“The Answers Are Within Us” expressed the theme of the 6th World Indigenous Peoples Conference on Education (WIPCE) in August 2002. WIPCE celebrated the achievements of Indigenous peoples in transmitting their heritage from generation to generation and welcomed the sharing of successes in the use and enhancement of Indigenous languages and culture in all areas. Twenty-two hundred educators registered for the conference and several hundred volunteers were on-site to assist in making it a success.
In May 1985, Indigenous peoples from around the world gathered in Vancouver, British Columbia and, as a result of this gathering, the World Indigenous Peoples Education Association was formed. In 1987, the first World Indigenous Peoples Conference on Education was held at Xwmelch’sten, North Vancouver. Since then, WIPCE has been held in Turangawaiwae, Aotearoa (New Zealand) (1990), Wollongong, Australia (1993), Albuquerque, New Mexico (1996) and Hilo, Hawaii (1999). In 2002 , the Opening Ceremonies for WIPCE were held on an unseasonably cold day but there was a warm welcome from the host, First Nations Adult and Higher Education Consortium, and the Chiefs of the Bear’s Paw, Chiniki and Wesley Reserves of the hosting Nakoda Nation. Premier Ralph Klein of Alberta was also on hand to greet delegates. Opening day included a Parade of Nations by delegations from around the world. Delegates were also honoured that the Maori Queen from Aotearoa (New Zealand) attended the conference. Looking at the site of the conference, you could almost imagine that you had been mysteriously transported back in time with tipis covering the Bow River valley nestled in the Rocky Mountains. The tipis were the teaching lodges used by more than 200 presenters for workshops ranging from “Aboriginal Approach to Holistic Learning” to “Apartheid: Australian Style 2002”. On behald of Education International, Jan Beaver, Canadian Teachers’ Federation, Laures Park, and Olive Hawira, New Zealand Educational Institute, made a presentation entitled “Global Indigenous Voice on Education”. The presentation was done using a talking circle, which is a traditional way of discussing issues used by the Indigenous peoples of North America. Presenters provided a brief overview of the work of Education International and the Indigenous education issues in New Zealand and Canada. Then the eagle feather passed to each of the participants, who shared their work and their views on critical issues in Indigenous education in their own countries. Participants were from Hawaii, Canada, United States, Australia, Tasmania and Norway. The presentation was a call to action to Indigenous educators to work together at local, regional, national and global levels to transform education in order to meet the needs of Indigenous and non-Indigenous learners and teachers. The following critical issues requiring action were identified by the participants: * Language extinction due to lack of resources for Indigenous language programmes; * Need to educate non-Indigenous teachers and students about Indigenous peoples; * Lack of resources, and curriculum to support Indigenous education programmes; * Lack of involvement of Indigenous peoples in curriculum and programme development; * Culturally inappropriate testing and labelling of Indigenous students as being “special needs” or “deficit/disorder”; * Lack of resources to support unique needs of Indigenous students; * Poor retention rates for Indigenous students; * Inadequate support for cultural education for Indigenous and non-Indigenous students; * Barriers in the teacher certification process for Indigenous peoples; * Barriers preventing Indigenous involvement in teachers’ unions; * Need for policies related to Indigenous education to be implemented in schools; * Need to overcome racism in schools; * Lack of recognition of Indigenous ways of knowing and world view; * Lower expectations for Indigenous students in education system; * Need for Indigenous cultural awareness training for all teachers as part of the certification process and in-service training. Participants at the workshop were very enthusiastic about the Global Indigenous Voices on Education (GIVE) network web site (www.give-edu.net) and the opportunity to network with colleagues from around the world. Many Educator Profiles had already been submitted for the GIVE Network. All agreed on the need for a network in order to allow Indigenous educators to work together and share expertise. The answers are within us. Indigenous peoples must be able to speak for themselves and set their own course in education and all areas of life. Indigenous peoples around the world have traditional education systems that work. The elders tell us that education must meet the needs of the whole child; body, mind and spirit. We know that many of the existing educational systems for Indigenous children do not address the needs of the whole child. Indigenous children around the world are having difficulty staying in school and maintaining their Indigenous language. Transformation of education is needed if Indigenous children are to be successful. Indigenous communities must be able to make the decisions necessary to determine the path to follow for their children. Pedagogies and curriculum based on Indigenous world view and ways of knowing must be developed. Many Indigenous educators around the world have already been through this process of transformation of education and they can help others to find the best trail to follow. Like the braid of sweetgrass made up of many single strands, one strand alone is very weak but many strands braided together are very strong. Together, Indigenous educators are strong and the voices are loud. Let us work together and share what we know. Let us build a strong web around the entire world and transform it for our children, Indigenous and non-Indigenous, so that they may feel honoured and respected, so that they may see themselves reflected in their schools. The answers are within us. Jan Beaver Canadian Teachers’ Federation Teacher specializing in aboriginal history and culture This article first appeared in EI magazine Sep-Dec 2002