‘Representation is critical,’ experts say in bid for more Indigenous teachers

The Winnipeg Indigenous Executive Circle (WIEC) says, according to 2021-2022 data, Winnipeg schools need almost 1,500 more Indigenous teachers to keep up with the 19.1 per cent of Indigenous students.

These numbers come from WIEC’s third annual State of Equity in Education Report, which adds that out of 54 school board trustees, only eight self-identify as Indigenous. However, Heather McCormick, chair of education and training with WIEC said this is an uptick from two in 2020.

She says these gaps must be filled.

“Representation is critical for Indigenous youth or people of colour. If our stories and our representatives from our community aren’t being seen in (educational) spaces, then children aren’t going to think (teaching) is something that they can do,” she said.

A factor contributing to the shortage of Indigenous educators is that there aren’t many in the first place, she said. “University of Manitoba and University of Winnipeg graduate about 35 Indigenous teachers a year,” she said. “We’re still far behind the non-Indigenous community as far as achievement in graduation rates at university.”

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To help, incentivizing education programs for Indigenous students with a living allowance and paid-for tuition could be a strategy, McCormick said.

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“One of our conversations that we’re having with our stakeholders is to provide funding for the students so that they don’t have to worry about living allowance or paying their rent or food security. They can focus directly on their education and our organization can help with the wraparound services,” she said.

While it wouldn’t provide an immediate solution, she said it’s certainly a step.

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“We really feel that having community-based pathways, community-focused pathways run by Indigenous organizations is one of the key ways to increase the number of Indigenous teachers,” McCormick said.

Building on calls to action released in two previous reports, the chair said there are two new recommendations.

“We’re suggesting that the provincial government enact legislation to address education based on issues involving school board governance,” she said. This would include financing elections for school boards, and having school boards do independent reviews of their ward boundaries.

In the past, the WIEC requested boards to move to one ward with one trustee to govern it to help increase Indigenous representation, McCormick said.

Previously, McCormick said the province carried out a couple of WIEC’s calls to action, including implementing equity-based reports, data collection, and certain public school policies.

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It also agreed to publish self-identification and teacher survey data every three years.

McCormick said the second newest call to action is to form an Indigenous trustee caucus. That way, she said, Indigenous trustees can “get together as a collective to discuss issues, talk about priorities and pathways of moving forward with some of the calls to action we’re looking at.”

“It’s important for Indigenous people to be able to gather, share, (and) learn from one another. Often in these spaces, Indigenous people are sort of off on their own, and don’t necessarily always have that level of support, understanding, and conversation,” she said.

Click to play video: 'New Indigenous resource for schools'

New Indigenous resource for schools

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