NALL Working Paper #23-2001
DISCURSIVE POWER AND PROBLEMS OF NATIVE INCLUSIVENESS
IN THE PUBLIC EDUCATION SYSTEM:
A STUDY OF MANDATED SCHOOL COUNCILS*
Dr. George E. Burns (Deceased)
Midnorthern Native Focus Centre
Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of the University of
Presented at the XXVI Annual Conference of the Canadian Society for the Study
of Education (CSSE), Aboriginal Education Day Session - Comparative and
International Education Society of Canada (CIESC), University of Ottawa, May
*The research project pertaining to Native inclusiveness in school councils
was carried out within the context of a larger study entitled "The
Implementation of School Councils and Impacts on School Environment", a
project which was funded through the Ministry of Education and Training of
Ontario, Transfer Grant Competition. The ideas of this paper were
developed as part of the OISE/UT New Approaches to Lifelong Learning (NALL)
Project which is an initiative funded through the Social Science and Humanities
Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) Strategic Research Networks in Education
Grant. While this manuscript reflects, solely, the views of the author,
the author wishes to acknowledge the financial support of MET and SSHRC.
The study investigated school council inclusiveness pertaining
specifically to Aboriginal peoples. The findings reveal the need of a
school council system of Aboriginal parental, elder and community participation
and involvement as a strategy leading to improved Native inclusiveness and
education relevancy, excellence and equity in the public education system,
pertaining specifically to Aboriginal children, youth and adults.
Sadly, our history with respect to treatment of Aboriginal people is not
something in which we can take pride. Attitudes of racial and cultural
superiority led to a suppression of Aboriginal culture and values. As a
country, we are burdened by past actions that resulted in weakening the
identity of Aboriginal peoples, suppressing their languages and cultures, and
outlawing spiritual practices. We must recognize the impact of these
actions on the once self-sustaining nations that were desegregated, disrupted,
limited or even destroyed by the dispossession of traditional territory, by
the relocation of Aboriginal people, and by some provisions of the Indian Act.
We must acknowledge that the result of these actions was the erosion of the
political, economic and social systems of Aboriginal people and nations.
...One aspect of our relationship with Aboriginal people over this period that
requires particular attention is the Residential School system. This
system separated many children from their families and communities and
prevented them from speaking their own languages and from learning about their
heritage and cultures. In the worst cases, it left legacies of personal
pain and distress that continue to reverberate in Aboriginal communities to
this day. Tragically, some children were the victims of physical and
sexual abuse... (Government of Canada, 1998)
This quotation is taken from the Statement of Reconciliation: Learning from the
Past, a statement on behalf of the Government of Canada, disseminated widely
throughout Canada. I chose this quotation because it captures one of the
central interpretive frames of this case study research project. The
research explored Native inclusiveness in school council structures, practices
involving policies, membership processes, and mandate. The study
identifies themes in the school council field, including attitudes of racial and
cultural superiority, coercive relations of power, and the tendency to not
regard or value the Aboriginal peoples as a distinct and unique peoples.
In short, factors which hinder and/or enhance education excellence, education
relevancy and education equity, pertaining specifically to Aboriginal students
in the public education system, receives no attention in the school governance
or education reform literature. The same is true with respect to factors
of public system education which contribute to the ongoing suppression of
culture, values and self-determination.
This paper brings into perspective, features of policies,
practices and experiences of those involved in the school governance (school
council) field. It also highlights implications of those policies,
practices and experiences as the work of councils in the public education system
pertains specifically to the education of Aboriginal children, youth and adults.
There is a need for school governance to be theorized and discussed in a manner
that invites the potential of open, honest critical dialogue on a range of
issues including socio-political power relations between the wider provincial
education process, district school boards and the governing bodies of local
schools; and socio-political power relations in the school governance (school
council) process, itself. Public system schooling, educational reforms,
school council policies and the activities of school governance also need to be
theorized and discussed within a possibility of non-Native Ministry of Education
and Training personnel, elected school board trustees, school principals,
teachers, and school council members recognizing their own agency and legitimate
place within the struggle of bringing about cultural change in schools.
Fundamental changes in school and community relationships and the culture of
schools if education policies and practices of the past, which sought to
assimilate and/or integrate Aboriginal children, youth and adults through public
system schooling, are not repeated in the present or carried forward into the
Provincial schools2 do not have a history of
welcoming Aboriginal students in a Native inclusive manner (Burns and Gamlin,
1995; Burns 1997; Burns and Beaudin, 1997). One of the implications of the
findings of this cast study is that Native inclusiveness in the public education
system needs to become a public policy goal. Native inclusiveness in
education is rooted in fundamental beliefs which result in respect of the
Aboriginal people as a people who are distinct and unique, respect of Native
self-determination and respect of Aboriginal self-governance. The
Aboriginal people are a people who are striving to regain greater degrees of
parental and community involvement in education as well as control over Native
education, where Native control of education is the preferred option of First
Nations. The focus of such an approach pertaining to school councils and
education in the public system of education is on respect and integrity,
including respect and integrity of Native world views; Native knowledge and
experience; Native language; Native spirituality; Native history; Native
culture; Native traditions; Native systems of social organization; and Native
beliefs, values, attitudes, and norms underpinning Native practices (see in
particular, Burns and Gamlin, 1995; Burns, 1996a, 1996b, 1998a; Burns and
Beaudin, 1997, Hampton, 1988). Instead, schools tend to view the Native
people as stereotypes rather than as a distinct people with a distinct heritage,
rich history, and world view of their own (Burns, 1997a).
