First Nations, Métis and Inuit Education

Ojibwe Language Programming

The Ojibwe language program continues in four Sutton area schools (elementary and secondary), which serve students from the First Nation. The board is also offering Ojibwe language through online processes to maintain connection with students regardless of location. Instruction starts in Kindergarten and is available until Grade 12 for all students in these schools.

The program continues to receive upgraded access to technology and updated online learning tools to assist teachers in delivering curriculum. The large population of Ojibwe students in Sutton supports the offering of Ojibwe language classes to support the reclamation of language. These language classes are an important part of recovering this Indigenous language in the area.

This is an opportune time to rebuild the program after years of online learning, which affected language enrollment. Face to face learning is the overwhelming preference for students. The board is currently working to hire more qualified language teachers to expand programming and meet the increasing interest of students.


First Nation Study Centres

Sutton District High School and its feeder schools have a high number of self-identified First Nation, Metis and Inuit students due to its proximity to The Chippewas of Georgina Island First Nation. The First Nation Study Centre provides a culturally safe space with direct support and supervision that helps students through transitions, from high school into post-secondary pathways. The First Nation Study Centre has proven to be a remarkable success for improving outcomes for Indigenous students at that school.

Graduation rates at Sutton DHS for First Nations students have improved over the last 10 years. These rates are now aligned with provincial graduation rates. This success is attributed to the First Nation Study Centre and the support of the Transition Coordinator. The student advisor helps students with their studies and to re-engage students who have left school and provides a space where all students can work safely outside of the classroom, or seek guidance that is culturally appropriate and relevant.

Based on this success the FNMI education team is currently working with other schools to develop similar school-based programming to support students in other parts of the board. We now have centres operating at Keswick High School and Emily Carr Secondary School. Our plan is to focus on key schools, based on concentration of Indigenous students in the area, to build a responsive program that meets the needs of each specific area.

In the last year alone, we have seen an increase in percentage of Indigenous students who report positive well-being. For example, self-identified Indigenous students reported a positive change of 14% for Grade 7-8 students and 11% for secondary students in feeling like they matter to people at school.

We found that when students have access to a First Nation Study Centre they have a better sense of well-being and achieve at a better rate than Indigenous students who do not have a centre in their school. The centres lead to more students self-identifying as Indigenous. Teachers also make use of the centres and look for support from Indigenous staff.


EKAN Training and Anishinaabek Education System (AES)

The board worked in partnership with the Anishinaabek Education System (AES) to provide cultural competency training for staff throughout 2022. The training is part of a pilot project and involves instruction over the year for teachers, consultants, and administrators to teach them about Anishinaabe culture, history, and issues. This program runs in partnership with The Chippewas of Georgina Island and is facilitated by community members to support staff in working with Indigenous students.

This collaborative opportunity with our partner First Nation and the AES is to meet the need for staff to learn about Indigenous people and communities. The professional development took place over four days throughout the year and covered: Anishinaabe people and culture, Indigenous Education (historical and contemporary), learning from the land and respectful relationships. This was a pilot project and will hopefully lead to ongoing learning opportunities for staff from across the board to support them with inclusion of authentic Indigenous content.

Twenty-eight educators across eight schools in the north of the board participated in the learning. When it was difficult to get supply coverage, schools adjusted schedules so teachers could continue attending. The overall feedback was positive and led to teachers creating relationships across schools to support further collaborative work.

We have learned that this type of ongoing learning over upwards of four sessions, provided by community members, leads to a deeper level of understanding for teachers. The experience of learning within the First Nation community helped teachers to better understand and teach about the realities of the community. This is leading to a better understanding among teachers about community and contemporary Indigenous experience, in connection to historical issues.


Human Resources Training 

Indigenous Corporate Training and the FNMI education team partnered to bring professional development to Human Resource Services (HRS) called “Working Effectively with Indigenous Peoples” by Bob Joseph. Through a pilot project, HRS employees read the book, participated in online training and took part in ongoing discussion groups to understand the context of the course based on the system role they work in.

