Beyond the Curriculum: Building Hope and Opportunity for Indigenous Youth
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30 March, 2022 Beyond the Curriculum: Building Hope and Opportunity for Indigenous Youth
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30 Mar 2022
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March 2022
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March 30, 2022

The Empire Club of Canada Presents

Beyond the Curriculum Building Hope and Opportunity for Indigenous Youth

Chairman: Kelly Jackson, President, The Empire Club of Canada; Vice-President, External Affairs & Professional Learning, Humber College

Moderator
Lisa Kimmel, Global Managing Director, Sector Specialty Agencies, Chair & CEO, Canada, Edelman

Panelists
Heather Campbell, Director of Education, Rainy River District School Board
Dr. Marie Delorme, CEO, The Imagination Group
Serei Jeppesen, Connected North School Lead & Indigenous Student Engagement Coordinator, Taking IT Global

Distinguished Guest Speaker
Neil Pakey, CEO, Nieuport Aviation

Introduction
It is a great honour for me to be here at the Empire Club of Canada today, which is arguably the most famous and historically relevant speaker’s podium to have ever existed in Canada. It has offered its podium to such international luminaries as Winston Churchill, Ronald Reagan, Audrey Hepburn, the Dalai Lama, Indira Gandhi, and closer to home, from Pierre Trudeau to Justin Trudeau. Literally generations of our great nation's leaders, alongside with those of the world's top international diplomats, heads of state, and business and thought leaders.

It is a real honour and distinct privilege to be invited to speak to the Empire Club of Canada, which has been welcoming international diplomats, leaders in business, and in science, and in politics. When they stand at that podium, they speak not only to the entire country, but they can speak to the entire world.

Welcome Address by Kelly Jackson, President, The Empire Club of Canada
Good afternoon fellow directors, past presidents, members, and guests. Welcome to the 118th season of the Empire Club of Canada. My name is Kelly Jackson. I’m the President of the Board of Directors of the Empire Club of Canada, and Vice-President, External Affairs and Professional Learning at Humber College. I'm your host for today's event, “Beyond the Curriculum, Building Hope and Opportunity for Indigenous Youth.”

I'd like to begin this afternoon with an acknowledgement that I'm hosting this event within the Traditional and Treaty Lands of the Mississaugas of the Credit, and the homelands of the Anishinaabe, the Haudenosaunee, and the Wyandot Peoples. In acknowledging Traditional Territories, I do so from a place of understanding the privilege my ancestors and I have had in this country, since they first arrived here in the 1830’s. As farmers in Southwestern Ontario, I imagine they felt a deep connection to the land, and yet likely did not recognize how that connection was built on the displacement of others. Delivering a land acknowledgement, for me, is always an important opportunity to reflect on our human connection, and responsibility to care for the land; and to recognize that to do so, we must always respect each other, and acknowledge our histories. We encourage everyone tuning in today to learn more about the Traditional Territory on which you work and live.

The Empire Club of Canada is a non-profit organization. So, I now want to take a moment to recognize our sponsors, who generously support the Club, and make these events possible, and complimentary, for our supporters to attend. Thank you to our lead event sponsor, Nieuport Aviation. Thank you to today's supporting sponsors, Amazon Future Engineer, Longview Systems, and Nokia. And thank you, of course to our season sponsors, the Canadian Bankers Association, LiUNA, Waste Connections of Canada, and Bruce Power.

Before we get started today, just a few housekeeping notes, I want to remind everybody who's participating today, that this is an interactive event. So, those who are attending live, I encourage you to engage by taking advantage of the question box you can find by scrolling down below your on-screen video player. We have reserved some time for audience questions at the end of the discussion. We also invite you to share your thoughts on social media, using the hashtags displayed on-screen throughout the event. If you require technical assistance, please start a conversation with our team, using the chat button that you can find on the right-hand side of your screen. To those watching on-demand later, and to those tuning in on the podcast, welcome.

It's now my pleasure to call this virtual meeting to order. I'm honoured to welcome our guests today to the Empire Club of Canada's virtual stage for the first time. They include Dr. Marie Delorme, CEO of The Imagination Group; Heather Campbell, Director of Education for Rainy River District School Board; Serei Jeppesen, Connected North School Lead, and Indigenous Student Engagement Coordinator at Taking IT Global; and our moderator Lisa Kimmel, Global Managing Director, Sector Specialty Agencies, Chair and CEO, Edelman, Canada. We encourage those joining us live to learn more about today's panelists. You can find their full bios below the video player on your screen. So, now it's my time to turn it over to Lisa, to get the conversation started. Lisa, over to you and welcome.