It is clear that education has served as an instrument of
cultural genocide of the Native people. The public system of education
continues to serve as an instrument of acculturation and assimilation and
therefore, as an instrument of cultural genocide. Education practices in
mainstream provincial schools involve both elements of the formal curriculum and
the less visible hidden dimensions of curriculum encompassing the interactional,
social, management and organizational aspects of teaching and learning (Aronowitz
and Giroux, 1993; Apple, 1990; Hernandez, 1989; Giroux and Purpel, 1983; Giroux
and Penna, 1979). Elements of both the formal curriculum of the school and
the informal or hidden curriculum of the school combine in a way whereby they
contribute to a systematic weakening of Native identity, the development of an
insecure sense of Native self-worth among Native children, youth and adults, and
an overall eroding of both social cohesion and self-determination of the
Aboriginal Peoples as a distinct and unique peoples, a self-determining people,
a self-governing people. For the Native people, these are the social facts
as they relate to the schooling of their children in the public education
Where the preferred option of First Nations is First
Nations/provincial school board negotiated tuition agreement schooling, First
Nations are committed to achieving more meaningful involvement of parents,
elders and the community in education. More meaningful involvement is an
important strategy for achieving greater degrees of Native inclusiveness, Native
relevance, excellence and equity in education pertaining specifically to Native
children, youth and adults (Burns and Beaudin, 1997). This is also true
with respect to Aboriginal students living in urban communities. For
Aboriginal children, youth and adults provincial school board relations of power
and education get played out as either instruments of domination, control,
oppression, domestication, assimilation and loss of freedom or as instruments of
collaborative relations of power and education resulting in self-determination
and relevance, excellence and equity in education. The former is
associated with a notable lack of Native inclusiveness in education, a
problematic which ought to be of moral concern of provincial governments, MET,
school boards, school governance organizations and public schools employees
whose policies, social and political power relations and day-to-day practices
affect the life styles and the life chances of Native children, youth and
adults, in perpetuity.
All education governance, school governance (school
councils), and education reforms in the public education system involve socially
organized systems of social and political power relations. Aboriginal
students are a distinct and unique social category of students comprising the
overall demographics of the public education system. Aboriginal students,
more than other social categories of students, have been affected negatively by
coercive systems of social and political power relations within the public
system of education. As a result, education governance, school governance
(school councils) and education reforms, in the public education system as they
pertain to Aboriginal children, youth and adults, are areas worthy of study in
their own right.
In England, in many of the United States, and in
Australia, Canada and New Zealand, governments have mounted, in the name of
empowering parents, open assaults on school boards and their staffs, usually
characterized as the bureaucracy (Canadian Principal, 1996). This is a
situation which is also occurring in Ontario. In Ontario, the provincial
government has consolidated more than 168 school boards into 72 district school
boards and 37 school authorities; the number of elected trustees has been
reduced substantially, and school councils have been mandated. These
changes have taken effect in the name of empowering parents, empowering
communities, achieving efficiencies and improving education for students.
But, is this the effect reforms are having on Aboriginal parents, Aboriginal
communities, and Aboriginal students? I think not.
Support for establishing school parent councils is
widespread in Ontario. The majority of citizens in Ontario fully expect
school parent councils to improve the quality of education in schools in the
public education system. In a report on public attitudes towards education
in Ontario, Livingstone, Hart and Davie (1 995) present data which reveals that
85 % of respondents favoured a school council policy and the majority of
respondents from upper income (5 8 %), middle income (72 %) and lower income (66
%) areas believe that the quality of education will improve with school parent
councils. The nature of support for establishing school councils and of
expectations of school councils raises important questions: To what extent do
the parents/guardians of Aboriginal students and parents/guardians of
non-Aboriginal students expect school councils to improve the quality of
education for Aboriginal students? To what extent does the provincial
government, MET, provincial school board trustees, school principals, classroom
teachers, and members of school councils expect school councils to improve the
quality of education pertaining specifically to Aboriginal students? And,
by what means and through whose determination?
Education governance and education governance policy
studies date back to the nineteenth century (Deem, Brehony, and Heath, 1993).
Education governance theorist and applied scholars tend to approach the study of
education governance from conceptually different, but interrelated vantage
points: state focused policy studies (Hall 1988; Gipps, 1993; Whitty, 1990;
Pressman and Wildavsky, 1973); policy process studies (Ham and Hill, 1984; Hill,
1993); organization and organization change focussed studies (Clarke, Cochrane
and McLaughlin, 1994); and studies which focus on active democratic/social
citizenship (Agocs, Burr, and Sommerset, 1992; Roche, 1992; Turner, 1993).
Within the context of these various vantage points, the
case study to which I refer in this paper is holistic in approach; it stems from
aspects of each orientation. The case study addresses factors and themes
in the school council policy process within situations involving education
governance, school governance, education and Native inclusiveness issues.
The overall approach provides the basis for discussing relations of power and
how coercive relations of power, ethnocentricism, attitudes of racial and
cultural superiority, the denial of difference and the suppressing of difference
as a response to the Aboriginal peoples have operated historically in
educational settings to assimilate Aboriginal students including First Nations
students. In education, coercive relations of power have the effect of
reproducing societal inequalities through schooling. Coercive relations of
power refer to the exercise of power by a dominant group, individual or country
to the detriment of a subordinate group or individual or country (Cummins,
1995). Such a discussion is basic to any attempt to bring about
meaningful, long lasting education change, school council change, school and
Native community relations and involvement change, and Native inclusive
education change pertaining specifically to Aboriginal children, youth and
adults. Such change can be conceptualized within the context of effective
implementation of school council concepts, ideas, policies, innovations and
practices based on collaborative relations of power in the pursuit of Native
inclusiveness in the public education system and relevance, excellence and
equity in education pertaining specifically to Aboriginal students in the public
Purpose, Strategy and Method
The methods used in the research project provide the
basis for working toward a deeper theoretical and practical understanding (see
Mouzelis, 1993) of the school council concept as reform and/or innovation, and
the process of school councils in action. The overall approach can be
characterized as multi-method, multi-site, case-study strategy (Merriams, 1988),
involving a cross-section of selected Native and non-Native personnel who were
either directly or indirectly involved in school council related activities, or
otherwise aware of school councils and their manner of operation. Data
collection involved the audio taping of a combination of semi-structured
interviews and focus group discussions. The case study involved twenty-six
respondents (eighteen of Native heritage and eight of non-Native heritage).
