2018 Indigenous Education Year in Review

Landmark education agreements, community partnerships, and language revitalization initiatives made 2018 a big year for Indigenous/Settler relations in the post-TRC era, but the past 12 months also presented significant challenges for post-secondary education. High-profile resignations by Indigenous scholars and administrators at a number of institutions revealed the extent to which systemic racism remains a significant concern in the post-secondary community, while incidents of racism on a number of Canadian campuses pointed to ongoing tensions between Indigenous populations and Settlers.

While remaining mindful of the shifting—and sometimes fraught—dynamics between Indigenous communities and Canada’s post-secondary sector, we’ve followed the same methodologies and guidelines as our Academica Top Ten and Indigenous Top Ten publications to select the top Indigenous education stories of 2018. We drew on the expertise of our researchers and consultants, who spent 2018 working with clients at post-secondary schools across Canada to solve institutional challenges and move higher ed forward.

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Without further adieu, here are the Top Ten stories in Indigenous education for 2018.

Education agreements between governments and FNMI

TRC Calls to Action 62-65 “call upon the federal, provincial, and territorial governments, in consultation and collaboration with Survivors, Aboriginal peoples, and educators” to establish educational infrastructure for Indigenous communities. To that end, we’ve included stories of Indigenous communities and governments who worked together over the last year to ensure that Indigenous groups establish and maintain ownership over culturally relevant curricula.


  • Brantford, Ontario and the County of Brant announce that they have qualified for over $2.5M in funding over three years to increase Indigenous-led education in the area.

  • The Council of Yukon First Nations announces that it has assumed responsibility and administration of the Yukon Native Language Centre from the Government of Yukon.


  • The Maskwacîs Cree Nations in Central Alberta and the Government of Canada sign a landmark agreement that ensures all 11 Maskwacîs schools are placed under full administrative control of the Maskwacîs Education Schools Commission.


School renovations and expansions


  • A decade after a treaty agreement with the federal government, Fishing Lake First Nation in Southern Saskatchewan announces that it will break ground on a new school that will replace six portable units.

  • Citing a  partnership between Contact North | Contact Nord and the Akwesasne Area Management Board, Mohawk Nation at Akwesasne announces a new online training centre at the Peace Tree Trading Post on Cornwall Island, Ontario.


  • Manitoba-based Red River College announces five new programs for Indigenous learners.

  • Paul First Nation in Alberta celebrates the official start of construction for a new K-9 school that will feature an industrial art shop for junior high school students and an adult education space.


  • Yellowhead Tribal College in Edmonton, Alberta announces that it will be an anchor tenant at the Orange Hub, the former MacEwan West Campus for MacEwan University. A YTC release states that the move will allow the college to accommodate increased enrolments, expand programming, and provide easier access for transit users and people with disabilities.


  • Assiniboine Community College in Brandon, Manitoba unveils three mobile trailers that will bring trades-related training to Indigenous communities across Manitoba.

  • The Teslin Tlingit Council and Khàtìnas.àxh Community School Council in the Yukon rename Teslin School to Khàtìnas.àxh Community School after the late Billy Fox, whose Tlingit name means “A raven that can be heard a long time after he is gone. He still makes noise like an echo.”

  • Members of Lake St Martin First Nation in Manitoba come home to 190 new homes and vital infrastructure after seven years of waiting. A new school also receives $19.7M from the Government of Canada.

  • Southeast Collegiate, a one-of-a-kind, Indigenous-run private school, completes a $24M expansion of its Fort Richmond, Manitoba campus.


  • Dalhousie University officially opens the Gord Downie and Chanie Wenjack Legacy Space in its Killam Library.

  • PEI-based Lennox Island First Nation’s John J Sark Memorial Elementary School receives $5.3M from the Government of Canada to support a renovation and expansion project.

