John Ibbitson and Indians

Okay, so I was bit annoyed with a recent opinion piece that I read earlier today in the Globe and Mail. It was written by John Ibbitson, and apparently after I tweeted the link to the peice along with “many things wrong with this article,” I wasn’t the only one bothered by it. The opinion piece is titled “Dropout Chiefs Imperil a Generation of Kids.”

I write this post in hopes to explain exactly why I did not like this opinion piece. By the end of it, some might agree or some might say, “Well, everyone is entitled to their opinion and this is John’s opinion.” I hope that the latter will not occur because for some people the only knowledge that they have on First Nations people is from the major media outlets, and if media outlets are allowed to publish opinions like these, choice of words, choice of sentence structure and all, then it is downright absurd to say that we live in a country with media free of ignorance, stereotyping, or discrimination.

Let’s begin.

The first thing I do not like about the article is the title: Dropout Chiefs. This piece is written because of the fact that 230 First Nations chiefs are backing out of supporting the AFN’s most recent education panel. By using the term “dropout,” the piece is already giving the Chiefs a bad name.

Then, Ibbitson begins his article by calling out the Indian leaders as the culprits of “wrecking the best chance…to improve the miserable state of on-reserve schools.” I don’t think there could be any more negativity squeezed out onto the faces of those First Nations that choose to back out. The problem is not that First Nations leaders don’t want to improve the state of some of the schools on reserve. The problem is that they already know the problems of their schools; the only ones who do not know the extent is Ottawa. The panel is just another chance to “discuss” issues rather than take action on the issues. And yes, it is political but it’s not First Nations leaders trying to steal AFN National Chief’s spotlight. What is political about this all is that it’s Ottawa just putting on a fancy dress for a day, going out dancing, and then calling it quits–all just to say they did it because this piece still doesn’t say what the panel is meant to accomplish. In an earlier post titled Those Dayum Indians!, I write about the AFN education panel and mention it there first and state that “the article fails to mention what the panel was meant to accomplish.” I mean if you can’t write about what a panel is meant to accomplish and only talk about what is wrong with the other team, then what good is the panel anyways!

Ibbitson continues to talk about the “broken [First Nations] education system” as if to say that the non-First Nations education is what works. Well, it doesn’t and it hasn’t been working for years. Correction, decades. That is right, I said it: The non-First Nations education is NOT what works for First Nations students. Just look at the residential school system. It is these First Nations Leaders’ decisions not to support the panel because it is only discussing a band-aid solution for separate Nations within a larger Nation. Remember Ottawa and their party dress? All just to say they did it.

It may be a wrong thing to say as well, but the way I see this whole situation is just Ottawa forcing First Nations to collectively commit to something that individually they do not want to, and who gets called the Bad Indian in the end? The “Dropout Indian Chiefs.”

Continuing, Ibbitson talks about what is done with the federal government’s grants that are sent to reserves. He states, “with chiefs using the money as they see fit.” Well, I mean, he already cast the negative light onto chiefs by calling them dropouts and wrecking their “best chance to improve the miserable state.” So, one reading this who does not have any knowledge or background on First Nations may think that the chiefs will not use the money what it was sent to be used for: First Nations education. That is not the case. The money is sometimes used to invest into other educational initiatives. I cannot comment on those initiatives in this piece because those initiatives vary from First Nation to First Nation, and that is what key to understanding why those 230 First Nations leaders backed out–their needs for the nations differ and vary across the board.

Then in an fortunate-unfortunate situation, Ibbitson finally mentions the legacy of residential schools after calling the Chiefs “dropouts” and the First Nations education system “broken” in comparison to what? Non-First Nations aka White aka Canadian Education system?!? Not once is it mentioned in this piece that First Nations students need their culture, language, etc to be taught in the classroom to contribute to their success and help eliminate drop-out rates.

In this fortunate-unfortunate situation, Ibbitson talks about the force attempts of assimilation among a generation First Nations people, and he describes that system “dismantled and discredited.” What is especially wrong with this is that he has described the First Nations education system as “broken” earlier. Does this mean that the broken First Nations education system is equal to the dismantled and discredited residential school system? Ouch, Ibbitson.

Further, he describes this residential school era having left First Nations leaders having “suspicion” against education or “anything associated with the federal government.” Does this mean that First Nations leaders are against education entirely and any contact with the federal government at all? No. Ask any First Nations leader and they will say that the only way to improve the state of Aboriginals within Canada is through education. They will also say that it is not that they do not want to work with the federal government, rather they just want to be consulted with–Thought of as an equal in leadership in Canada. What First Nations leaders are against are any further attempts for Ottawa to take First Nations children out of their culture and way of life.

The generation of children are not being lost because First Nations leaders chose to back out. In fact, it is because those First Nations leaders that backed out that another generation of First Nations children will not be lost to further federal government decisions or legislation. These decisions to back out is about self-determination and having control over their own path to education, and I commend Chief Atleo for stating that “each region and each nation is welcome to craft its own solution [and that] no one, least of all the AFN, wants to see native leaders lose control of First Nations education.”

So I ask again, what was meant to be accomplished by holding the panel. It would be nice to have that talked about in these articles and opinion pieces rather than the “Dropout Chiefs.”


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