The Native respondents occupied a range of roles including
situations at the level of individuality where some respondents occupied more
than one role position. The categories of roles occupied by the Native
respondents were as follows: parent, school council member, school council
chairperson, First Nation chief, student, paid teaching aide, First Nation
education counsellor, First Nation provincial school board trustee, member of
Native advisory committee, classroom teacher, and school principal. Native
respondent involvement in education and school council processes cut across a
range of sites; five public school boards, one RCSS board, one First Nation
board of education, one second level of service educational institute, four
Native education authorities, two Native friendship centres, and one tribal
council. First Nations respondents were directly or indirectly involved
with more than twenty-six First Nations. At the school setting level, the
Native respondents were directly associated with five non-Native schools.
In some instances, Native respondents were able to address school council issues
within the context of system-wide issues. For example, two Native trustees
are trustees on a large RCSS board, one on a public board; all three spoke from
a system-wide perspective. The same was true of several other Native
respondents. Three respondents were directly involved in First Nations
schools. While the case study touched on three First Nations schools, one
education project involved a joint initiative of a First Nation and a provincial
school board, one education project was operated jointly by a Native friendship
centre and a provincial board of education. In all situations, all Native
respondents described their school council observations and experiences as they
pertained specifically to Aboriginal students, in the public education system.
Two non-Native respondents also occupied more than one
role position. The overall role categories of non-Native respondents were
as follows: school principal, student, parent, education officer (Ontario
Ministry of Education and Training, recently retired), community member, and
senior education administrator involved in Native education programs and
services. The non-Native respondents addressed school council issues
within the context of two public school boards and one RCSS board of education.
The case study also involved the acquisition and content
analysis of archival materials including newspaper articles; school council
minutes; journal articles; books; and Ontario Ministry of Education and Training
(MET) school council materials - MET Policy/Program Memorandum No. 122 (1995),
MET School Council Handbook - A Handbook for Members of School Councils (1996),
and MET Getting Started Working Document - A Resource Guide for Establishing
School Councils (1996) and various documents put into the public domain by the
Education Improvement Commission.
While it is impossible to present the entire body of work
of the case study findings in any great detail in a paper of this nature, I will
comment briefly on four distinct areas of the study: mandate, membership
training and factors affecting implementation. I will also discuss briefly
some of the theoretical directions and applied directions the work has taken and
implications of such work for those interested in issues both of Native
inclusiveness in the public education system and school councils as a strategy
for improving- Native inclusiveness in the public system of education and for
achieving excellence, relevance and equity in education pertaining specifically
to Aboriginal children, youth and adults.
The normative obligation (mandate) of school councils, in
Ontario, is clear; an overall mandate which is clarified in considerable detail
in Policy/Program Memorandum 122 (1995) and related Ministry of Education and
Training council resource materials. The policy/program memorandum (p. 3)
states that school councils are advisory bodies which will provide advice to the
school principal and, where applicable, to the school board on any of the
following matters that the council has identified as priorities: local school
calendar; school code of behaviour; curriculum and program goals and priorities;
the response of the school or school board to achievement in provincial and
board assessment programs; preparation of the school profile; selection of
principals; school budget priorities including local capital improvement plans;
school communication strategies; methods of reporting to parents and the
community; extra-curricular activities of the school; school-based community
partnerships related to social, health, recreational, and nutrition programs;
community use of facilities; local co-ordination of services for children and
youth; and development, implementation, and review of board policies at the
A close examination of these provisions reveals that the
roles and responsibilities of the school councils are broad in scope. They
include areas of responsibilities in which parents can have considerable impact
on schools and where Aboriginal parents/guardians, elders and the community can
become potentially more meaningfully involved in the decision-making processes
that affect the culture of the school including its formal and informal
curriculum. Students from subordinated communities can become empowered in
the school context to the extent that the communities, themselves, are empowered
through their interactions with the school (Cummins, 1995). Given that
discourses systematically form the objects of which they speak (Foucault, 1972),
the absence of authentic Aboriginal voice in school governance organizations and
in schools of the public system of education must be addressed.
Where is Aboriginal voice in public education system
discourse? Where is Aboriginal voice in school governance discourse?
Voice occurs within the context of social and political power relations.
The various areas of school council responsibilities are areas around which
open, honest, critical discourse (Aboriginal voice) regarding Aboriginal
inclusiveness in education and education relevance, excellence and equity
pertaining specifically to Aboriginal students needs to occur. With
conditions of collaborative empowerment of school councils and meaningful
involvement and participation of Aboriginal people (parents/guardians, elders
and the community), school governance, schools and schooling in the public
system of education has the potential of becoming inclusive of Aboriginal
peoples. Schools also have the potential of becoming sites where education
relevancy, excellence, equity and empowerment pertaining specifically to
Aboriginal students can be achieved in practice among Aboriginal students; a
social category of distinct and unique students in the public system of
The case study findings also provide evidence of the
existence of a considerable gap between the normative order and factual
performance (Mizruchi, 1973) of school councils. The former has to do with
state level statements of what school councils are expected to do as reflected
in policy documents and/or protocols. The latter has to do with what
school councils actually do and/or do not do; their factual performance.
As an observer pointed out: "school councils ... are up and running but
they are not necessarily running effectively'; this is an understatement at
The findings reveal that school councils are an externally
imposed mandated reform or innovation in Governance which is not necessarily
widely supported by elected school board trustees, senior administrators,
principals or classroom teachers; all of whom appear to be threatened not only
by parent and community participation and involvement in school governance, but
also in terms of security of own positions. School councils appear to be
implemented as ends rather than as changes in relationships contributing to
meaningful school and/or education change. The case study findings do not
provide evidence in support of the notion of school councils as a culture of
collaborative relations of power resulting in meaningful involvement of parents,
community and school system personnel in public system education. School
councils, within the case study settings, do not appear to exist as sets of
effective, collaborative relationships (see Burns and Smith, 1996) in which
school personnel work along with parents and members of the community in an
open, honest, and collaborative manner with a view to achieving greater degrees
of social progress in education, education improvement, education
accountability, or effectiveness in the overall operation of schools, including
their programs and services. School councils, based on the case study
data, appear to exist in terms of contrived school council membership and
The findings also reveal that school council members are
not necessarily knowledgeable regarding their roles and responsibilities; in
fact, there is widespread role ambiguity among the contrived council membership.