Over 90 HRS staff engaged in this learning. The purpose of the training was to increase awareness and understanding about barriers to the hiring of Indigenous staff. The board currently has an exceptionally small number of Indigenous staff at the board. The hope is this training will begin to change recruitment strategies at the board.

Participants overwhelmingly felt the training improved their understanding about Indigenous people and issues affecting them. There was a marked change in understanding among participants and a desire to learn more. Human Resource Services staff have proved to be more responsive to issues of recruitment since the training as they now have an awareness of the issues that make recruitment and retention difficult.


Elder Learning for Staff 

Several times through the year, we offered online learning from a community elder about traditional knowledge. The sessions were open to all staff who signed up. The learning connected staff with authentic Indigenous knowledge to support better intercultural understanding.

Teachers often make requests for learning from elders and community people regarding traditional knowledge and teaching. These sessions provided in-service educators and other staff the opportunity to improve their understanding about Indigenous knowledge through several sessions.

We provided learning to staff, after hours, three times during the year. This included teaching by Shelley Charles on the Bear Moon and Springtime, and professional development with Dr. Susan Dion on the fine arts connection to contemporary Indigenous presence.

We found that teachers want access to this type of general learning. These afterhours sessions, in the form of a lecture, supplements the more focused training activities during the day and helped to remove the mystical stereotype that is often connected to Indigenous knowledge.


Professional Learning Community: Take action for Reconciliation

The First Nations, Métis, and Inuit Education Team, in collaboration with Curriculum and Instructional Services, are working with Junior Division Elementary Educators (Grades 4,5 and 6) from September to December in guided collaborative inquiries that explore Indigenous education and Indigenous pedagogies using Scholastic resources. French and English elementary staff are among participating schools.

Thirty-eight educators from eight schools are working with consultants and the texts. They are developing and assessing ways of teaching with the resources and examining student understanding about Indigenous peoples. This learning opportunity is in line with the Indigenous Education and Equity Strategy which identifies the need to “develop understanding of Indigenous identities, communities and histories through collaborative and self-directed learning” and the Director’s Action Plan where staff “Co-construct learning, knowledge and spaces that affirm students’ identities and incorporate multiple ways of knowing.”


Powwow support 

The Chippewas of Georgina Island First Nation held their first community powwow this year since 2019. The YRDSB supported this community event by offering the grounds of Sutton District High School as the location. Staff from across the board stepped up as volunteers to help the community host the event which ran on September 17th and 18th. Staff that came out to help included custodians, food services, teachers, administrators and senior team.

The event was very well attended by Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities. Indigenous families commented that it was very welcoming for them and that holding the event at the school made it feel like an extension of the community. The board was able to work in service of the community organizers who led the planning and ran the event. It was a good example of the board applying its resources in service to the community.


English: Understanding Contemporary First Nations, Métis, and Inuit Voices (NBE3E/C/U) course expansion

Beginning in 2023-2024, all Grade 11 students in York Region District School Board will take Understanding Contemporary First Nations, Métis, and Inuit Voices NBE3E/C/U, as their required Grade 11 English credit. The course is offered at all secondary schools in 2022-2023, and it fulfills the compulsory requirement for a Grade 11 English credit for high school graduation (OSSD).

This course is designed to expand students’ understandings of Indigenous literary themes, styles and cultural insights from the work of many First Nations, Métis, and Inuit authors. It examines their perspectives and influence on life, relationships and issues in contemporary Canada.

In June and July, consultants from the First Nations, Métis and Inuit education team and Curriculum services worked with English teachers to develop a course outline and resources to support teachers new to the course.

In September, courses started with a significant increase in the number of students taking the NBE credit: 8,285 students in 316 classes versus 2,746 students enrolled in schools last during the 2021-2022 year.

Updated November 2022