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Former Prime Minister Paul Martin visits U of T's School of Continuing Studies

(photo by Stuart Lowe)

Aboriginal education is “the largest, single moral issue we face as a country,” the Right Honourable Paul Martin told an audience of more than 200 people at the University of Toronto November 4. 

“We cannot turn our back on this issue,” said the former prime minister and U of T alumnus. 

After he retired from political life in 2006, Martin established the Martin Aboriginal Education Initiative, a charitable organization focused on providing educational opportunities for Canada’s Aboriginal Peoples. Martin's talk, at U of T's School of Continuing Studies, covered a wide range of topics including the residential school system, the history of forced assimilation and the current state of education for Canada’s Inuit, Metis and First Nations.

Through inadequate funding and program development, Martin said, Canada still provides educational opportunities to aboriginal elementary and secondary school children that are inferior to the provincial school systems. 

“The province spends $15,000 per student in Northern Ontario,” said Martin. “The federal government provides an on-reserve school 10 miles away with $7,500 to educate each student. So we are underfunding kids on reservations by about 50 per cent. 

“This means those schools can’t afford to get teachers; they don’t have programs for kids with disabilities.

A huge change is required in the way that education is delivered, said Martin.  

“Clearly, our attempts to tell aboriginals what their education system should look like have not worked. And the fact is that the time has come for us to listen to these communities as to what they think needs to happen. 

“If we listen, if we talk to each other, the problems that I’ve talked about with aboriginal education in Canada can be solved.” 

Martin’s visit included an extended question-and-answer session and was organized by the School of Continuing Studies as part of the School’s University Lecture Series. The long-running program exposes learners to critical analysis, provocative ideas and thoughtful insights from leading experts tackling a range of topics in history, art, politics, religion, health and public affairs. 

Read the collected tweets from Martin’s talk.  

Alison Terpenning is a writer with the School of Continuing Studies at the University of Toronto.