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A Glimpse at Education in the Northwest Territories

Tansi Nîtôtemtik

Call to Action #8 states, “We call upon the federal government to eliminate the discrepancy in federal education funding for First Nations children being educated on reserves and those First Nations children being educated off reserves.”[1]

In 2015, the overall graduation rate was 67% in the Northwest Territories, while Indigenous students made up 56% of graduating students.[2] One of the ways in which the Government of the Northwest Territories responded to the TRC Call to Action #8 was to offer restructured educational coursework, through the means of willingly funding school curriculum through Northern Studies 10, 20, and 30 to learn the legacies of residential schools.[3] Many of the teachers who educate in the Northwest Territories are not from the Northwest Territories, and therefore a program was also created for new teachers, the “History and Legacy of Residential Schools Awareness Training” under the Education Renewal Action Plan from 2016-2019 which focused on language, culture and identity, student and educator well-being, teaching and learning, and system accountability.[4] With these educational enhancement opportunities in place, teachers new to the Northwest Territories will develop a compassionate understanding for the important work they are charged with doing: caring for the healing and development of the youth and future leaders.

The Government of Canada developed a nationwide survey for on-reserve education and stated that Budget 2016 was to give an increase of $26 billion over five years for primary and secondary education on reserves.[5] One of the largest concerns raised in the Northwest Territories was that schooling should offer Indigenous language learning through all grades, integrated with culture education.[6] Class offerings would be based on the language(s) and dialect(s) local to the school community.

When schools only offer academic courses and methods of evaluation traditional in Western systems, sometimes students think education might not be for them and drop out or they choose pursue the Western academic path that usually takes them away from the North and distances them from their community and culture. Sometimes the opportunities south of the students’ communities entice them to stay, and they may not return, which is sad for the communities because these well-educated post-secondary students don’t bring their learnings and knowledge back to their home community. But fortunately, that could be changing.

The Minister of Northern Affairs, Daniel Vandal, announced that the budget for 2021 had a proposal to provide $8 million in funding over two years to help transform Aurora College, with campuses in Inuvik, Yellowknife and Fort Smith, into a polytechnic university.[7] R.J. Simpson, Minister of Education, Culture and Employment stated,

The transformation of Aurora College into a polytechnic university will bring wide-ranging economic and social benefits to generations of Northerners. It will also help ensure local businesses and industry can fill current and future in-demand jobs. Through the establishment of a polytechnic university, we will be increasing access to quality programming for residents in all communities, providing more equitable opportunities for Northerners to reach their education and career goals."[8]

With a combination of incoming teacher training, curriculum renewal for students, and post-secondary options in the Northwest Territories - both on and off-reserve - it seems like maybe Call to Action #8 is being acted upon, and that’s a pretty good thought for the future of the North.

Until next time,

Team ReconciliAction YEG

[1] Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, “Calls to Action”, (2015) at 2, online (pdf): Government of B.C. <>

[2] Government of the Northwest Territories, “Responding to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission: Calls to Action - An update to ‘Meeting the Challenge of Reconciliation: The Government of the Northwest Territories Response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action’” (2017) at 4, online (pdf): Government of the Northwest Territories <>

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5]“Let’s talk on-reserve education: Survey report”, Government of Canada (Dec. 18, 2017) online: <>

[6] Ibid.

[7] “Government of Canada and Government of the Northwest Territories working together to support post-secondary education in the territory”, Cision (July 13, 2021) online: <>

[8] Ibid.

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