The following verbatim comment is typical. It provides a partial
perspective to school council implementation.
... I can look at the situation that we do have, and I go back to the
point where the introduction of the school councils was not brought on
favourably with the school board itself... The school councils were not
brought on in a favourable fashion which has led to a really at-arms-length
involvement, and with that, I really don't think that we're seeing the
effectiveness of school council, at least in my area... I would go even to the
point where I would think there's a level of confusion as to what a school
council represents by the school council members and by the school board
members; and this lack of co-operative approach to the delivery of education
is disheartening at one end because you can see that there's potential for
effectiveness of school councils, I think, when we look at what they can
deliver... But, certainly, if it's not drawn out as to what they can and can't
do, it leads to an awful lot of confusion... And, the boards are very
reluctant to give in to school councils... And the third party is the school
principal. You know, there is reluctance there... Well, at the board
level, very little information has come back from school councils as to what
areas they are involved with. And I say that not of just the reflection
of the school council - it's a reflection on the school board for not inviting
school councils to participate. There's no forum of how we interrelate,
and I really believe that there's been a lost opportunity.
The findings reveal that principals tend to dominate the
school council process including both the membership and the operational
practices of the councils. This appears to be particularly true at the
secondary -level where the roles and responsibilities of school councils members
was often discussed in terms of fund raising; and endorsing the goals, values,
and practices of the school and the board. Some respondents spoke of long,
unproductive meetings, where council members come to increasingly learn that
they have no real voice on any matters of importance to them, and that school
councils do not exist as a leverage for change. One respondent expressed
her secondary school council experience in the following ways, an experience not
to be viewed as atypical.
I became a member with a great deal of anticipation... I believe in the
importance of school councils, in parent and community involvement in schools.
The principal controls the school and controls the council, the superintendent
controls the principal, and the trustees control the superintendent... We are
not making any progress in the mandated areas you described to me... The
principal is not open or honest... I have lost a part of my innocence
regarding schools, education and parent involvement since being on the
council... I'm frustrated... I will be withdrawing from the council... The
secondary school system is in desperate shape, we're not allowed to be
involved in anything meaningful...
The secondary school council (non-Native) member went on to say that she had
eights years of great parental involvement at the elementary school level prior
to the recent mandating of school councils and that she anticipated that
secondary school involvement would be equally invitational and responsive to
parental concerns. This individual indicated that her first-hand
experience on the secondary school council was frustrating, alienating, and
disillusioning, and that, if there was a private school in the area, she'd send
her children there. It is not clear to this observer who it is school
councils actually represent; who they communicate with outside of school walls;
what ends they serve beyond being instruments of the school administration in
preserving that status quo. The following verbatim comment provides
further perspective to school council practices.
One of the goals that I would like to see in the school council in light of
effectiveness in the area of communication with the community that the school
serves, and to be responsive to the community... We spend a lot of time
communicating with ourselves ... we have no budget or method to communicate
outside the council other than through word of mouth... We're not sure what we
can actually talk about... Maybe our meetings are like in-camera, I don't
All this does not appear to bode well for school council reform as a strategy
for achieving Native inclusiveness in schools. In the absence of altering
the culture of education governance, school governance and schooling, little
useful change is likely to occur in education. It is clear that there is a
need of a praxis of meaningful change in both school governance and schooling
practices, in the public education system.
Policy/Program Memorandum No. 122 states that the
membership of mandated school councils must reflect the diversity of the school
community and that parents and guardians must form the majority of the school
council membership. The directive states that members of a school council
shall include, but not be limited to, parents and guardians of students enrolled
in the school; community representatives; a students (mandatory in secondary
schools - at the discretion of the principal in elementary schools); the school
principal; a teacher; and a non-teaching staff member. The normative order
also requires that the membership of the school council shall be determined in
the following ways: parents shall be elected by parents and guardians of
students enrolled in the school; the chair of the council shall be a member who
is also a parent and shall be elected by the council; community members shall be
appointed by the council; the student representative shall be elected by
students; the school principal shall be a designated member; the teaching
representative shall be elected by members of the teaching staff; and the
non-teaching staff shall be elected by colleagues.
A close examination of this policy statement reveals that
the council membership and membership process provide the potential for active
democratic citizenship, representation and direct involvement in education.
Membership involves issues of representation including socially progressive
processes leading to equitable representation of the membership reflecting the
social diversity of the community of which Aboriginal peoples are a part.
Content analysis of Policy/Program Memorandum No. 122 reveals that the normative
order of school council membership appears to be democratic in intent. The
case study findings reveal that at the level of practice there is a considerable
gap between the normative intent of the school council membership and the
factual performance of the school governance process as it pertains to
membership. The gap between intent and factual performance has to do with
matters concerning the extent to which membership reflects social diversity of
the community and the various social and political processes leading up to who
gets to be on school councils, who doesn't get to be on school councils within
diversity, and the nature of discourse and voice within the membership once it
has been consolidated.
The findings also raise questions as to whether schools
actually exist as sites where the practice of cultural democracy actually
occurs! And if not, can schools as non-democratic sites play proactively,
meaningful roles in the development and implementation of school council
policies and practices leading to active, democratic citizenship representation
in the membership and active democratic involvement in school governance
practices? Meaningful Native representation on school council
organizations and Native inclusiveness in schooling in the public system of
education are highly unlikely to occur in the absence of schools in the public
system of education becoming sites of cultural democracy; sites where coercive
social and political relations of power simply do not exist; of if they do
exist, cannot thrive!
