Andrea Bear Nicholas says Canadian governments should stop pushing First Nations students out of school by forcing them to study in English or French.
The retired Chair of Studies of Aboriginal Cultures of Atlantic Canada at St. Thomas University in Fredericton says indigenous students should have the right to learn in their own native languages.
During a presentation to an Indigenous Conference at Mount Allison University, Bear Nicholas said research overwhelmingly shows that aboriginal students are placed at a severe language disadvantage during their early years of schooling. About half of them end up leaving school early compared with an average 10 per cent dropout rate for the non-aboriginal population.
“This is the huge gap that indigenous educators have been so concerned about,” she said later during an interview with Warktimes, “but not enough people in my opinion have been paying attention to this research around the wonderful academic and economic benefits of education in mother-tongue medium.”
Bear Nicholas sees a sinister side to the imposition of Canada’s official languages on indigenous students arguing it’s a form of linguicide, the killing of languages without killing the speakers.
During her conference presentation, she also called on Canadian universities to stop stealing fluent indigenous speakers to increase their own prestige and attract indigenous students by offering courses in native languages when those languages are on the verge of extinction.
“Our languages are dropping like rocks off the face of the Earth literally and if we lose them, they’re gone completely.”
Bear Nicholas says the universities should be paying these language teachers to conduct immersion courses in their own aboriginal communities.
“They need to be putting their money where it’s really needed,” she adds.