Breaking The High School Barrier

IndigNation | by Bev Cardinal

Here’s some staggering new statistics, hot off the interweb presses: as of Saskatchewan’s 2017–2018 school year, 86.5% of Indigenous students graduated high school in three years! Over five years of school, that number rises to 91.1%!

I can’t believe my eyes — are my trifocals deceiving me? This is fucking amazing! This is transformational! This is what educational systems, academics, researchers, educators and communities have been working towards for over 40 years! It’s too good to be true!

Also: it’s not true. This is all, as they say, “just jokes” — a bit of good-natured, Indigenous-style humour.

My “staggering new” graduation stats are fiction. Those numbers are for our province’s boisterous, exuberant, rollicking, rackety, wacky teenage non-Indigenous students. And good for them!

But just once in my lifetime, I wanted to report outstanding statistics for Indigenous students. Because it’s deflating that Indigenous students in this province continue to stand on the outside looking in.

Real Stats, Real Talk

Here are the real numbers (which, by the way, have barely changed over the past 40 years no matter how various governments spin them) courtesy of a June 21 Bryn Levy StarPhoenix story: only 44.5 per cent of Saskatchewan First Nations, Métis and Inuit students graduate high school within three years. Overall, 59.4 per cent get their diplomas in five. These are far below the province’s non-Indigenous student success rates.

Not good enough for me! Hoping it’s not good enough for you!

The benefits of finishing Grade 12 are clear: get educated and trained, get a job, become a taxpaying citizen and — most importantly — a contributing member of society. But when the expected outcomes aren’t met, instead of blaming the system it’s those who don’t achieve them who are harshly judged, ostracized, demonized and, in many cases, stereotyped and denigrated.

Here in Saskatchewan, that translates into the harsh and unacceptable fact that Indigenous students benefit the least from publicly funded education. Which means that race is a direct influence on this huge gap.

There’s a word for a system that churns out different results for people with different skin colours. Can’t quite remember it; it’s on the tip of my tongue.

I’m sure it will come to me.

Success Boosts Saskatchewan

Completing Grade 12 is a significant rite of passage. Obtaining a high-school diploma is the gateway to post-secondary, technical, and trades training, and future careers. Obviously, it’s a huge contributor to a person’s quality of life, which is a compelling reason to get serious about successfully increasing Indigenous education. It’s about human rights, Indigenous rights and equality!

But let’s expand the conversation. Let’s focus on the huge economic potential of a young, growing, influential population of Indigenous people who, under optimal circumstances, will stay in Saskatchewan, work in Saskatchewan and contribute to Saskatchewan’s economic growth and development.

Isn’t this what we all want for our province, our children and our grandchildren?

Miigwetch! Marci!