The Report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples
(1996) provides perspective to such social and political issues within the
context of the direct, lived experiences of Aboriginal peoples.
"...parental involvement and local control of schools are standard
practice in Canada - but not for the Aboriginal people; instead, they have
long been the object of attempts by state and church authorities to use
education to control and assimilate them, during the residential school era,
certainly, but also, more subtly, today. "
The Native people exist as a distinct and unique people, a self-determining
people, a self-governing people, and a people seeking greater involvement and
participation in schooling in the public system of education. It is
vitally important that education governance reforms, school governance reforms
and education reforms be viewed as instruments which have the potential of
reaching out and involving Aboriginal parents in the education of their
children, in ways previously denied them. This is essential if education
in mainstream schools is to become a positive force in the pursuit of bicultural
competence and confidence among Native children, youth and adults, as Native
peoples; a peoples who are distinct and unique.
Numerous Native respondents are critical and
forthright in their desire to have a Native position on school councils and the
desire of meaningful process leading up to Native representation within the
school council membership. The following verbatim comments provide a
partial perspective to Native representation issues:
- I'm not even sure that there was specific reference made to Native
representation on school council. You know as a parent ... and, with
the population of Native people in the community, we've solicited through
our First Nation education office different people that we know have kids in
certain schools and have them consider sitting on parents council and we've
done that as an education unit ... for parents who sit on the parents
council and we do have Native parents on different councils, - there might
be a general statement. But I don't think we had any when they
instituted the process... there should be Native representation - encourage
Native representation... It wasn't a matter of the community selecting.
It was a matter of the Native parent going to the council and saying I'm
interested in maybe serving on the school council.
- I was told by the school principal that they don't even have to have our
Native communities on the school councils if they don't want to... Like that
is the understanding that I got ... if we get to be asked to sit on a school
council, we're supposed to feel that they're doing a favour for us ... kind
of like honoured ... they get to pick who sits on the councils, right... I
know our's got formed that way. I got the impression that's not the
way it's supposed to be.
- I have to check on how people got on the council... I know two Native
parents that put their name in at one of our larger elementary schools - not
Native wise but population wise - and both were accepted on to the school
council ... and I'm not sure if there was a need to do any elections there
if they had the recommended amount of people besides what they really need
... so I'm not sure that there's been elections. I would think there's
been solicited participation in some school councils.
Two Native respondents indicated that they were asked by the school principal to
represent their respective First Nations. One was not a parent, the
principal indicated that was not a factor. Another respondent indicated
that there were others in the First Nation more interested and qualified than
her to be on the council. The principal indicated she was the inductee.
One respondent described the overall membership process as follows–
- The school board went through a campaign to inform the community of school
councils. It went through that but I think that was almost an
expectation that they had to follow through... I know our director posted an
ad in the local papers that there would be a certain night that they'd be
selecting. So, through an electoral forum, representation was selected
from each community. The board left the First Nations to their own
selection. The First Nations reps in our area were elected by their
respective Chief and Council... Would that imply that each school council
has a First Nations member on it? It could have, not that they have,
they could have. The opportunity was there...
A First Nation person described her school council experience in the following
- I heard through the grapevine that there was going to be a school council
meeting at the school, so I went. I was told at this very first
meeting that I couldn't be there ... I was really upset. And I said to
the principal, you should have told me before I came here because you really
put me in a bad position like what are you doing here? You don't have
children in the school. You're not supposed to be here. You're
not part of our committee... And I left, and he phoned me about a week later
and said well I had a talk with the committee and they said it would be okay
if you sat as part of the committee... I felt like saying to him well thank
you very much for asking me - going and talking about it and letting me sit
on your little group... And I guess I kind of got my back up because it was
like forget it at that point...
School councils are also mandated to organize information and training
sessions to enable members of the council to develop their skills as council
members. Examination of the data derived from interviews and focus group
discussions reveals there are numerous areas of need for comprehensive, ongoing
in-service training and development of school council members, including
principals, teachers, and parents.
The case study findings reveal that there is a particular
need for principals to learn the skills required to advocate for change, to
share power, to share opportunities, to provide leadership in implementing
collaborative relations of power and in the development of a vision of school
governance effectiveness. The findings also indicate that school council
members must be provided opportunities to learn to work toward shared
objectives, within diversity, through a process of bargaining, negotiation,
collaboration, and conflict resolution in order to achieve progressive school,
school council, and community goals.
School council members can also benefit from in-service
opportunities leading to the development of knowledge and understanding of
social facts pertaining specifically to the Native people including the fact
that they exist as a people who are distinct and unique; they are a
self-determining peoples; they are a self-governing people; and they have a
right to be meaningfully involved in school governance and education affecting
Native children, youth and adults. Within the context of Native
inclusiveness issues, there is also a need for ongoing in-service geared to the
development of strategies effective in reaching out to Aboriginal parents,
elders and Aboriginal communities both within First Nations and in urban
communities. There is also a demonstrable need to alter the culture of
school governance organizations (school councils) and schools in Native
inclusive ways. These are important first steps in any attempt to help
Native children, youth and adults learn the skills needed to participate fully
in the economy and to help them develop as citizens of Aboriginal nations --
with the knowledge of their language and traditions required for cultural
Education research pertaining specifically to Aboriginal
children, youth and adults in Canada is comprehensive. Both descriptive
and analytic research characterizes in considerable detail federal government
education themes and policies of segregation, assimilation (Armitage, 1995;
Common and Frost, 1994; Frideres, 1993; Barman, Hebert and McCaskill, 1986,
1987), and more recently the integration of Aboriginal children in regular
provincial schools via coercive master tuition agreement arrangements (Burns,
1996a, 1996b). The research also provides analyses of the manner in which
attitudes of racial and cultural superiority manifested in coercive relations of
power and education policies of segregation, education assimilation and
education integration pertaining specifically to Aboriginal children, youth and
adults, in Canada, the United States, New Zealand and Australia have had
devastating affects on the First Peoples (Hirschfelder and Kreipe de Montano,
1993; Armitage, 1995; Welch, 1996, Corson, 1997). The historical legacy of
education segregation, assimilation and integration policies and practices are
not morally defensible in a Canadian democracy. The overall effects of
integrative and assimilative schooling are also not acceptable to the Aboriginal
peoples, of Canada (Longboat, 1987; McDonald, 1997). There is a need of
change in the public education system. School governance (council) reform
can become an instrument of meaningful change.
