De Jong: "...there's more work to be done."

Earlier, we reported just 30 percent of British Columbians have a "positive awareness" of the diversity of value of First Nations culture. This, according to the ministry of aboriginal relations and reconciliation's service place. Asked for his interpretation of that number, Mike de Jong, the minister responsible, said it means the government has "more work to do. That (awareness is) better than it was. But we want to ensure British Columbians have a keener sense of our history - our history dating back to the formation of the colony but also our history pre-contact with Europeans. And there's more work to be done."

So how's the government going to accomplish that? "You've already seen some of the work that's already taking place - through education, through incorporating elements of our history into the curriculum. And, as British Columbians see the kind of reconciliation agreements that are taking place, there's a broader understanding being created. I think it's positive," said Minister de Jong.

So do the Liberals feel any responsibility for that lower awareness, given their past opposition to the Nisga'a Final Agreement and decision to hold a referendum on treaty negotiating principles? "I'm actually proud of the work we've done over the number of years to address a deplorable socio-economic gap that has been created over the course of a century and a half," the minister responded. "But the work isn't finished."


There's more work to be done? No kidding!

Take just one area - public education. All the data tell us year after year that our public schools are not meeting the needs of Aboriginal students: the appalling drop-out rates have been flat-lined since 2002. FSA tests in Grade 4 & 7 consistently show a gap in basic skills that has not changed in 6 years. Aboriginal kids are three times as likely to be classified as having "behavioural disabilities" and dumped into dead-end programs with other "behaviourally challenged" kids.

What "work" has the Province funded to change any of this?

Between 1990 and 2000, targeted Provincial funding to support Abiriginal students in public schools was doubled from $20 to $40 million annually. Aboriginal school completion rates went from 34% in 1997 to 47% in 2002. Things were starting to change, though much more "work" needed to be done.

What's happened since 2001? Targeted funding for Aboriginal students in our public schools has barely kept pace with Aboriginal enrolment (yes, it's growing steadily overall despite the appalling drop-out rate) which effectively means significant cuts to Aboriginal programs, given salary cost increases & other inflationary pressures. And on a per student basis, the Aboriginal grants are a pittance compared to other "unique needs" student grants that public schools receive to provide extra supports.

Intervention in these early years is the most effective place to break inter-generational cycles of despair and to set young people up for successful lives. But instead of instilling pride, resilience and self-confidence, we keep telling these kids that they're the failures (instead of that it's the system that's failing them) and that nothing can be done to fix that.

I can't imagine the neoLiberals' first term racist treaty referendum did anything positive for citizens' awareness of First Nations culture.

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