Canada: Que. Algonquin community opens own school over language fears; Indian Affairs denies government-run school stifles Anishnaabe tongue

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at
Fri Jul 18 18:00:59 UTC 2008

Que. Algonquin community opens own school over language fears
Indian Affairs denies government-run school stifles Anishnaabe tongue

Last Updated: Thursday, July 17, 2008 | 2:54 PM ET
Comments24Recommend17CBC News

Parents and elders in the last Algonquin-speaking community in Canada
have pulled most of their reserve's young children from an official
government-run elementary school over what some in the community say
is a continuing attempt to erase their language and culture. Some of
the 650 Algonquins of Barrière Lake living in the remote village of
Rapid Lake, or Kitiganik, have set up their own school on the reserve
on the shore of Quebec's Cabonga reservoir, about 300 kilometres north
of Ottawa.  A few weeks ago, Canada formally apologized for trying to
assimilate native children through the residential school system in
the 20th century. But some members said the reserve's government-run
school has been engaging in similar practices.

The Barrière Lake Algonquins are the last of 10 Algonquin communities
in Canada to still speak the language known as Anishnaabe at home. The
parents and elders have previously pushed to have more of their
language included in the curriculum of Algonquins of Barrière Lake
School, where instruction is given primarily in English. But the band
members' main objection is over their claim that the principal and
more than one teacher at the government-run school have told the
students not to express themselves in their own language in the
presence of the non-Anishnaabe-speaking teaching staff, because the
staff — most of whom are non-aboriginal — don't understand it.

The parents said the children who spoke their language have had treats
withheld and were denied recess. Grade 2 student Marie Nottaway said
her teacher at the government-run school would react quickly to
hearing the Algonquin language in class. "She would tell the principal
and then we would all go to the principal's office," Nottaway said.
"She said, 'Don't speak Algonquin when your teacher's here.' "
Marylynn Poucachiche, who has five children living on the reserve,
told CBC News that the stories people have heard about the
government-run institution made many in the community recall the dark
legacy of residential schools.

"When our children were told to speak English, it brought back
memories for our parents when they went to residential school," she
said. "That's why we pulled out the students." Pierre Nepton, the
Indian Affairs Department's second-ranking official in Quebec, denies
any policy to assimilate children or punish the use of their
traditional language. Nepton told CBC News that school officials have
assured him the charges are not true. He added the school's aim is to
prepare the children for secondary schools that are mostly in Maniwaki
and Val D'Or, where Algonquin is not spoken.

Leadership dispute

The dispute over the rival schools has been at the centre of a
continuing division in the community. Former Barrière Lake chief
Jean-Maurice Matchewan closed Algonquins of Barrière Lake School last
November, but the current band council under chief Casey Ratt, which
does not recognize the alternative school, reopened the government-run
facility in March. Ratt is recognized as chief by the Indian Affairs
Department, but is facing a leadership challenge from rival Benjamin
Nottaway. Nottaway is a proponent of the alternative school whose
supporters in the community are demanding Indian Affairs recognize him
as the rightly chosen successor to Matchewan, who stepped down after
being charged for allegedly having marijuana and a handgun in his car.

In January, band members and elders opened the unofficial school —
known as Kitchi Migwam or "great wigwam" in their language — which
two-thirds of the community's elementary school children now attend.
The children remaining at the government-run school now barely
outnumber the staff.

Community elder Basil Anichi-Napeo told CBC News he volunteered to
teach at the alternative school because the children at the official
school were losing their language.

The alternative school is staffed by six volunteers and has 46
students who receive instruction heavily focused on language, while
the curriculum also includes traditional learning and bushcraft.

Both schools are closed for the summer, but where the children will be
in the fall remains a mystery.

"Right now, we've got a school open, and we just hope that the parents
will send their kids to school," Indian Affairs' Nepton said.
"Otherwise, I don't know what will be the future of those kids, but I
guess those parents are taking care of that."

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