There is a tremendous volume of comprehensive research
directed towards the gaining of valuable insights into the nature and scope of
changes needed in education policies and practices pertaining specifically to
Aboriginal children, youth and adults in Canada. More notable papers,
studies and reports put into the public domain over the past thirty years
include: the federal government's White Paper4 - Statements of Government of
Canada on Indian Policy (1969)3, the National Indian Brotherhood
response to the White Paper entitled "Indian Control of Indian
Education" (1972), Assembly of First Nations Tradition and Education:
Towards a Vision of Our Future (1988), MacPherson Report (1991), Report of the
Royal Commission on Learning - "For the Love of Learning" (1994), the
House of Common Report on Aboriginal Education (1996), and the five volume
Report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples (RCAP, 1996). A close
examination of these documents reveals that there is continuity of findings
within research on Native education. The Report of the Royal Commission on
Aboriginal Peoples (1996) is particularly revealing. It contextualizes
both the past and the present in concluding that "the Aboriginal people
have long been the object of attempts by the state and church authorities to use
education to control and assimilate them, during the residential school era, but
also more subtly, today". RCAP highlights the fact that the
Aboriginal people want two main things from education: schools to help children,
youth and adults to learn the skills they need to participate fully in the
economy, and to help children develop as citizens of Aboriginal nations - with
the knowledge of their languages and traditions necessary for cultural
continuity. It is clear that the public education system fails to
accomplish either of these goals. The six volume report of the Royal
Commission on Aboriginal Peoples is an important report. It is a report
which should be read and then openly discussed by MET personnel, EIC personnel,
elected trustees, education personnel and school council personnel of the public
education system. Selected ideas of the report should be used as the basis
for bringing about meaningful change in relations of power and in education.
To this day, the majority of Aboriginal youth do not
complete high school, they leave high school with neither the credentials for
jobs in the mainstream economy nor a grounding in their languages and cultures,
and they are very likely to have experienced the ignorance and hatred of racism,
which leaves them profoundly demoralized and angered (RCAP, 1996).
Building upon the work of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, it is of
utmost importance that provincial governments, Ministries of Education, school
boards, public education system employees, public education system school
council policy makers, and school governors (school council members) become
cognizant of several facts:
- almost 70 percent of Aboriginal children are taught in provincial or
- mainstream educational systems have few mechanism of accountability to
- the mainstream education system has made few attempts to reach out and
involve Aboriginal parents or the Aboriginal community in meaningful ways;
- the Aboriginal people continue to believe that education can be a positive
force in the pursuit of cultural competence and confidence for their
children and for themselves (RCAP, 1996).
These observations, concerns, and expectations relating to
Native education raise important questions which need to be addressed by school
board trustees, school personnel and members of school councils: What roles
should school councils play in a democracy committed to a valuing of diversity
and the valuing of the Aboriginal peoples as a distinct and unique peoples
within diversity? What are the indicators of equity, social justice and
due process of involvement in education in the public system of education?
In what ways can school councils reach out and involve Aboriginal
parents/guardians, elders and the Aboriginal community in schools and in the
education of their children in the public education system? What are the
roles of school councils in the improvement of school level education policy and
practices pertaining specifically t 'o Aboriginal children, youth and adults
attending schools in provincial school board jurisdictions? In what ways
are school governance organizations currently addressing issues of
inclusiveness, relevance, excellence and equity in education pertaining
specifically to Aboriginal children, youth and adults, as determined by the
Aboriginal peoples themselves? And, what is the vision of education of the
school council as it pertains specifically to Aboriginal students from First
Nations and urban communities?
By appearing to be an impartial and neutral transmitter of
the benefits of valued culture, "the culture of domination", schools,
in the public system of education, are able to engage in the production of
inequality in mainstream education, under the guise of fairness, objectivity,
and equal opportunity for all (Aronowitz and Giroux, 1993). The MET, EIC,
district school boards and schools are not neutral. Public system
education policies and practices, in Canada, pertaining specifically to Native
children, youth and adults have been and continue to be paternalistic, racist,
and discriminatory in character (Burns, 1996b). This has not been a
happenstance; it has been a social intent! Residential schooling,
mainstream schooling, and tuition agreement education have been used as
instruments for achieving cultural genocide of the Native peoples. They
have been instruments of acculturation, integration, assimilation and an overall
eroding of both social cohesion and self reliance amongst the Aboriginal peoples
as a distinct and unique peoples, as a self-determining peoples, and a people
who aspire to regain voice over education affecting Aboriginal children, youth,
and adults. Provincial school system policies and practices and school
council policies and practices affect the Aboriginal people directly!
Aboriginal control of education and parental involvement
are fundamental principles underpinning education pertaining to Aboriginal
children, youth and adults. Relatedly, RCAP recommends that where
Aboriginal children attend provincial schools, provincial governments take
immediate steps to ensure that Aboriginal people are both involved fully and
meaningfully involved in the decision-making processes that affect the education
of their children. In the Province of Ontario, the provincial government,
the Ministry of Education and Training, the Education Improvement Commission and
the Ontario Parent Council should take whatever steps are necessary to ensure
that Aboriginal people are fully involved in school council processes that
affect the education of their children in the public system of education.
Greater degrees of involvement and meaningful participation of Aboriginal people
in education decision-making processes is required to achieve Native
inclusiveness, Native relevance, excellence and equity in education pertaining
specifically to Aboriginal children, youth and adults (Burns, 1996a).