Lisa Kimmel, Global Managing Director, Sector Specialty Agencies, Chair & CEO, Canada, Edelman
Thank you so much, Kelly, for the introduction. It is an honour to be moderating such an important discussion today. And I want to start off by reinforcing a staggering statistic that was included in the promotional materials for this event, that just 11% of Ontario's Indigenous youth actually go on to pursue higher education. Today, we've assembled a very impressive roster of panelists who are going to talk about the reasons why this is the case. But perhaps more importantly, a lot of focus on what are the actions that we need to take collectively, as well as individually to better support students and teachers in Indigenous communities. So, we're going to cover a number of themes throughout our conversation, from the inequities that exist within the school system, to the role of identity, and education, to the role that both the private and public sectors can and need to take, to address this situation. So, with that, I want to dive right in. So, first question, we know that Indigenous youth have a significantly higher dropout rate than non-Indigenous youth in Canada. And so, I want to talk and ask our panelists about the inequities that do exist in the school system, between Indigenous schools, and those that are located in the southern part of the province. So, can you share with the audience, what are Indigenous students’ barriers to success? And I'd like to start off with you, Heather, in answering this question.

Heather Campbell, Director of Education, Rainy River District School Board
Well, thank you very much, Lisa, for the question. I can only speak from there as a director of a public-school board in Northwestern Ontario. And to provide some regional context, we are a board between Thunder Bay and Winnipeg, serving nine Indigenous communities within the area. We have a voluntary self-identification rate of about 43% that identify as either Métis or First Nation. And from my experience, some of the challenges that our youth are faced with, start with geography. If you looked at a map of Ontario, or map of Canada, and you look at where various First Nation communities are located, the ones that I'm dealing with, are ones that don't have access to public transit, they rely on school bus to go to and from school. And certainly, that means that the students may not be able to engage in extracurricular, may not be able to have outside employment, and also, if there's any sort of supports that are at school after school, it is sometimes hard for them to access. I mean, we've looked at offering a late bus, but certainly that doesn't cover all the needs within our system. I would think about the availability of careers on communities. I've heard our youth speak to the fact that when they look at staying on community, what are the careers available to them? And certainly, that seems to be a limitation, and doesn't really seem to encourage further pursuing of pathways. And funding inequity is another one I've noticed. And I work, as I said, within our public school system, with nine First Nation communities. And they're funded federally each year, based on the headcount of last year's enrollment. So, you can imagine the challenge it can be, if you have a particularly large headcount for this coming school year, with some, you know, some extreme need, and yet you had less students last year that you were funded for. So, there are the, you know, the funding challenges that they experience. And I think I just want to end with the intergenerational trauma. And I don't want to assume that every Indigenous person has experienced that, but I know from our communities that they have. Whether it's the 60’s Scoop, or Residential Schools, and certainly, as survivors work through, and their generations work through trauma, it's the availability of supports within the area that really helped make a difference. And when you look in some communities in some areas of our province, the number of supports is limited. So, that truly has an impact on the family and ultimately, the students as they move forward.

Lisa Kimmel
Serei, do you have anything to add to that in terms of barriers, that Heather didn't cover off?

Serei Jeppesen, Connected North School Lead & Indigenous Student Engagement Coordinator, Taking IT Global
Thanks for including me in the in the part of that question, and no, you know, I think that geographical relationality for a lot of our students plays a really big part in what they're able to access and, you know, the opportunities that are available to them. The funding inequities, I would just, I would echo that same sentiment from the schools that I work with, that it can be really difficult for them to have access to all of the materials and resources that they might need to have a full, comprehensive curriculum, in terms of their experiential learning at school. So, no, I echo the exact same sentiments that Heather brought to the table.

Lisa Kimmel
Great. Marie, anything on your end to add?

Dr. Marie Delorme, CEO, The Imagination Group
Yes, thank you so much, Lisa. I'm going to speak from a slightly different perspective, perhaps from a national perspective. I'm located in Alberta, but my work takes me to Indigenous communities all across the country, from coast-to-coast-to-coast. And I certainly agree with the statistics that you started with, Lisa; they look a little bit different when you look from a national perspective. I serve on the National Indigenous Economic Development Board. We are an advisory body to the whole of the federal government, and every four years we come out with an Indigenous progress report, an economic progress report, and a piece of that focuses on education, and we looked specifically at the statistics. When we looked at nationally, there is a difference, as you pointed out, between Indigenous people who live in an urban setting and the graduation rates at a grade 12 level, and those who are in rural remote areas. So, if we look at urban Indigenous populations, we're looking at about a 75% graduation rate, nationally. But when you extrapolate First Nations and Inuit from that, it falls to almost 50%. The Métis people, who are my people, have the highest graduation rate, it's about 82%, but there are some significant barriers, and I'll just touch on a couple to add to what Heather and Serei talked about. Compensation levels of teachers is significantly lower with on-reserve educators than it is if they are in an urban centre, and that translates into inequities in the quality of education that our young people have access to. We know that role models are important. Access to Indigenous role models is more limited if you are on reserve, in a rural or remote area. Teachers who possess Indigenous competencies in culture and language, presents a barrier to learning. Food insecurity, particularly when you're in the North. Issues, socio-economic issues like housing, and safe water, are all factors that inform the quality of education that a young person has access to.

