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“It is vital to have more Indigenous voices in media and the public narrative in Ontario and, more broadly, in Canada. Without Indigenous voices informing and leading conversations there will always be a lack of understanding on public issues and shortcomings in the development of informed strategies to address those issues and build  solutions towards a better join future.”

Emerging Voices, 2019

A report released by Journalists For Human Rights on January 13 exposed crucial flaws in recruitment of Indigenous students to Canadian journalism and media post-secondary programs. The “Emerging Voices” report surveyed 147 engaged Indigenous students across Ontario who are reluctant to attend post-secondary institutions that offer journalism and media degrees, showing a disconnect between outreach and support coming from journalism schools. The report also interviewed 17 post-secondary institutions in Ontario that offer journalism or media degrees.

Universities and colleges making the effort to visit high schools in Indigenous communities made the most impact in recruitment, says Rebecca Lyon. Lyon is the lead researcher and writer of “Emerging Voices.” She says many of the students interviewed said they wanted to pursue further education at the schools that had representatives visit the students.

Lyon spent about a year developing the report to follow up on responses to the Truth and Reconciliation Committee’s call to action #86, which demanded that journalism and media schools across the country educate students on the history of Aboriginal peoples. Lyon’s report also addresses First Nations youth across Canada who are worried about attending university and who don’t have access to resources to fully discuss their options when they graduate high school. There has long been a gap in what students know of Indigenous history, due to lack of Indigenous-related content, such as the history of residential schools, in the current elementary and high school curriculum.

Outreach for journalism and media programs entail many different things. According to the report, out of the 17 Ontario post-secondary institutions, only one had been to an Indigenous community to recruit prospective students.. The report fails to mention any institution by name, so it’s a soft approach to pushing for greater action.

“If [journalism schools aren’t] looking at the reasons why Indigenous students aren’t leaving their communities, and then trying to find solutions to that like online education, then they’re really just paying lip service to the fact that they want to improve enrollment of Indigenous students,” says Duncan McCue, a Ryerson University visiting journalist. As outlined in the report, there are a multitude of reasons why Indigenous high school students think they would not want to attend a post-secondary institution outside of their community. Of 138 responses, nearly 30 percent stated a barrier was the institution being too far from home.

“Distance education could be huge,” Lyon says. Over the past year, she has travelled to various communities in Ontario—some in remote locations— speaking with Indigenous youths on potential reasons why they might not be considering university or college. When asked if it was important to attend a school that would allow the students to stay close to their home community, 54.1 percent of the respondents said yes.

“Emerging Voices” also reported [that] teachers in First Nations secondary schools stress the importance of universities and colleges visiting. It’s a way to gain familiarity between the students and the school. Additionally, around 20 percent of students said they would choose programs based on which schools visited their high schools.

The report also cites Tanya Talaga’s book, Seven Fallen Feathers, noting that the reason students may fear leaving home is the possibility of facing systematic racism and violence.

However, distance education is rare. Only 17.6 percent of surveyed schools in the report stated it had some form of distance education, which is typically online. About a third of students interviewed stated a major barrier to pursuing education was limited access to a computer and a lack of internet connection. But over 75 percent of students said they wanted some form of hands on training, which can be difficult in distance education.

“When you don’t have someone actually sitting in a classroom,” McCue says, “are you able to provide the same kind of quality education that we expect?” Distance education is more than a video lecture for students, he says. “It means having video, it means different kinds of quizzes to keep students engaged, it means having live chats with students.” These different elements require work and diligence and a properly designed curriculum.

John Lagimodiere, publisher of Eagle Feather News, says increased funding on reserves would improve the resources for Indigenous students. Eagle Feather News is an Indigenous news outlet based in Saskatchewan that frequently publishes articles written by young Indigenous journalists, many of them students.

Schools in community or on reserves are often underfunded, understaffed and sparsely attended. “At times, it takes upwards of ten years for students to complete a highschool education..” according to the report.

“For over a century, the central goals of Canada’s Aboriginal policy were to eliminate Aboriginal governments; ignore Aboriginal rights; terminate the Treaties; and, through a process of assimilation, cause Aboriginal peoples to cease to exist as distinct legal, social, cultural, religious, and racial entities in Canada. e establishment and operation of residential schools were a central element of this policy, which can best be described as ‘cultural genocide.’”

The Truth And Reconciliation Commission’s final report, 2015

“The governments effectively starve First Nations schools into uselessness,” Lagimodiere says, “so proper supports for students in kindergarten right through to Grade 12 would be a start.” He says the literacy rates in Indigenous communities are “terrible” compared to the rest of the population, saying the cause is underfunded schools. In 2011, 33 percent of First Nations people aged 25-64 did not have a certificate, diploma, or degree. The corresponding percentage for the non-Aboriginal population was 12 percent.

Lagimodiere says the impact of residential schools can still be seen in the communities, since many of the Indigenous students’ parents are survivors of the abuse they experienced. “The history has gutted the community, and it’s still struggling to right itself.”

Because it was through education in the residential schooling system that Indigenous Peoples were impacted and oppressed, it is through education that reconciliation can be achieved, stated Senator Murray Sinclair, who served as Chairman for the Indian Residential Schools Truth and Reconciliation Commission. And while institutions are attempting to show and provide proper outreach and supports to students, they are still only at the beginning stages.

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