History reveals that education pertaining specifically to
Aboriginal children, youth and adults has been an instrument of domination.)
control, assimilation, exploitation, domestication, and the marginalization of
the Aboriginal peoples in the economy and mainstream society. It is also
clear that education can become an instrument of self-determination, liberation,
empowerment, and self-government. Formal education has been an instrument
of the former and it must become an instrument of the latter! Work in the
Native education field reveals that mainstream education, in provincial school
systems, has been counter productive to the self-determination of the First
Nations people as a People who are distinct and unique. School councils,
in this light, can be seen as a strategy to redress problems of the past.
Education, in provincial schools, has worked at
cross-purposes with the fundamental goals and ideals of Aboriginal peoples
including First Nations, particularly as they relate to the social, economic,
political, educational, kinship, heritage, spirituality, linguistic and cultural
aspirations and expectations of the Native peoples as distinct and unique
peoples in the fabric of Canadian society. In practice, the public system
of education including mainstream tuition agreement education is notably
non-inclusive of the Native peoples. The public system of education is a
mode of education which is not responsive to the beliefs, values, language,
heritage, spirituality, tradition, knowledge, experiences, history, and
normative practices of the Aboriginal peoples. In fact, as it pertains to
Aboriginal children, youth and adults, mainstream tuition agreement education is
racist, discriminatory, and assimilative in character. Schools, in the
public education system, are total institutions. Within the Eurocentric,
white western paradigm of education, schools mirror the beliefs, values,
traditions, practices and normative aspirations and expectations of those
comprising the culture of domination in society (Burns, 1998). It is thus
that schools continue to contribute to the suppression of Aboriginal culture and
values, and to the assimilation of the Native peoples and to cultural genocide.
There is a need of a praxis of Native inclusiveness in the
wider provincial education process, district school board jurisdictions, school
governance organizations and schools as a strategy for achieving inclusion,
relevance, excellence and equity in education pertaining specifically to
Aboriginal students. Such a praxis is different from a praxis of coercive
relations of power; a praxis of domination, control, assimilation,
domestication, marginalization; and enculturation which sets out to enculturate
Native children, youth and adults into the beliefs, values and practices of
western and/or global institutions through the vicissitudes of both the formal
and informal curriculum of the school (see Burns, 1997a, 1998a, 1996b for an
elaboration of such a praxis) and through school governance policies,
structures, processes and practices. In such a praxis, it is necessary to
focus on the existence of the Aboriginal peoples as a people who are distinct
and unique, self-determined, self-governed in areas of inclusiveness and
relevance, excellence and equity in education pertaining to Aboriginal students.
Native inclusiveness in school councils and the practices of schools have
implications for the extent to which relevance, excellence and equity in
education pertaining specifically to Aboriginal children, youth, and adults is
achievable in practice. Inclusiveness is also an essential prerequisite to
the self-determination of the Native Peoples, as a distinct and unique peoples,
Santayana (1905) concluded that those who cannot remember
the past are condemned to repeat it. In this observation, Santayana voices
a concern not only about the importance of knowing about the details of the past
in order to be able to deal with legacies of the past, but also the importance
of knowing about, understanding and recognizing the mistakes of coercive
relations of power of the past in order that the culture of coercive relations
of power be altered to a culture of collaborative relations of power and
empowerment. It is equally important to recognize, know about and
understand the nature of our own agency as instruments of the status quo
(historical legacies repeated) or as instruments of change within relations of
power. Santayana's initial observation has a special significance for the
study, development and implementation of public education system school council
policies, organizations, processes and practices as they pertain specifically to
Aboriginal children, youth and adults. Schools involve social and
political power relations. Schools are not neutral, objective or equitable
on matters concerning racial, ethnocultural, class, gender and sexual
The majority of Aboriginal children attend schools in the
public education system at some point in their elementary and/or secondary
school careers. The public system of education is based on the white
western paradigm of education (Burns, 1996b). Are the characteristics of
the relations of power of the past being reproduced within relationships of the
present and the future? Are non-Native Ministry of Education and Training
personnel, elected school board trustees, principals, teachers and school
council members aware of their own agency and their legitimate role in the
governance process and the process of educational change? The process of
change to which I refer here is one which leads to a public education system
which is beneficial and relevant to Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal students
This paper illuminates and informs matters of agency,
relations of power and the school governance (council) concept as a strategy
leading to improved Native inclusiveness, relevancy, excellence and equity in
public education pertaining specifically to Aboriginal children, youth and
adults. Unless numerous issues are addressed, historical legacies of the
past will be reproduced through the contrived practice, of school governance
councils and schooling in the public system of education of which Aboriginal
students are a part.
The case study findings reveal that school councils, in
the public system of education, are being implemented within the context of the
status quo in education and coercive relations of power in schools. School
governance reform is being implemented as first order changes. First order
changes are those that tend to be directed toward improvement of effectiveness
and efficiency of what is already institutionalized in systems, without
substantially altering the way existing roles and role relationships are
performed (Fullan, 1994). What is required in the school governance change
field are changes which result in second order change. Second order change
seeks to alter the fundamental ways in which organizations are put together
including new goals, structures, roles, and collaborative work cultures (Cuban,
1990). The challenge for school boards, schools, school councils, and
Aboriginal communities will be to become more proactively involved in a broad
range of second order changes -- changes that affect the culture and structure
of schools; changes which result in the restructuring of roles and role
relationships toward collaborative relations of power, involving trustees,
school system personnel, parents and students, community partners in education,
and school council members. The challenge is also in relation to
restructuring role relationships resulting in effective collaborative relations
of power involving parents and guardians of Native students, elders in Native
communities, Native community organizations and associations, school personnel
and members of other agencies and organizations in the wider community.
The case study findings reveal the need of a school
council system in the public system of education that knows about, understands,
recognizes and supports the culture, values, language and aspirations of the
Aboriginal peoples; a people whose membership has experienced similar oppression
throughout Canada, yet a group whose membership cannot in any way be classified
as a homogenous group in Canada. The system to which I refer is one which
both recognizes and supports through proactive collaborative relations of power
the distinctiveness and uniqueness of the Aboriginal peoples, self-determination
and self-government. This implies an overall recognition which is
supported through Native inclusive provincial government, MET, district school
board, school governance, and education practices which are inclusive and
respectful of the Aboriginal peoples, throughout. Ethnocentricism can, in fact,
be seen as synonymous with racism (Swann, 1985). The same is true with
respect to the suppression of non-dominant culture in education and society.