Lisa Kimmel
Thank you so much. And many of the things that you've just touched upon, we'll get to later in terms of, you know, want to talk about the role of role models, and mentorship, and also what the public sector, and government specifically, can be doing to ensure more consistency on a national basis, in terms of how we address this particular issue. So, Indigenous youth represent the fastest growing student cohort across the country. And so, there's obviously a tremendous opportunity to provide greater equity of opportunity, and to capitalize on the talent, and also the potential, that these students represent. So, Serei, I’m going to start with you in asking, what do you believe is the collective opportunity during those formative educational years—so, from kindergarten to grade 12—and how do we in fact, realize it?

Serei Jeppesen
Thank you, Lisa. And for me, this is one of, you know, really hits home into what my passion is, in the work that I do. I think that there's so much money that's put towards post-secondary opportunities for Indigenous students, and not quite enough money put into their K-12 experience. And we know that if we set them up for success in K-12, we're going to see those post-secondary rates really start to increase. And so, I think that we need to acknowledge that these students need the preparation and the formative experience in their K-12 learning, in order to set them up so that we see these graduation rates increase, and we also see an increase in attendance. And you know, there are so many factors that contribute to that, you know, the students, and much like Dr. Delorme said, they need to see themselves there, the role models, they need to see themselves with representation. And, you know, there's a really interesting thing that happens in that sort of grade seven area—and I had a great conversation about this yesterday—where we really need to start grabbing students at that formative age and see them really sort of push off into a love for learning. And if we don't have the resources, and some of those really fundamental things that Dr. Delorme was talking about, and the funding inequities that Heather was speaking to, we won't see that opportunity come to pass with our students. And so, I really think that it's important for us to recognize the ecosystem of support that we need, for these students to see success; and that ecosystem of support is that collective opportunity, of us coming together during those formative years. So, I think that, you know, and I'm sure the other panelists will have something else to add to what I'm saying, but honestly, that those K-12 years are some of the most formative years that I think we can really start to—I don't want to use the word capitalize, because that doesn't sound that doesn't sound right in this context—but I just think that there's a really amazing opportunity there that we need to hone in on.

Lisa Kimmel
Thank you. So, tangibly speaking, in terms of actions and how it is that we can provide that kind of support, Marie, do you have thoughts in terms of how we can do that?

Dr. Marie Delorme
Yes, you know, absolutely. Just building on what Serei has talked about, there are some very concrete things that can be done. You know, first of all, we have to get children excited about learning, and that's absolutely fundamental. And it doesn't matter if you're Indigenous or non-Indigenous, we can all look back at our education journey and we can identify those pivotal times, and those pivotal people, who made a difference, and got us excited about learning and about education. We know that when a child is nurtured, and they're kept engaged in the school environment, they're more likely to stay in school, to graduate, and to go on. One of the concrete pieces that is critical, is that every child needs a sense of identity. In Indigenous culture, we refer to this as kinship. It's the people and the community to whom we belong, and who claim us. And when our children are grounded in their culture, and their language, and they have a sense of belonging, and they can learn through that lens of self and community, they're more likely to be successful. A number of the Nations and tribal groups across the country are actually have created, or are in the process of creating, their own school authorities and their own school boards. And this is to address the needs of their students, because the current systems are failing Indigenous families and children, and that is that is as alarming as the statistics that you quoted at the beginning.

Lisa Kimmel
Thank you. And Heather, what are your thoughts on this?

Heather Campbell
Well, thank you. I want to build up what Marie has talked about, and I really want to talk about the relevancy that students see in the learning that is before them. If students don't see themselves reflected in their learning, they're not going to be engaged. And that engagement is critical, as Serei said, from an early age, to be excited for learning, and I also wanted to draw on the United Nations Declaration For Indigenous People, and recognize the importance of that shared responsibility between schools, and families, and communities. Children need to see their community also reflected within the school, that they feel a sense of belonging. And that means having Elders and Knowledge Keepers, local leaders, and their families, engaged in their education. And engagement’s really a tricky subject. People often think it means involvement, it means being there all the time. Engagement means having a care, and wanting to know what their children are doing, and having a real, vested interest in their futures. And I would say that every parent has that feeling. We need to reach out and build those relationships with families, with communities in order to work on that shared responsibility. We can't just expect that communities come to us. It is a shared responsibility, and we need to honour that sharing of the responsibility.

Lisa Kimmel
And Heather, just a follow up question to what you've just talked about. To what extent have you been successful in engaging with Elders, for example, and bringing them into the schools, and what's been the response to that.

