time.
Echoing flaws recently found by the Auditor General of Canada, the Dene Nation on Wednesday said it would bring leaders together to create a “shared vision for Indigenous education in the Northwest Territories.”
The announcement represents the latest in a series of attempts by the Dene Nation to ramp up its involvement in public policy.
Since his election in August 2018, Dene National Chief Norman Yakeleya has increasingly sought to position his organization as a catalyst for change in areas where the territory is experiencing forms of crises.
Yakeleya previously outlined plans to take control of housing in Dene communities and, days before this latest announcement, declared a water summit would be held in October following concerns about the impact of Alberta oilsands projects on northern water.
The Dene Nation said its education summit would take place on March 17 and 18, hosted by the K’atl’odeeche First Nation. The summit is expected to include discussion of “Indigenous governance and Dene jurisdiction of education moving forward.”
The outcome of the summit, the Dene Nation stated, is to be a document intended to help guide education planning and programming. Yakeleya said that document would “set the stage” for the way in which the Dene Nation works with the territorial government on Indigenous education.
Like both the auditor general and a recent, internal NWT government review of education, the Dene Nation focused on a lack of equitable access to education – meaning students in smaller communities fall behind in development indicators while commitments to support their teachers and principals are not met.
“Many schools in the North struggle with basic resources and students are required to upgrade after graduation to meet post-secondary requirements,” the Dene Nation stated, requesting more training, mental health supports, and cultural and language education.
The auditor general this month said Indigenous language and cultural education had been slow to improve in the NWT. The territory says a mandatory curriculum is coming and pilot programs to increase the number of instructors would be adjusted “as necessary.”
“The need for swift action in this area is increasingly critical because knowledge of Indigenous languages is declining,” said Glenn Wheeler, who led the audit.
It’s a critical time for the Dene people, Yakeleya stated.
“More than ever, we are working toward securing a strong foundation for our youth and future generations as we continue to establish cultural and language-based education programs,” he wrote.
The summit is open to all members of the Dene Nation.