As the past reveals, suppression has been the first and foremost response to the
Aboriginal peoples (Harper, 1997); a phenomenon which appears to be continuing
A conclusion to be drawn from the case study research is
that in the public education system school councils are not Native inclusive
organizations. As a result of this, the education and social interests,
needs, aspirations, and expectations of Native parents and members of Native
communities are not being taken into consideration or addressed by school
council organizations. One of the implications is that school council
reform needs to be conceptualized, discussed and implemented as a reform
strategy leading to improved Native representation on school councils and Native
inclusiveness in both school councils and public system schooling. There
is a need of a school council system of inclusiveness in the public system of
education that recognizes, values and actively supports the Aboriginal peoples
as a distinct and unique peoples striving to regain self-determination; a people
who have a right to education in the public system of education which is
relevant, excellent and equitable as such education pertains specifically to
The author is aware of the current work of the Education
Improvement commission (EIC); a commission formed in 1997 to oversee major
changes, including strengthening the involvement of parents and their
communities in schools, in the four systems of district school boards in
Ontario: English language; English language Catholic, French language, and
French language Catholic4. A close examination of the EIC document
reveals that, if one was hopeful that the school council change process would
serve as the basis for an awakening of public educational system consciousness
regarding problems of Native inclusiveness in education and school councils as a
strategy for the eventual improvement of public system education pertaining
specifically to Aboriginal students, the discussion paper falls far short of
expectations. The only reference to Native issues in the entire discussion
paper is -- How can the interests of Native communities be best represented on
Within the white western paradigm of education,
ethnocentrism, attitudes of racial and cultural superiority, the denial of
difference and the suppression of difference as responses to the Aboriginal
peoples is synonymous with racism and discrimination in education.
Systemic discrimination in education results in the absence of Native
inclusiveness in the public system of education and a lack of education
relevance, education excellence and education equity pertaining specifically to
It is evident that there are numerous issues which need to
be addressed regarding school councils and problems of schooling pertaining
specifically to Aboriginal students. It is of vital importance that the
Government of Ontario make the strongest possible commitments to ensuring the
Aboriginal students attending schools in the public education system receive an
education required to participate fully in the economy and to develop as
citizens of Aboriginal communities -- with the knowledge of their language,
culture, heritage, and traditions necessary for cultural continuity,
self-determination and self-governance.
The Education Improvement Commission (EIC) is mandated to
develop new district school boards, clarify the role of school board trustees
and strengthen the involvement of parents and communities in their schools.
The commission plans to present its recommendations on the future role of school
councils to the Minister of Education and Training in early 1999. As a
result of this, it is of utmost importance that the EIC organize, co-ordinate
and carry out a comprehensive collaborative initiative involving First Nations,
Aboriginal political organizations, Native Friendship Centres, Aboriginal
education authorities, and other Aboriginal jurisdictions and stakeholders
including Aboriginal communities and parents and Elders of those communities in
the development of a comprehensive policy to be included in legislation
regarding the role of school councils pertaining specifically to Aboriginal
parents, Elders, First Nations and urban Aboriginal communities. There is
also a need of an overall provincial government policy regarding public system
education pertaining specifically to First Nations tuition agreement students
and Aboriginal students from urban communities. To that end, it is also
imperative that the Government of Ontario work in collaboration with First
Nations and other Aboriginal jurisdictions in the development and implementation
of "Comprehensive Aboriginal Education Legislation and Policy",
acceptable to the Aboriginal peoples.
1. In Canada, there are Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people.
Aboriginal peoples exist as a distinct peoples who are considered separately
from racial and ethno cultural minorities comprising the non-Aboriginal peoples
of Canada. Within that distinctiveness, "Aboriginal" includes
status Indians, non-status Indians, Inuit and Métis. As numerous
reference materials and people use the term "Native",
"Aboriginal" and "Native" are used interchangeably in this
paper. "First Nations" refers to those Aboriginal peoples
registered as Indians under the provision of the Indian Act.
2. By provincial schools, I mean publicly funded schools in the province of
Ontario under the jurisdiction of Bill 104 district school boards and school
3. The White Paper exists as a classical example of how attitudes of racial
and cultural superiority provide the basis for continuity in the intricate web
of coercive relationships of socio-political power in education pertaining to
the Aboriginal peoples, an overall approach which was responded to appropriately
by the National Indian Brotherhood and the Assembly of First Nations.
4.See in particular the Education Improvement Commission Discussion Paper --
The Future Role of School Councils, May 1998. The document states that the
four systems of district school boards exist as distinct and equal systems which
address the rights of Ontario's Catholic and French speaking population, as
guaranteed under the Canadian Constitution and the Charter of Rights and
Freedoms, and that each system must involve a partnership of the province,
district school boards, school communities, and parents -- all working together
in the best interests of students. It also states that any model for
community and parental involvement must respect the Constitutional and Charter
guarantees surrounding Catholic and French language education. What about
the Aboriginal peoples, a people who are distinct and unique? What about
their inherent rights, their treaty rights, their Constitutional rights, their
tuition agreement education rights, their rights to inclusiveness in education,
and their rights to education relevance, education excellence and equity in
education in the public education system? What about their rights to
education in the public education system which prepares them to learn the skills
they need to participate fully in the economy and to develop as citizens of
Aboriginal communities -- with the knowledge of their language, history,
beliefs, values, culture, traditions and world views necessary for cultural,
spiritual, social, economic and political continuity? What is the future
role of school councils in ensuring that Aboriginal students get the best
possible education in terms of that education being, relevant, excellent, and
equitable; and within the context of the Aboriginal people being distinct,
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