Heather Campbell
We have worked you know, providing funding for each school to invite local Elders. Like I said, we have nine different communities, so we're really cognizant of having, you know, the schools create their own relationships with local communities. I think the pandemic spurred us on even greater, and you know, there's no lot we would celebrate with a pandemic, but I can say that we found new ways to involve Elders and Knowledge Keepers, we would involve them by having them come in virtually to a classroom. So, last year, when we were limited for visitors, they would regularly be, we called it “Ask a Knowledge Keeper,” and schools and classrooms would sign up, and they would ask questions, and the teacher would work to incorporate that into the learning. Students were so excited, and I would say the Elders were equally excited as well, to have that moment. It was really uplifting, during a very challenging time. As I came into work this morning, one of the Elders was parking and getting ready to go into the school that's located right behind me—because now we can see face-to-face—and they're so excited to be back in front of the children. And I think that has been a tremendous—I mean, you see people that you know, you see people that you're related to, or people that live in your community, and they talk about things that you know. It's really fulfilling for students, especially students from First Nation communities, who can identify and who have that sense of, “I know that,” you know, that is self-esteem builder right there. So that has been, for us, I think, a real opportunity that we've capitalized on. I think that the other one is, now that we're reopened, we're going to resume what we've done before, which is visiting communities for parent-teacher nights, ensuring that around reporting time that we’re there, assuring them during transitions into different stages of education, having the parents, not only invited to the school for a meal, but also making that trip to the community, because that's really important about that shared responsibility in that relationship.

Lisa Kimmel
Thank you so much. And just building on that, and, Marie, you also talked about the importance of creating excitement for education amongst you. So, sort of philosophically speaking, what does it mean to actually build hope for these Indigenous youth?

Dr. Marie Delorme
Well, it's about what Heather's talking about, and it's uplifting Indigenous voices, and ensuring that Indigenous voices, the voices of the Elders, the traditional Knowledge Keepers, the parents and the caregivers, and the students themselves, are elevated. You know, it's really about having the opportunities that every other child has in Canada. You know, education is not a privilege, it's a right. And every child has the right to a good, and culturally relevant, education. But you know, it's also about choices, and the choice to be educated in one's community, to not have to travel out of one's community to be educated, to have knowledge imparted through the lens of the communities, through an epistemological approach that values and respects Indigenous knowledge. That's what hope is about, for Indigenous youth.

Lisa Kimmel
Thank you. Serei?

Serei Jeppesen
Yeah, I do I love this topic, and I love what Marie was talking about, in terms of seeing the youth see themselves in somebody that's there to build hope. And, you know, I see this on the ground in the work that we do all of the time. We work really hard to amplify Indigenous voices in our programming, to bring in Indigenous creatives, Indigenous professionals, from across Turtle Island. We work to have those people in Connected North delivering sessions firsthand. Just last week, I mean, we were talking about this earlier, but just last week, we had Cree Culture Week out in here in Alberta, we had Teepee Teachings going on through Connected North, we had you know, we're beading lanyards. These students were seeing Cree educators come in to deliver these classes. And that, for me, I could see in their eyes what that was doing for them, you know, the hope that was instilling in them. To see that they could go and be a teacher, that they could go and also maintain their culture at the same time, is one of the most impactful educational experiences that I think we can be delivering to our students. And so, when we talk about building hope, the hope is, when they can see themselves in one of the people that they look up to, from their community or from their culture, and that honestly is going to be the answer for us building hope in that next generation.

Lisa Kimmel
Thank you. So, Marie, you talked about the fact that education is not a privilege, it is a right, I could not agree with that more. Heather, what are the benefits that can come from greater, as well as longer-term participation from these youth?

Heather Campbell
I think that, you know, the youth bring new perspectives, new knowledge, new approaches to things. Certainly, it really brings a fuller of vision of what is possible. And I also think that it's really important that we hear different perspectives, especially the gifts and strengths that come from an Indigenous perspective. I think about some of the leaders in our board, and some of the teachers that work with students, and how they approach their lessons, and how they bring, say, math and talking about symmetry, they look at nature with symmetry. There's so much connection, and I think that the more that we, you know, enable youth to have that voice, and to see relevance in what they're learning, and also be able to add to the learning of others, I think that really empowers and makes a stronger country. And more importantly, I think it really gives hope to our future that we have, again, that divergent thinking, and those who can give back and help others as well.

Lisa Kimmel
Serei, anything to add in terms of benefits that come from the longer-term participation of these youth?

Serei Jeppesen
Yeah, the benefits of students having a role in their education, you know, exactly what Heather was saying, is vital for them having that consistent participation. However, we don't see that, you know, when we're in our communities, we see them—and we talked about this a few minutes ago—we see them that they actually can be transient, because they're going for other educational opportunities in the city or in an urban environment. Dr. Delorme spoke about in an urban environment, their ability to see success in an urban environment, because of access to funding in a publicly funded, like, provincial school, is so much higher. We know that, I mean, and this is going a little bit off, but a publicly, provincially funded school has an FTE that's 30%, higher—and FTE, for those who are not in education, means the full-time enrollment—that the provincial government gives out. The on-reserve schools get 30% less, per head, per child, for their enrollment. Well, what does that do to a parent who can see that there's this obvious inequity? Well, your obvious sort of thought process, and as a mom, I say this, is to bring your student, your child to a place where you're going to think that they're going to have success, which means that that child is moving around, they're not getting a consistent voice or partnership in what that educational experience looks like. And so, really, if we want to see the hope, the success, those things be brought and elevated to a higher level, we need to make sure that those equities get levelled out.

