Indigenous people carry a fragile but essential part of our common humanity. As individuals and societies, the indigenous represents an irreplaceable diversity. However, their participation in self-advancement engagement or development opportunities must not mean their absorption into the mainstream society. Nevertheless, in different societies and cultures, men and women are assigned different statuses by the varying values and norms associated with either gender. Norms associated with both the colonial and dominant cultures such as dependent and breadwinner has segregated women and men. Men and women in the indigenous communities have different gender roles and responsibilities. As a result, both men and women have varying needs, desires, and interests. Education is an important tool used by individuals and communities to make social and economic progress. Educational attainment is associated with higher levels of employment and income. It often shapes an individual's occupational and career choices. Employment and income differences between individuals and groups tend to decrease as education increases in the form of a certificate, diploma, or degree.
Until recently, indigenous people have typically have had lower educational attainment levels compared to the non-indigenous population in Canada. Factors such as the socio-economic status, geography, ethnicity, and the parental education level attainment have being associated with the low level of education among the indigenous people. Colonialism has also been associated with the low education attainment. However, this trend has been changing over the years with an increasing number of indigenous people joining post-secondary institutions. This has since made researchers more optimistic about the future of the indigenous people.
Over the years, Canada has recorded an increase in educational attainment among both the Indigenous women and men. However, the statistics reveal that indigenous women increased their educational levels to a higher degree than the men have in their communities. This is the case in higher levels of post-secondary certification. More so, both the men and the women in these communities often dominant in different fields as they have tendencies to work in different types of occupations. This can be explained by the different roles and values placed upon both genders in the indigenous communities. By attaining higher levels of educational attainment, the indigenous women increase their chances of gaining meaningful employment. Women participation in income generating activities has significantly increased. Higher levels of education also increase the employment incomes of both Indigenous men and women. The employment income gap between Indigenous men and women, however, does not diminish with education.
The indigenous people are slowly catching up with the rest of the world, and the gender gap has closed in in favor of their women. The impact of colonialism cannot be ignored in the context of educational attainment amongst the indigenous community. The outcome and legacy of this history is poverty, marginalization, and despair amongst the indigenous communities. Deprived of an economic base, family relationships disrupted, and Indigenous ways of knowing denigrated, colonialism has taken an exacting toll on First Nations communities. The most notable policy was the Indian Act amendment in 1894. This amendment made school attendance at either a day, boarding, or industrial school compulsory for ten months of the year for all indigenous children over six years. The aim of the policy was to bring the aboriginal people into the mainstream by 'taking the Indian out of the child.' The consequence of the policy was a long-term negative impact on educational attainment; the consequences are still felt to date.
The educational system the federal government had in place after the Act was reviewed revealed that the education system had the negative impact on children health. This made the government shifts its policy from an education system aimed at assimilating the indigenous people with the rest to a system whose aim was to prepare them to live on their own reserves segregating them from the rest of the world. The new curriculum was inadequate compared to what the rest of Canada had in their provincial schools. Less than half a day was spent in class and the remainder of the day doing manual labor. Teachers often had minimal training, and school principals in church-based school were the clergy. As a result, only a few students managed to progress beyond the primary grades regardless of the years spent in school. The research noted that the residential schools for the First Nations acted as places of emotional torture, sexual, and physical abuse. They were forcefully taken from their homes, had their hair cut, and dressed in European styles. Moreover, the curricula taught them to be ashamed of their culture and perceive themselves as inferior and immoral people. Speaking in their native language amounted to punishment.
The period between 1967 and the 1990s was a period of public debate where indigenous national organizations evaluated the impact of the education system on the natives. There were demands by organizations such as the National Indian Brotherhood to have the natives' education system under the control of the Natives. The government ceded control to the natives; however, the devolution of the responsibility to First Nation communities denied them control over the content and delivery of education. The Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples was a significant input in the mid-1990s with extensive involvement and contribution of the indigenous themselves in research and leadership position. The recommendations of the commission were for the federal, provincial, and territorial governments to recognize education as core self-government and necessary to build Indigenous capacity to run their own affairs. These are among the changes influencing policy, as such the results have been witnessed with educational attainment improving and women surpassing their male counterparts in post-secondary education attainment.
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McKenzie, J., Jackson, A. P., Yazzie, R., Smith, S. A, Crotty, A. K., Baum, D., Denny, A., Bah'lgai Eldridge, D. (2013). Career dilemmas among Dine (Navajo) college graduates: An exploration of the Dinetah (Navajo Nation) brain drain. The International Indigenous Policy Journal, 4(4).
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White, J. P. & Peters, J. (2009). A short history of Aboriginal education in Canada. In J. P. White, J. Peters, D. Beavon, & N. Spence (Eds.), Aboriginal education: Current crisis and future alternatives (pp. 13-33). Toronto: Thompson Educational Publishing.
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