The Dene Nation has released a first look at its vision for what it terms a “Dene-centred” education system in the Northwest Territories.
In a news release on Tuesday, the Dene Nation shared a mission statement, vision, and set of priorities developed during last July’s education summit. Indigenous leaders, educators, Elders, youth, and others gathered online for four days at the time to discuss how Indigenous education in the territory should look.
Dene leaders adopted the resulting vision at an April 2021 assembly in Inuvik.
“Reclaiming education for the Dene is one of our most significant priorities for the Dene Nation,” National Chief Norman Yakeleya stated in Tuesday’s news release.
“It is one way for us to preserve our culture from one generation to the next and to ensure that our children are brought into our histories, our traditions, and our knowledge.”
The NWT’s education system has come under consistent scrutiny for its failure of Indigenous children.
Data from the NWT Bureau of Statistics collected between 2007 and 2017 showed Indigenous students were far less likely to graduate than non-Indigenous students.
Meanwhile, a report from the Auditor General of Canada in 2020 found the NWT government was struggling to provide equitable education for students in more remote communities. The auditor general concluded the education department was so slow to improve Indigenous language and culture programming that there could be long-lasting impacts to those languages’ survival.
The Dene Nation’s vision rests on merging Indigenous and western education systems so Dene culture, languages, and knowledges are given more space in the school curriculum, alongside on-the-land learning.
Jane Arychuk – the Dene Nation’s director of education and a former president of Aurora College – said the Nation planned to “work with partners to reframe the education system in the Northwest Territories, to respect, acknowledge, and embrace the history, culture, and unique ways of knowing and being of the Dene.”
Seven priorities are listed. They include hiring more Dene educators and administrators and providing adequate mental wellness supports for students and communities.
The Dene Nation said it is now developing an action plan and an education committee comprising Dene chiefs. The next step will involve seeking federal funding to get the action plan off the ground.