Lisa Kimmel
Thank you. Before I get into my next question, just want to remind the audience that if you do have any questions for our panelists, you can submit them in the box below the video player. So, please do send your questions our way. Marie, you taught talked earlier in our conversation about the important role of identity in education. Can you talk a little bit about language specifically, and what are what are the things that need to be considered from a language perspective, when it comes to identity?

Dr. Marie Delorme
Yeah, that's such a great question. You know, Indigenous languages around the world, and in Canada, are being lost at an at an alarming rate. And the impact of that is that, language holds the collective knowledge of a group of people, and that knowledge, when viewed through the lens of one's language, is quite different than if you are trying to translate it into English or French. Cultural identity is tied to one's connection to a group, the community, as I mentioned before, that the claims the individual. And when we know our language and we know our culture, it contributes to this sense of awareness, and connectedness to the community, and to the world more broadly. You know, having a sense of who we are enhances the wellbeing of an individual, and that has broad implications for learning. When we are healthy in our minds, and our bodies, and our spirits, and our physicality, we are prepared to learn. Heather mentioned the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People, and there is a specific article in there, it's article 15, that talks about Indigenous people having the right to the dignity, and diversity of their cultures, traditions, histories, and aspirations.

The last point I'll make is, if you're not familiar with Wade Davis—he's non-Indigenous, he's a Canadian anthropologist—read his book, The Wayfinders. It's a page turner, and it talks about why ancient wisdom matters. And he speaks of the impact of the loss of language of Indigenous cultures around the world. And he talks about, he says, you know, why would an executive sitting in an office in Toronto, or Vancouver, or Calgary, care about a language being lost in a rural or remote area of Canada, or the Amazon. And the analogy he draws is, imagine you're getting on a plane, and as you're getting on, you see someone pulling rivets here and there at random across the plane; and you ask the obvious question, “why are you pulling rivets off this plane that I'm flying in?” And the response is, “well, you know, it will still fly; it's just a rivet here and there.” But if you pull enough rivets out, then the plane doesn't fly anymore, and I think it's a wonderful metaphor for the loss of language.

Lisa Kimmel
Indeed, it is. Thank you for that, and I will definitely be looking to get that book, so thank you for the recommendation. Heather, from a curriculum standpoint, what do you believe are the factors for success, including longer-term participation with Indigenous learners?

Heather Campbell
Well, I want to jump back to what Marie was talking about with language, because language is really critical for Indigenous youth, as she's shared. Culture is a social determinant of health, and to have culture, Indigenous culture, language is inherent within that. It is the history, it is the teachings, it's the ceremonies. So, for our students to have a sense of identity, to feel good about themselves and see themselves in this world, they need that language to be built up, to be revitalized, to be supported. And so, that's critical and school systems, is to offer Indigenous language—which is a challenge because we're, as Marie said, we're seeing speakers disappear at an alarming rate. I think the next part is ensuring that we incorporate Indigenous perspectives and knowledge within the curriculum. I’m thinking back to a few weeks ago, where students were learning about habitats and communities, and they were doing so by learning about the various animals that you trap, rabbits, martens, building marten houses, building rabbit snares, catching the animals, and then learning how to skin them, and then what the animals are used for. And I think when we look at our Earth, and the alarming rate that we're losing our species, and the planet, and climate change, I think that there is a lot to be learned and to help in moving that front forward. And then the last piece I think I really want to share is the fact that we, again, have Indigenous role models and historical figures reflected in what we're learning. I can’t imagine, to just have completely a colonialist viewpoint any further. We have done that for so long, and I think back to when I was in school, and how I didn't learn about our shared history, and how frustrating that is. You know, it's so important, if we're all actively involved in reconciliation, that that is critical within every grade, and every subject area. That we have those perspectives, the culture, and the history embedded within what the students are learning every day.

Lisa Kimmel
Thank you so much. So, we've touched upon the importance of mentorship. And I would love to hear specific examples of successful initiatives that have been undertaken, to create mentors and role models for Indigenous youth. And I'll just open it up to any of you if you have any specific examples.

Heather Campbell
If I can go first—if I'm permitted, Serei and Marie. I really love this question, and I'm so grateful for Connected North. We have several schools that are Connected North schools, and what that does for some of our schools that are really geographically distant from even a small a community as Fort Francis, Ontario. So, it means that they can have experiences outside their classroom, virtually, and that means bringing in guest speakers and role models. And so, we've had Dakota Bear, we have Brian Trottier, we've had so many different Indigenous and non-Indigenous role models come in, that talk to students about careers, and about possibilities, and pathways. And I think that's really critical that they have that exposure. Otherwise, for a school, say in Mine Centre, Ontario, it would be $5,000 just to go for swimming lessons for a few weeks. It's an incredible cost. So, those virtual platforms, those programs like Connected North, really helped to support bringing role models and success for students.

