March 27, 2023

By Keegan Lavigne, Spoke News

The aboriginal services office at Conestoga College serves dozens of students of Indigenous heritage. Photo by Keegan Lavigne, Spoke News

The Indigenous Education Protocol signing ceremony originally set to take place at Conestoga College on Sept. 24 has been postponed until Oct. 31.

The event would have seen three chiefs and Conestoga College’s president, John Tibbits, sign the Indigenous Education Protocol, which recognizes “that Indigenous education emanates from the intellectual and cultural traditions of Indigenous peoples in Canada” and “underscores the importance of structures and approaches required to address Indigenous peoples’ learning needs and support self-determination and socio-economic development of Indigenous communities.”

The three First Nations groups and chiefs set to sign the protocol at Conestoga College are Stacey Laforme, chief of Mississaugas of the New Credit, Chippewa of the Thames chief Myeengun Henry, and Six Nations of the Grand River chief Ava Hill.

“The reason we have not signed onto the protocol as of yet, is because we want to go about it in a good way,” said Christina Restoule, manager of aboriginal services at Conestoga College. “There are two different ways you can sign the protocol: You can have the president of the college sign the protocol and that be the end of it, or you can sign the protocol with community partners.”

The Inuit group will be represented by Toni Sheldon, who also sits on the elder’s residence council. The Metis representation hasn’t been determined yet, so the signing had to be postponed.

“The Metis Nation of Ontario representation is yet to be decided, so that’s why we are meeting with Metis Nation next week,” said Restoule.

It is important, she said, to have all parties on board with this protocol.

“Community partners are very important to us, because we want to be inclusive and we want this protocol to be reflective of our student population. Our student population is diverse when it comes to Indigenous students, and it is a mix of First Nations, Metis and Inuit.”

Restoule believes it is better to have everyone on the same page, and all parties to agree to the signing, she said.

Aboriginal services manager Christina Restoule at Conestoga College. Photo by Keegan Lavigne, Spoke News

“It is important that we have those community partners at the table, especially when we’re looking at moving forward with programs and support services.  We want to make sure those voices are at the table when it comes to our strategic planning for supports that are implemented here at the college.”

Restoule believes that this signing has major importance and significance.

“On all areas of Indigenous education, I think it’s important that supports get implemented throughout all areas of education, not just within student life, but fostered into the academics, within the faculty of the college. Up until last year, Conestoga did not have any Indigenous professors on staff, but now we have two,” said Restoule, referring to Andrew Judge and George Kennedy.

It is crucial to the aboriginal services office that aboriginal students see Indigenous success at the college. This resembles a positive environment — one with lots of opportunity.

“We are looking at building up not just for our Indigenous students in the classroom, but the environment here at Conestoga. We want to make sure that there are Indigenous faculty on staff, that there are Indigenous people within the administration, that there are Indigenous supports here at the college,” said Restoule.

“When aboriginal students see Indigenous success at the College, they have something to admire. It shows that there is hope and that they do have a chance to be successful,” she said.

Signatories to the protocol commit to seven principles, all relating to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission report:
1. Commit to making Indigenous education a priority.
2. Ensure governance structures recognize and respect Indigenous peoples.
3. Implement intellectual and cultural traditions of Indigenous peoples through curriculum and learning approaches relevant to learners and communities.
4. Support students and employees to increase understanding and reciprocity among Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples.
5. Commit to increasing the number of Indigenous employees with ongoing appointments throughout the institution, including Indigenous senior administrators.
6. Establish Indigenous-centred holistic services and learning environments for learner success.
7. Build relationships and be accountable to Indigenous communities in support of self-determination through education, training and applied research.

“They are definitely moving in the right direction; these protocols are moving in the right direction,” said Restoule.

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