  • Algonquin College completes a $44.9M construction project dedicated to experiential learning and Indigenous cultures and heritage. The new facility includes an Indigenous gathering circle and outdoor classroom, an Indigenous Learning Commons, and a space for Indigenous oration and storytelling.

Curricula revisions and textbook reissues

From recalls to revisions, “resilience” looked to be a defining theme for the year-that-was in Indigenous curricula and textbooks, as communities throughout the country asserted their right to be accurately represented.


  • CBC reports that the 18th edition of the Canadian Press stylebook contains a section on Inuit that is riddled with errors. CP Stylebook editor James Mcarten says he does not plan to recall the edition’s estimated 3,000 copies.

  • The Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations, the Saskatchewan Indigenous Cultural Centre, the Office of the Treaty Commissioner, and the Saskatchewan School Boards Association sign a memorandum of understanding around treaty education in Saskatchewan schools.

  • A new national education program, Landscape of Nations 360°: A National Education Initiative, aims to provide students with a more comprehensive perspective of First Nations contributions to the defence and shaping of Canada


  • Several chiefs, elders, educators, and community members express grave concerns about the new Ontario government’s decision to cut summer sessions focused on developing educational curriculum on Indian Residential Schools.

  • The Quebec government revises and reissues the Secondary III history textbook to “better reflect the Indigenous perspective.” The change comes after a two-year history course piloted in 2015-2016 was criticized for failing to reflect the experience of Indigenous peoples.

  • In response to the cancellation of the TRC’s curriculum writing sessions for K-12 education, Desmond Wong, a librarian at the University of Toronto's Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE), compiles a list of 50 Indigenous education resources.


  • Educators in British Columbia push for a mandatory, Indigenous-focused high school course.

  • The Government of Nunavut announces that it will hold Nunavut-wide public consultations on education. It also develops a proposal, titled Ilinniarniliriniq Turaaqpalliajavut – Our Goals for Education, as a starting point for discussion.

  • The Indigenous Peoples Atlas of Canada launches several new educational resources: a four-volume print atlas, an online interactive atlas and accompanying app, Giant Floor Maps, and more.

  • The Government of Quebec spends $1.6M to replace the words “Amerindian” and “Native Americans” and modify other content in history textbooks introduced two years earlier.

Indigenous-focused higher ed programming and pathways

2018 was a year of partnerships, as higher ed leaders strove to make good on Canada’s promise to incorporate Indigenous voices into the sector.


  • Confederation College, the City of Dryden, and Ontario Aboriginal Housing Services collaboratively launch the Dryden Urban Indigenous Homeward Bound Project, which features a four-year program that helps single mothers with affordable housing, child care, education, and employment training.

  • Several colleges and First Nations announce partnerships focused on the delivery of education. Highlights include:

    • Songhees Nation and Camosun College in British Columbia introduce a 12-month culinary arts, hospitality, and tourism management program in the Nation’s community.

    • Red Deer College and Sunchild First Nation in Alberta sign an MOU that focuses on the transition from high school to PSE and trades certification.

    • An MOU between the College of New Caledonia and Cheslatta Carrier Nation in British Columbia promises to provide a strong foundation for community-based programs Cheslatta.

  • BMO Financial Group donates $1M to support and expand the Aboriginal Canadian Entrepreneurs Program (ACE) at the University of Victoria. The program offers culturally-informed business education for Indigenous communities in BC.


  • Cowichan Tribes, the Stz’uminus First Nation, and Vancouver Island University collaborate on a 3-year early childhood care program that includes adult basic education, Hul’qu’minum language courses, and a diploma in early childhood education.

  • The University of Saskatchewan announces that it will reserve two seats in its law program for Indigenous students from Newfoundland and Labrador. The NL government adds that it will allocate and fund two articling positions with the Department of Justice and Public Safety for those students upon graduation.

  • York University and the Toronto District School Board work together to create a Bachelor of Education with a focus on Indigenous worldviews.


