Tax exemption blamed for hiring problems.
Cree speaking teachers are rare birds in small urban schools. The Lloydminster public and Catholic school divisions have hit real roadblocks trying to recruit professional Cree-speaking staff.
Located near more than a dozen reserves, many Lloydminster schools boast a 20- to 30-per cent Native student population, with numbers on the rise.
"There are genuine problems associated with attracting qualified, fully bilingual, Cree-speaking teachers to a small urban center like Lloydminster, said Dr Donald Duncan, director of education, Lloydminster public school division. "Many teachers who take their training in a larger urban centre like Edmonton or Saskatoon want to stay in that environment and take advantage of the big city lifestyle. Others want to go home and work on their reserve, with the obvious advantage of living within their own cultural, family and community lifestyle."
There are currently four female staff members working at the Jack Kemp elementary public school, located on the Saskatchewan side of the bordertown, two teachers, an aid and Aboriginal liaison officer, that are fluent Cree speakers. In addition, there are a number of staff members of Metis descent in the elementary, junior, LEAP and high school programs.
"One of the criteria for hiring Native teachers and our Aboriginal liaison was full fluency in Cree," said Duncan. "It is extremely important that our Native laison officer, Mary Brock, is fluent in Cree and English, quite frankly, to facilitate communication between home and school among Aboriginal families. We would be delighted to receive more applications from Native people with that ability. We need more positive role models, qualified teachers who would surprise those with stereotypical views of Aboriginal people," said Duncan.
The Lloydminster Catholic school division has not had the good fortune to engage the services of any Cree speaking staff members in the 2000/2001 school year.
The issue of `off reserve income tax' has made recruitment very difficult for the Catholic school division, explained director of education, Vince Mokelky. "We have an excellent Native co-ordinator, Mel Gervais, a Saskatchewan Metis, working within the high school who does not speak Cree, but we were lucky to get him. We practically had to beg, borrow, steal and cajole to get him here. It wasn't easy for him to turn down a good teaching position in Prince Albert, Sask., which has a large Native population and cultural base," said Mokelky.
Trying to find Native teaching staff that fit the template of Cree speaking, Catholic, with a grounding in Native spirituality, with full professional teachers' qualifications in place, has been next to impossible for the division.
"When we tried to staff our Cree language program with qualified teachers, we had a difficult time trying to find qualified teachers with a B.Ed. When we advertised provincially, it did not yield anyone interested in the position. We networked with bands and universities to find interested people.
"It was not only a supply and demand problem. It was also an economic one. It didn't take candidates long to realize that if they taught in a small town public school, they were off-reserve and would have to pay income tax. If they take a position in a band school, they didn't have to pay income tax, so it becomes a very competitive environment trying to recruit Aboriginal teachers with the skill set for Cree language instruction," said Doug Robertson, superintendent, Catholic school division.
"We have a provincial grid that states very clearly what a new teacher should make, and increments of 10 steps in the grid of what each teacher should be paid. We don't have a whole lot of latitude to make compensation for an Aboriginal teacher," said Robertson.
Additional challenges facing small urban centres is that Native teachers often have a keen desire to return to band controlled schools.
"In the faith component, we have attempted to complement our Catholic faith teachings with Native spiritually. Our Grade 12 class participates in a feather ceremony that honors the achievements of our Aboriginal students. With the help of Elders, they participate in sweatlodges. We hope to have our administrative staff participate in a sweat, to develop more empathy between Catholic and Native spirituality and help celebrate both," said Robertson.