Lisa Kimmel
Thank you. Serei or Marie, any specific examples, success stories in terms of mentorship?

Serei Jeppesen
I’ll piggyback off of Heather. I wanted to give everybody else a chance, because they feel like I can just explode about mentorship and you know, the work that Connected North does, yeah.

Lisa Kimmel
Go for it!

Serei Jeppesen
And you know what, we work really, really hard to Connected North to make sure that it's actually geographically appropriate as well. So, not just that we have Indigenous mentors, but that we actually have, you know, Inuit mentors that are coming in for our northern students, that we have Cree mentors that are that are coming in, and we're not necessarily referring across, you know. Like, we have, say, authors, I'll use authors as an example, we have Indigenous authors who are also songwriters who come in. And we have Becky Han, she’s an Inuit artist who comes and delivers these really, really inspiring stories and talks about when she was a youth, and what her process was to become an artist, and really love what she does; and then we also have Cree people who come in for our Cree students. And so, you know, just making sure that the Indigenous—it's not even just about mentorship, it's about relevant mentorship, and making sure that the students can see themselves in that specific person that they that they have. And, you know, Connected North has their Future Pathways, which is, you know, a bridging program to post-secondary. We also have, which actually came out of the pandemic, our Create to Learn, which is a whole other realm of Indigenous mentorship, which we can talk about, I think later on in terms of what happened with the pandemic, and how that affected students and the work that we do. But Connected North works so, so hard, to make sure that Indigenous mentors are there and available for students. And I have, firsthand, seen the amazing impact that that can have on our students, and also not just the students, but let's extend that to the educators. When the educators who are working in community can also be educated about the culture that they're working in at the same time, it's a double whammy. And I just feel so happy to be a part of such an amazing program that values mentorship in that capacity.

Dr. Marie Delorme
Wonderful. And if I could just add to that, I love what Connected North is doing all across the country. This is so important, and there are so many examples like that. Perhaps I could talk about mentorship in a post-secondary environment, because it's a logical extension. You know, this transition for a child to go from high school, to graduate high school and then go on to post-secondary can be really challenging, right. You know, you're coming into a new environment, in all likelihood in an urban area, you know, so the geographic differences, and just the physical challenges of coming into the city, you know, a different culture, our post secondaries have their own culture. There was a new initiative launched a year ago and it's called Influence Mentoring.; and I believe it's the only program of its kind in Canada. It's national in scope, and it matches Indigenous post-secondary learners with mentors, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous mentors. And the program looks at the field of study that the student is pursuing. So, if an Indigenous student is in engineering or medicine or business, you know, the sciences, social work, education, that protégé, that the student who is the protégé, will be matched with the mentor in that field. So, the mentors come from business, they come from science, they come from medicine. It's really exciting to have that continuity from what Serei and Heather describe, to continue into post-secondary. And mentorship is so important. It's a powerful practice that was always embedded in Indigenous communities and cultural practices, where the entire community contributed to raising and teaching young people. That's what mentoring is.

Lisa Kimmel
Thank you so much. So, there's been many references to Connected North, and I just want for the benefit of the audience, to clarify what it is that Connected North, in fact, is. So, I’m hoping that we can just clarify that, and then we're going to move into audience questions.

Serei Jeppesen
Sure, Lisa, and probably I can speak to that. Connected North is a program that works in about 140 schools across Canada, that are geographically remote, or maybe, you know, systemically underfunded. And we work to provide opportunities to students in a virtual setting. So, what that means is that through a telepresence unit, we bring in, like we're speaking about mentors, or, you know, experts in certain fields. I think we have access to over 2000 different providers, who come in and deliver culturally and curricularly relevant sessions to our students. And so, we're growing, and the interest in Connected North that we've seen through students, my experience is firsthand with the students, asking their teachers for more Connected North sessions, teachers who are really engaged in the program, school boards. You know, Heather was just speaking about that, school districts who have really seen the impact that Connected North has had on their students. And so, our program works to help bridge that divide that we see happening, particularly with Indigenous students.

Lisa Kimmel
Thank you so much for explaining that. So, I'm now going to pivot to audience questions, and I love the fact that many of them are focused on what are the actions that we can take out of this important conversation. So, Natasha asks, from an employer perspective, what can we do to support students having employment, or in order to provide them with employment opportunities? Who would like to take that one? Don't all be so polite.

