M’Chigeeng FN responds to racism at Manitoulin Secondary School

M’CHIGEENG FIRST NATION (September 19, 2018)—On September 14, 2018, a large brawl occurred at Manitoulin Secondary School (MSS) involving Indigenous and non­ Indigenous students. M’Chigeeng First Nation has learned that this situation originated between two non­ Indigenous students from Little Current and later escalated to involve youth members of M’Chigeeng and other First Nation members in a very demoralizing and demeaning way. Videos have been circulating that clearly show non-Indigenous students and Indigenous students who were involved in the brawl committing acts of assault and violence. M’Chigeeng First Nation Chief and Council do not condone violence in any way.

Having said this, the M’Chigeeng Chief and Council is concerned that this incident is an indicator of a deeper, more disturbing reality, which is underlying racism that has now reared its ugly head yet again. This is a situation that must be acknowledged and tackled head-on or it will keep reoccurring as we have seen over the last few decades. We are also beyond frustrated with the fact that the only charges laid by police have been against M’Chigeeng members when very clearly there were plenty of non-Indigenous students involved as well.

This current situation can easily be construed as a blatant attempt to shift the blame on Indigenous peoples yet again. In this supposed age of reconciliation, this is a shameful reflection on where we are as a society. The Rainbow District School Board (RDSB) must also accept responsibility as it has made no attempts at implementation or properly resourcing of any of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission recommendations other than producing a nice looking booklet. More than lip service must be paid if racism is to be addressed in a meaningful way. The RDSB has failed to honour or even attempt to foster a ‘special’ relationship with our First Nation as stipulated within the Anishinabek Nation Education Agreement and in the spirit of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s report and in accordance with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Furthermore, the RDSB has failed so far to renew our Agreement with them which expired August 31, 2018, and has not been responsive to our attempts to discuss the renewal.

M’Chigeeng Chief and Council take the education, well-being and safety of our students very seriously. We feel betrayed not only at the continued lack of concern for student safety and success at MSS while in the care of this institution, but at the institutionalized failure of RDSB to address racism and fostering greater understanding of the history of Indigenous Peoples. First Nations contribute millions of education tuition dollars to the education of our children within the Rainbow District School Board with the belief and trust that our students will receive quality education. Therefore, M’Chigeeng Chief and Council will explore alternative options that will ensure and foster quality education that supports and incorporates Anishinaabe views, ideology, history and curriculum complete with a supported sense of belonging and safe space for learning. We will afford the opportunity to RDSB to commit to make systemic changes including: the immediate development and implementation of an anti-racism strategy; full implementation and adequate resourcing of the Truth and Reconciliation Document in direct consultation with the First Nations Chiefs and Councils; increased Indigenous representation at the Board level; mandatory cultural sensitivity training for all staff throughout the Rainbow District Schools and administration offices; and increased full-time Indigenous Teaching Staff, particularly at Manitoulin Secondary School where its track record in this regard, speaks for itself. We will also be evaluating all future Education Agreements, to assess the extent to which the Rainbow District School Board is prepared to support increased levels of Indigenous student success and to create a safe and culturally inclusive learning environment.

Moving forward, we expect a fair process with respect to determining how and who gets charged, and will continue to monitor whether just First Nations people face charges, once again. We will also be anticipating the results of the Superintendent’s investigation of the staff member alleged to have made racist comments and expect termination if the allegations are verified. This racist language by a teacher who should be setting an example for the students and others cannot be tolerated in this age of reconciliation.

Lastly, we will be reviewing and seeking clarification of the investigative approach used by the Ontario Provincial Police in which lead to only Indigenous people being charged.

We commit to work with other First Nations and invite other interested partners to address the issue of racism in a positive and constructive way. To this end, a rally will be held at M’Chigeeng First Nation Administration Office commencing at 9:30 a.m. on September 20, 2018.

For further information, please contact Ogimaa Kwe Linda Debassige at chief@mchigeeng.ca