Indigenous rights firmly reasserted at Education International’s seminar

published 31 July 2017 updated 1 August 2017

The adequate implementation of Indigenous language policies took centre stage at Education International’s recent Seminar on Indigenous Peoples’ Right to and Rights through Education.

Participants at the recent Education International (EI) Seminar on Indigenous Peoples’ Right to and Rights through Education agreed to join forces and devised strategies to advocate for the adequate implementation of Indigenous language policies.

The landmark decision occurred at the seminar in Toronto, Canada, from 22-23 July, attended by 35 indigenous education union representatives.

Attendees also suggested ways to improve education unions’ responses and networking, and to strengthen the Indigenous agenda coming up to EI’s next World Congress in 2019.

The indigenous and non-indigenous teachers also analysed the current and potential role of education in relation to Truth Commissions on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in different parts of the world.

Need to protect languages

During the seminar, participants were reminded that Indigenous languages are imbued with knowledge, stories, and history. Indeed, many participants stressed the importance of protecting Indigenous languages and seeking adequate funding for education.

Indigenous teachers from around the world explored how Indigenous languages face the risk of being lost. Participants noted how, in many countries, the residential schools’ policy of separating children from their land, their grandparents, and their ancestors was a deliberate strategy to kill their culture.


Attendees supported the idea of joining forces and devising strategies to advocate for the adequate implementation of Indigenous language policies in the lead-up to the International Year of Indigenous Languages in 2019, proclaimed by the United Nations’ General Assembly. In December 2016, the UN adopted the resolution on the rights of Indigenous Peoples, “stressing the urgent need to preserve, promote and revitalise endangered languages”.

“We can do more to support inclusive national education policies to respond to the learning needs of everyone, including Indigenous Peoples,” said EI Deputy General Secretary Haldis Holst, stressing the important role played by teachers’ organisations.

Canadian union support

The event was supported by EI affiliates in Canada, including the Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT), the Canadian Teachers’ Federation (CTF), and it was hosted by the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario (ETFO).

ETFO President Sam Hammond emphasised the First Nations’ history, the reconciliation and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s call to action.

CAUT representative and Executive Board member David Roy Newhouse also acknowledged that “reconciliation is a complex long-term undertaking requiring action by many political actors”, and reaffirmed that international treaties apply to all Canadians, and not just Indigenous Peoples.

CTF General Secretary Cassie Hallet also highlighted the role of education workers and EI in ensuring the promotion and preservation of Indigenous Peoples’ cultural identity and providing quality education experiences and outcomes.


Key note speaker and 2017 Global Award Teacher Maggie MacDonnell shared her journey as a teacher for seven years with an Inuit Indigenous community in Kuujjuaq, a village in Nunavik, an area with many social challenges in Northern Quebec. Her inspirational speech recounted her efforts to improve school attendance levels and help reduce violence and substance abuse.

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