Dr. Marie Delorme
Right, well, why don’t I start? I think it's a great question, and I think a lot of corporate Canada is asking this question, especially after last June, when the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People Act came into effect, and of course, that followed up the Truth and Reconciliation Calls to Action. And I think a lot of corporations are asking this, so, you know, here's the advice I usually give corporate Canada. Start by seeking to understand. Work with Indigenous people. If you speak with any Indigenous person, any Indigenous community across Canada, they will say this, “nothing for us, without us.” So, what does that mean? That means that you don't go in saying, “this is what we're going to do to fix everything for you,” you go in saying, “what do you need from us, what can we do, how can we be of best service?” and Indigenous communities, Indigenous people, students will tell you what they need. And it's important to get involved, to understand, to be to be authentic and not be performative in your approach. Become a mentor, encourage your employees to become mentors. Ensure that you have Indigenous people at every level of your organization, from entry-level people right up to the very top executives. We have over 30,000 of our young people in post-secondary institutions right now. I work with an organization who, two years ago, was taking an inventory of the number of Indigenous PhDs; they got to over 500, and they only scraped the surface. Every corporation should have diversity on their governance body. Indigenous people should sit on the governing bodies, on the boards of every organization. If you want to make true change, engage Indigenous people, and ask.

Lisa Kimmel
Thank you. Very, very helpful. Another question: in terms of support, how can Indigenous parents work with school boards to bring in Indigenous learnings? The audience member says “I have a 10-year-old who feels left out at school, because she says they don't teach her about her culture.”

Heather Campbell
It's a really good question Lisa, and certainly call the principal and offer to volunteer. I mean, we often are looking for, you know, families or community members to help teach us, and so it's really good to create that network within the school community. Often, we don't know, and we've asked, and we are looking for support. And I think having students’ parents within the school really reinforces that relationship. So, if she's interested, reach out to the school, because they probably don't even realize what a gift she has to share.

Lisa Kimmel
Great, thank you for that. Jan asks, have Indigenous business owners across Canada spoken to Indigenous students in rural areas? There are so many successful Indigenous businesses in Canada, so is there a way that that's being facilitated?

Serei Jeppesen
I would say, especially coming from the Connected North standpoint, that we always have room for partnerships with people in the business field, who want to get involved and become a mentor; there's always ways for that to happen. And we're always actively seeking out Indigenous people who would like to give back.

Heather Campbell
And if I could jump in there too, Serei, many of the school boards in northwestern Ontario—and I can only speak from my own context, again, so I apologize for that—we work within the Paul Martin Foundation, who has co-sponsored with the Ministry of Education, an Indigenous Entrepreneurship course in grade 11, and 12. And one of the challenges that school boards in this area have found, is that we perhaps don't have enough entrepreneurs, Indigenous entrepreneurs, to come and speak. So, that's where the power of the web comes in. And if there are people who are interested through Connected North, then we can use that program to leverage that, that skills and knowledge, and bring that directly to students to help them.

Lisa Kimmel
Thank you. Now, what about the government? What is it that we can do to encourage government to take action? Marie, do you want to take that?

Dr. Marie Delorme
Well, I talked about the United Nation Declaration Ac , you know, that went into effect a year ago. You know, obviously the government has a significant role in terms of providing adequate funding for education. This has been an issue that has not been resolved in generations. We talked earlier about the fact that Indigenous students on reserve are funded at a significantly lower rate than on a per student basis if a child is attending a non an off-reserve school. Teachers are not compensated at the same level. These are all financial issues, and that is the responsibility of the government to be addressing those issues. And the, you know, the Calls to Action in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, specifically speak to issues of education. Education reconciliation, the Calls—I think they're Call 60 to 65—speak specifically to the government about education and reconciliation. And those calls have to be addressed directly, and they have to be addressed immediately.

Lisa Kimmel
Thank you. Anything else to add, heather or Serei, in terms of government action?

Heather Campbell
I think we have to really—like every province across Ontario is faced with teacher shortages. And so, we really need to think outside the box on how we approach teacher education in Canada, and ensure that Indigenous education is inherent within that program from the very start, but also look at creative ways to create pathways for Indigenous youth to become teachers, and promote that as a career. Because without those role models in the classroom, without that cultural knowledge, and without language, those are barriers that every school board is faced with right now. Whether you're on a community or you're off a community, you're trying to bring that to the students, to bring hope, to bring identity, to bring success, and we need staff to do that. So, I would really that's a major problem. already, I think across Canada.

Serei Jeppesen
It is, and you know what, I'll just I want to just take it back to being very pragmatic: water would be like a really good place for that to start. I've worked on several different First Nation communities, and we don't have water in our schools. So, if we're talking about a very simple governmental call to action here, let's start with getting water that our students can drink in their schools, because we're bringing in bottled water for the students. And so, if we don't have access, or if there's a supply chain breakdown there, and our students don't have water, that feels like a fairly basic, basic need to be met inside of our schools. It's fairly pragmatic, but I feel the need to mention it, after working in many schools that don't have access to water.

Lisa Kimmel
Yeah, really important point. I'm going to ask one last question. It was an audience question, but it's a question that I have on my mind, too. As the parent of two high school students, myself, what is it that non-Indigenous students can do, to help to support Indigenous youth?