  • Ryerson University’s Together Design Lab and the Nishnawbe Aski Nation launch a partnership to address the Nation’s housing crisis.

Celebration of culture / cultural integration

Cultural integration is a crucial component of reconciliation. Here, we include a handful of the year’s most important interventions by Indigenous cultural producers within the educational sphere:


  • Nunavut students in Ottawa stage The Inuit Story, a play that focuses on select events in Inuit history, such as residential schools, forced relocations, and the Inuit dog killings of the 1950s to 1970s.

  • A contingent from Nanaimo-Ladysmith Public Schools takes a field trip to Prince George, British Columbia to learn from the Nusdeh Yoh Aboriginal Choice School.

  • A club that teaches powwow dancing at the Lavallee School in the Louis Riel School Division of Winnipeg grows to nearly 80 students.

  • Algonquin College students construct large traditional drums on each of the institution’s campuses to be used in ceremonies and gatherings.


  • Grade 5 to 7 students from Simcoe County District School Board in Ontario participate in Inuit games, Metis jig dancing, and pow wow dancing at the SCDSB Pow Wow education day.

  • The Greater Essex County District School Board in Ontario introduces Camp Migizi, a three-week daycamp for First Nations, Métis, and Inuit students from Junior Kindergarten to Grade 7.


  • After more than a year of work between Pauquachin First Nation carver Curtis Henry and 400 students at Kelset Elementary School in North Saanich, BC, a canoe built from a cedar tree takes its inaugural voyage.

Land-based learning


  • The Thunder Bay Catholic District School Board and Fort William First Nation establish a partnership that lays the groundwork for a ‘pilot school’ in the community.



Bilingual education, language preservation, and language education

Governments and universities alike invested millions of dollars into language revitalization in 2018. Like education, the demand for Indigenous languages and bilingual education has been a clarion call for reconciliation in the post-TRC post-secondary context.


  • Noah Wilson, co-president of the Aboriginal Students Association at the University of Manitoba, leads the ReconciliAction campaign to lobby Canadian universities to create official degrees and diplomas in Indigenous languages.


  • The First Peoples’ Cultural Council releases its Report on the Status of BC First Nations Languages 2018. The report highlights efforts by the University of Victoria and Simon Fraser University to support language learners, the Government of British Columbia's historic investment into language revitalization, and progress on documenting languages.


  • CBC highlights Angus Andersen’s “NunaKakKaasimaju: First People, First Occupants,” a bilingual radio show out of Memorial University in Newfoundland that features music and stories in English and Inuktitut.

  • University of Winnipeg Chair and Associate Professor of Anthropology Shelley Tulloch pens an op-ed to argue that Indigenous-language education should be considered a human right.

  • Alberta College of Art + Design and ACAD’s Lodgepole Center partner with the Tsuut’ina Nation to help revitalize the Dené language through a free 10-week course.


Racial tensions, growing pains, and calls for Canada to do better

2018 was, in many respects, a banner year for reconciliation in both PSE and Canada. But the good work of integration and cooperation also introduced new challenges. Racial tensions persisted in the everyday experiences of students, faculty, and administrators on Canadian campuses, and the resignation of Angelique EagleWoman at Lakehead University was a wake-up call for administrators throughout the sector.


  • A report on education in Canada finds that Indigenous peoples continue to be left behind by the education system. While 92% of non-Indigenous people between the ages of 20-24 have their high school certificate, only 84% of Métis people, 75% of off-reserve First Nations peoples, and 48% of on-reserve First Nations peoples hold theirs.

  • The Ottawa Citizen reports that Bigstone Cree Nation is suing the provincial and federal governments over “a series of funding and treaty violations that have caused sub-par education for its children.”

  • Hundreds of students from the Nova Scotia First Nation who attend East Antigonish Education Centre/Academy stay home from school as the RCMP investigate threats and racist graffiti on a school bus and a sign near the school.

