Saturday, November 05, 2005

StarWatch: Kash Kids Back To School

This article from the Sudbury Star talks about how the local Catholic School Board has agreed to reopen a closed school to allow the young people who were part of the evaculation to Sudbury from Kashechewan First Nation to return to school. This evacuation occurred because chronic settler state underfunding for basic infrastructure in Aboriginal communities across the country combined with other factors to get white politicians to recognize the water contamination crisis in this single Cree community near James Bay while largely continuing to ignore it in the other 100 or so reserves with similar problems.

Some of the colonial content of the article is interesting. For example, parents voted to send their kids to this specially reopened school rather than integrate them into the regular school system. In speculating about the reason for this decision, they cited not any of the parents themselves but rather a woman who had taught at an elementary school in Kashechewan and who came as part of the evacuation. Her racial background was not specified, so she may or may not be Aboriginal, and her history (duration, nature, relationship) with this community is not specified beyond mentioning her employment in it as a teacher; this obviously has relevance to her suitability to speak to the motivations of the parents from the community.

The article paraphrases her:

She speculated that parents were reluctant to have their children placed in regular classrooms here because they require extra attention from teachers.

Kashechewan students may also be lagging behind a grade or two, so there were concerns Grade 10 students, for example, might have had to be bumped back to Grade 8 in Sudbury.

The situation is presented in a careful, passive voice, and no reason is provided for why these things might be the case. I can see lots of white folks taking this, consciously or not, as reinforcement of racist preconceptions about Aboriginal peoples. It would not have cost the reporter anything to ask the necessary questions and then include a sentence or two of context that explains some of the reasons rather than giving the impression that that these kids are just slow or something. I don't know for sure, but the whole situation is one big clue: These folks are in Sudbury because of state negligence in providing basic infrastructure that white communities take for granted, so just maybe the educational infrastructure in Kashechewan has been systemically underresourced just like the drinking water infrastructure.

The most ridiculous ommission, however, is a very obvious potential reason for the parents choosing to use this reopened school rather than integrate their kids into the mainstream school system: Maybe they want to protect their kids, as best they can, from facing any more racism than they absolutely have to. The mainstream school system can be a pretty harsh place for Aboriginal kids and kids of colour, white Canadian delusions of multicultural harmony notwithstanding. Again I can't be sure, but I'd imagine the schools these evacuated youth come from are either completely Aboriginal or at least mostly Aboriginal, and the stress of being forced from their homes would only be compounded by having to negotiate on a daily basis new-to-them white-dominated spaces. In addition, a separate school may provide some scope for content less tainted by white supremacy than the mainstream curriculum -- Aboriginal peoples in urban centres across the country have at times, with varying degrees of success, fought for resources for their own schools for these very reasons -- but it is not clear how much space there might be for this in this case, given settler state insistence on regulation of educational content.

[By the way, a word on the title...I've decided I need to be more regular in paying attention to our local print media as a form of self-education and local political engagement...I'm not sure I'll actually stick with it, given my limited time resources, but I may end up commenting more regularly on things I read in the Sudbury Star.]

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