Heather Campbell
I'll take this one to start. And I see it in our schools now, where they're allies, they’re, they want, they have equal—they have curiosity, they see everyone is equal, they have respect for ceremony. If we have a powwow at school, they're taking part, they're not just watching, they're taking part. They see that First Nation communities are communities. And so, to go and visit a friend, there's nothing wrong with going on the First Nation community; it's not closed. So, it's seeing that there's possibility, and they also have a role in reconciliation. And I've heard that from students. I work with students on the Student Senate and our board, and they—both Indigenous and non-Indigenous—and there is that real desire to know more about our history, and to know more, so that they as a future can prevent things like that happening again in our country.

Lisa Kimmel
Thank you. There are still so many more questions, but unfortunately, we are out of time. I can't thank the three of you enough, not only providing context, in terms of the challenges that we face, but I really feel, and I hope the audience too, feels uplifted and hopeful around the opportunities that do exist, in terms of helping to support our Indigenous youth in Canada. So, with that, I will turn things over to Kelly.

Kelly Jackson
Thank you, Lisa. And thank you, of course, to our panelists, for sharing your insights, and providing that context that's so critical, as well as some really great examples of work that's underway, and the ways that people can think about taking action and being allies. For those who are interested in this topic, I would also suggest, if you haven't had the opportunity to see it, we did a conversation around “The Power Of Education in Advancing Reconciliation,” earlier this year, and you can find the recording of that conversation at the empireclubofcanada.com. I'd like to take the opportunity now to welcome Neil Pakey. Neil is the CEO of Nieuport Aviation, and he is going to deliver some appreciation remarks to our panelists.

Note of Appreciation by Neil Pakey, CEO, Nieuport Aviation
Thank you very much, Kelly, and I would really sincerely like to thank the esteemed panelists. It goes without saying that we just had a very insightful conversation, and we've all got a lot to take away and think over. So, I'm personally humbled to be part of this initiative, supporting it, and I've benefited a lot from these conversations, both personally, and also professionally. Clearly, there's a lot more work to be done, and it's imperative with conversations like this to identify calls to action—and I think there'll be quite a few coming out of this, I hope, for us and others. As someone who's interested in exploring how I personally, and Nieuport Aviation, and Billy Bishop Airport can be of help. I think this series has been integral to growing my awareness. I'm still learning and that of many others, I'm sure, especially in the private sector. And I found the remarks today extremely helpful and insightful. I think what Marie was saying about the about what we can do in business is certainly a takeaway from that. You know, we talk about being proud of our diversity, and to be honest, we're not diverse enough. Toronto is a very diverse city—I can appreciate that, not coming from here—but you know, I think what Marie was saying about companies taking Indigenous communities into their organizations at every level, including board-level really—yeah, that's something for me to take away and think about. And the question of, how can we be of best service, that's another one to take away and think about. And I'm trying to think about that in the context of myself, in the context of the airport, but maybe there's also a role for trade associations that are more national. So, I'm thinking about my links with Canadian Airports Council, for example, and what can we do. So, there's plenty of questions to ask, and always bear in mind, as somebody pointed out, the “nothing for us, without us,” point. Very important. So, I do think we have a role to play in building hope and opportunity for Indigenous youth. And I hope this has encouraged other organizations to contemplate what more they can do to support this. So, I wholly, wholeheartedly, encourage broader participation of Indigenous youth, and implore both individuals, and organizations to support them, however which way you can. I'd also like to give special thanks to Connected North, for their wonderful work in making education accessible to Indigenous youth. And finally, a big thank you, of course, to the Empire Club of Canada, as well as my fellow sponsors, for supporting this critical conversation. So, back over to you, Kelly.

Concluding Remarks by Kelly Jackson
Thank you, Neil. And thanks again to Nieuport Aviation, and all of our sponsors for their support. Thank you to our guests and everybody who joined us today, or who will be tuning in later on-demand. I'm delighted to announce that we will be hosting our first in-person event in two years next month. First up on Wednesday, April 6th, we'll hear from the Honourable Peter Bethlenfalvy, Ontario's Minister of Finance on, “The Work Underway to Strengthen Ontario's Economy.” In-person tickets are sold out, but you can register for free to watch the event online at 12:30pm, Eastern Standard Time, on April 6th. Then on Monday, April 11th, CTVs Anita Sharma will sit down in Toronto, with Ontario Power Generation President and CEO, Ken Hartwick. They'll be talking about, “How OPG is Paving the Way for Ontario and Other Jurisdictions to Decarbonize.” In-person tickets for this event are still available. More details and registration for both of these events can be found at empireclubofcanada.com. As a club of record, all Empire of Canada events are available to watch and listen to on-demand on our website. The recording of today's event will be available later today, and everybody who has registered will receive an email with the link. Please feel free to forward it on to colleagues, family and friends, and let's keep these conversations that matter going. Thanks again for joining us today. I wish you a great afternoon. Take care and stay safe.

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Beyond the Curriculum: Building Hope and Opportunity for Indigenous Youth


30 March, 2022 Beyond the Curriculum: Building Hope and Opportunity for Indigenous Youth