  • Citing the “achievement gap” – a benchmarked discrepancy between Indigenous student success rates in school and overall student success rates – University of Alberta Associate Professor Rebecca Sockbeson argues that racism is one of the main reasons that Indigenous students leave school early.

  • Corey O'Soup, an advocate for children and youth in Saskatchewan, says that he does not believe that the SK government will achieve Indigenous high school student graduation rates of 65% by 2020.


  • A third-party review of the Indigenous Governance program at the University of Victoria finds that current and former students have been “traumatized” by “dysfunctional classroom dynamics.”

  • Two Indigenous faculty members at Saint Mary’s University in Halifax depart from their positions, citing their frustration with the school’s efforts toward Indigenization.

  • Parents and elders express their concern to the Chairperson and Assistant Chairperson of the School District 57 school board in British Columbia over the removal of an Aboriginal Education position at Valemount Secondary School.


  • An online social studies question from the Alberta Distance Learning Centre that asked students about the “positive effect” of residential schools in Canada draws intense backlash. Alberta Education Minister David Eggen apologizes for the question and tells Alberta Education to ensure that “hateful material” is immediately discontinued.

  • CBC reports that Indigenous students at the University of Manitoba remain uneasy after racist posters bearing the message “It’s ok to be white” are discovered on campus.

  • In a follow-up to an October survey by Indspire, Paul Davidson and Indspire President Roberta Jamieson write that although 70% of Canadian universities now have partnerships with Indigenous communities, and organizations with Indigenous-centered academic programming have increased by 55%, financial barriers and lack of social supports continue to inhibit Indigenization in the post-secondary sphere. The authors add that many institutions are situated far away from Indigenous communities.

  • At an on-campus lecture, University of Manitoba professor Barry Lavallee calls on the university to replace current president David Barnard with an Indigenous woman.

  • The Students’ Society of McGill University votes 78.8% in favour of dropping the nickname of the school’s athletics teams, The Redmen.

  • Angelique EagleWoman, the former Dean of Lakehead University’s law school, says that she will sue the university for racial discrimination. Please see our unabridged Top Ten Year in Review for in-depth coverage of the EagleWoman case.

  • Citing resistance from administrators in her efforts to fight systemic racism, University of Manitoba Vice-Provost of Indigenous Affairs Lynn Lavalée resigns.


Contention and critique are essential to Reconciliation, and it would be dangerous to think that post-secondary institutions could Indigenize in a truly meaningful way without this process being challenged by the very individuals and communities that Indigenization is intended to recognize and support. University of Saskatchewan President Peter Stoicheff summed up the position of Canadian post-secondary institutions well when, earlier this year, he noted, “We will know that we have made headway when Elders, when Indigenous students, when Indigenous leaders and Indigenous communities are telling us that we are.”

PSE in Canada continues to face significant challenges in the journey toward Reconciliation. However, we would like to re-emphasize how Indigenous campus spaces, initiatives to preserve and revitalize Indigenous languages, and the incorporation of Indigenous ways of knowing into academic disciplines have productively strengthened the relationships between Settler and Indigenous communities in PSE and beyond. In August of 2018, the Canadian Press ran an article highlighting some of these efforts. The year also saw Canadian institutions strive to incorporate Indigenization directly into their strategic planning; the University of Saskatchewan’s new strategic plan, for example, was highlighted in an Academica Forum Original article in October. In June, Academica Group also worked with Algonquin College to host the inaugural Global Conference on Indigenizing Entrepreneurship.

Thank you for reading our inaugural Indigenous Education Year in Review. We wish you all the best for 2019, and look forward to working together to move higher ed forward and further the goals of Reconciliation in Canada.

At Academica Group, we’re proud to work with hundreds of committed, passionate higher ed professionals who want to drive improvement at their institutions. By providing enhanced research capacity and expert guidance, we allow these professionals to work beyond resource limitations and seize more opportunities to positively impact the lives of their students, colleagues, and campus communities.

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