Volume 12, Number 10 January 21, 2005

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Jamieson says education key to getting Aboriginals off ‘permanent waiting list’

By Karen Millard

Roberta Jamieson

Roberta Jamieson

Canada’s First Peoples have much potential to contribute, says Roberta Jamieson, Chief Executive Officer of the National Aboriginal Achievement Foundation (NAAF).

Jamieson is Canada’s first Aboriginal woman lawyer and the first woman to become chief of the Six Nations of the Grand River, Canada’s most populous reserve.

Speaking in RUH Jan. 14 to a group of faculty and students in a guest lecture sponsored by the U of S Health Science Deans’ Aboriginal Working Group, Jamieson described the country’s fastest-growing population group as “the opportunity waiting to happen”.

She argued that securing the future of Aboriginal children and youth must become a high priority in Canada. Unless we create space both politically and socially for First Nations, Inuit and Métis people to develop their potential, she said, it will remain unrealized.

Currently, Jamieson said, Canada and its First Peoples are “stuck” in an unproductive relationship, like a vehicle in a snowbank. “So many of our children, our youth, our women, our men, our elders, lack opportunity, lack resources and lack an environment that nourishes their success,” she said. “So many of our people cannot contribute because they are on a permanent waiting list.”

She believes the solution is to work together to reestablish a productive relationship and that education is the key to change. She said 70 per cent of Aboriginal students drop out of high school and many of those who do graduate are often unable to pursue post-secondary education due to insufficient funding and inadequate support systems.

Jamieson spoke at length about the mission and work of NAAF, whose goal is “helping First Nations, Métis and Inuit people in this country to realize our potential – as individuals, as communities – and to convert our potential and aspirations into reality, into change, so that we can contribute, not only to the betterment of our own communities, but to the country as a whole.”

She cited as one example 20/20 Vision, a groundbreaking Ontario strategy dedicated to graduating greater numbers of Aboriginal physicians. She said, “If you look at Ontario alone, on an equitable basis we should have about 374. We have maybe 12. We have maybe 150 nationally. We need to change that picture and it won’t be changed easily, but it’s doable. We did it for teachers, we did it for lawyers – when I graduated there were a handful of us, maybe 10, 12. There are a thousand now.”

Jamieson’s remarks come as the College of Medicine is putting a priority on Aboriginal education. The primary objective of the College’s Aboriginal Initiative is to “achieve a student body representative of the changing demographic with respect to the rising Aboriginal population.”

To reflect current demographics and meet its social contract, the College believes 10 of the 60 students admitted each year should be of Aboriginal ancestry. Since its establishment the College of Medicine has graduated 17 physicians of Aboriginal ancestry. Currently only three self-declared Aboriginal undergraduate students are enrolled in the college.

“This definitely needs to be improved, no question about it,” said Dr. Peter Butt, Director of the Northern Medical Services Division.

He said partnerships with the Aboriginal community, as well as the provision of appropriate support services and the development of Aboriginal health curricula, incorporating indigenous knowledge and traditions, are critical if the College’s goals are to be achieved.

Jamieson concluded by calling for action from everyone.

“Time to get us unstuck, friends!” she said. “Time to stop spinning the wheels, and time to get out and push. With your help, I know we can get moving and get back on the road again.”

For more information, contact communications.office@usask.ca

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