The Christian Reformed Church’s Centre for Public Dialogue (CRCPD) is taking a lead role in a new campaign to promote reforms to the Indigenous education system in Canada, and is hoping to draw thousands of Canadians into the conversation.
According to Mike Hogeterp, director of the center, educational funding for schools on reserves can be 30 to 50 percent less per student than off-reserve schools, a funding gap that has contributed to national graduation rates of less than 40 percent on reserves compared to about 80 percent for the rest of the student population. The lack of adequate resources, coupled with a history of intergenerational trauma caused by the old residential school system, continues to impact students negatively.
While the center has been involved in a conversation about educational reforms with Indigenous and church leaders for about three years, it is only in the last few months that solid progress has been made to bring together all the parties, including large church groups, key Indigenous organizations, and public figures who are willing to lend their influence to the process. “We have definitely felt the Spirit’s presence in bringing these diverse groups together in what is a truly remarkable gathering,” Hogeterp said.
Hogeterp also said the timing is right to cooperate and act now, building on the momentum and recommendations coming from Canada’s recent Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
“In the past, the Canadian government has taken a somewhat unilateral approach to these issues, which has created a lack of confidence and trust among Indigenous people,” Hogeterp explained. “But in February the government announced its intention to begin a renewed process which will fully involve Indigenous groups, and also committed some additional money to help bridge the funding gap in the Indigenous educational system.”
The goal of the campaign is to build public awareness of the need for both reforms and additional funding and to encourage the public to pressure the government to act on the necessary changes. “Our Indigenous friends and partners tell us that the ongoing problems with education are not due to a lack of workable solutions, [but to] a lack of political will that is rooted in the indifference of the Canadian public,” said Hogeterp.
Hogeterp also explained why the CRC is a logical partner for this important work. “We’ve learned that we share some basic perspectives on education with Indigenous people: that cultural and spiritual values are important for learning and identity, and that parents and communities are important participants in educational success,” he said.