Thu. Aug 18th, 2022

The University of Ottawa’s Faculty of Social Sciences (FSS) hosted a seminar on October 5 on the subject of the Kitigan Zibi School. Photo: Algonquin Anishinabeg Nation Tribal Council / Delivered

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The seminar is most recent in the series on indigenization and decolonization of knowledge

The University of Ottawa’s Faculty of Social Sciences (FSS) hosted a seminar on October 5 on the subject of the Kitigan Zibi School, an autonomous school operating under an independent native education system. The speech was the final section in a new series of seminars on various aspects of indigenization and decolonization of knowledge.

The seminar featured Anishinaabe Algonquin’s guest speakers Anita Tenasco and Jenny Tenasco from Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg First Nation, located two hours north of Ottawa. Anita Tenasco has served her community in a myriad of roles for 26 years. Today, she is the education director of Kitigan Zibi. Her mother and co-panelist, Jenny Tenasco, is an advocate for the Kitigan Zibi School, where she leads workshops and shares her experiences as a survivor at a school.

The couple joined the FSS to teach students at the University of Ottawa about the challenges of administering an autonomous native education system.

Recovers the classroom

The Kitigan Zibi School was established in 1980 to provide a holistic First Nations education to students in the Kitigan Zibi Territory and beyond. Thirty years later, however, native educators like Tenasco are still struggling to assimilate their schools into the provincial models.

“We have been lobbying with the federal government for years, we have been protesting on Parliament Hill, and there has been very little understanding of how our schools operate on reserves in our communities. Because there is a constant comparison with the provincial schools. And there has been this pressure from the federal government that our school here in Kitigan Zibi – and all First Nations schools – should fit into the model of the provincial school system, ”said Anita Tenasco.

“It has not worked for us, it has never done… It has not been a success. The provincial model has not given us many candidates. ”

Since 1985, students with high school diplomas from the school in Kitigan Zibi have received bachelor’s, master’s and PhDs. degrees in both Canada and the United States. Despite demonstrable evidence of the quality of education received by students, the province of Quebec still does not accept diplomas from Kitigan Zibi School as proof of high school diploma.

Now the school faces a new threat; the federal government is pressuring First Nations communities to participate in the regional education agreement in order to formalize and centralize the administration of indigenous education without regard to differences in language, culture or geography.

“This is very scary. I’m very worried about this. As this regional education agreement moves forward, I get the feeling that Indigenous Services Canada will wipe their hands off First Nations in terms of funding our schools, ”said Anita Tenasco.

Despite the forces working against their school and others like it, Tenascos have a firm belief in the importance of their work and are dedicated to protecting it.

“[Some of the students are] very surprised that they meet a living survivor at a school because they may not have one in the family and they think it happened a long time ago but we are still here, ”said Jenny Tenasco.

Jenny Tenasco talked about siblings being separated by fences between elementary school and high school in Kenora, Ont. that young people from Kitigan Zibi were forced to participate under the housing school system. It was only in the summers – for the lucky ones – that families were reunited. It is therefore important for Jenny that autonomous native education is able to maintain family ties.

“I am very proud of our school, where relatives see each other and we communicate, we have activities together outdoors, we gather and celebrate being Anishinabe.”

Against indigenization on campus

Catherine Dussault, a native curriculum specialist with FSS, hosted this event. She thinks it is important that the U of O hold events like this to work towards decolonization of the institution.

Indigenous people, they want to take back control of their education and also come to speak for themselves. So [we need] to create this opportunity for them to talk and talk about their issues on their own terms with their own protocols, ”Dussault said, referring to the prayer that Jenny Tenasco recited in Anishinaabemowin to open the seminar.

Dussault believes it is particularly important to create opportunities for students at U on O to hear from native voices outside the academic sphere.

“I think when we hear from people who actually do not have access to colonial institutions sometimes for various reasons because they are hostile to them … we can learn so much,” she said. “Sometimes we are a bit in a bubble within the institution. And it’s super important to open your eyes to these other realities. ”

If you want to hear more similar stories, join the FSS for the next seminar on the decolonization of museums, to be held on November 2nd.

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