Former Cowessess chief awarded prestigious university scholarship
- Katie Doke Sawatzky | June 12, 2017
A former chief of Cowessess First Nation is one of four students at the University of Saskatchewan awarded the prestigious Vanier scholarship at the end of May.
Terrance Pelletier, 62, will use the scholarship ($50,000 given per year for three years) to research the influence of the formerly named Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Canada (INAC, now named the Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada)) and Indian Residential Schools on educational leadership in First Nation communities.
“We have to decolonize our minds about ‘they’re not boss, they’re not God’,” said Pelletier, who is a PhD student in the Department of Educational Administration.
Pelletier said his work is a study of organizations and how people interact within them. What he’s noted in his home community is that INAC’s rules have had a negative influence on leaders, many of whom attended residential schools where positive leadership was not modelled. The result is that good decisions aren’t made for the community.
INAC’s on-reserve programming has come under fire in the past. A 2011 report from the Auditor General of Canada, stated the federal government should be more tranparent about funding levels, establish a funding mechanism and help communities administer funds locally.
Pelletier said INAC’s rules for how First Nations should organize their education and leadership haven’t worked for 140 years.
“INAC in particular has a set of rules that Indian people have to structure their lives by…as they’re managing on the reserve,” he said. “A lot of those rules have come to be a normal part of our life. But when you compare the standard of living of the reserve community compared with the lives of Canadians in general, we find we’re way below every standard that exists.”
Pelletier encourages his students to recognize that First Nations education on reserves isn’t just about increasing English, Math and Science scores, it’s first and foremost about providing for the well-being of children.
“The social well-being aspect of school leadership is not being highlighted using our current measurements in education, cause you can’t measure whether a kid is fed well or not,” he said.
Over the past 15 years, Pelletier has taught on his home reserve, at the Northern Teacher Education Program and for the U of S Indian Teacher Education Program. This June he’s wrapping up two courses at the U of S, one of which is course for First Nation principals.
Pelletier says the strength for education in First Nations communities lies in today’s youth who are going to school and were not directly impacted by residential schools.
“They don’t have the same biases that my generation had and…have not had many of the educational difficulties that many people have,” he said.
Pelletier expects to graduate with his PhD in three years.