Teachers in Six Nations ask Canadians not to forget impact of federal strike on Indigenous students

·3 min read
Teachers were on strike outside of elementary schools last week in Ohsweken, Ont., part of Six Nations of the Grand River. (Submitted by Aidan Morgan - image credit)
Teachers were on strike outside of elementary schools last week in Ohsweken, Ont., part of Six Nations of the Grand River. (Submitted by Aidan Morgan - image credit)

As the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) strike continues, students at the five federally run elementary schools in Six Nations of the Grand River face another week without class.

The five schools — Jamieson Elementary, J.C. Hill Elementary, Emily C. General Elementary, I.L. Thomas Odadrihonyani'ta' Elementary and Oliver M. Smith Elementary — are run through Indigenous Services Canada (ISC), whose employees are among the 155,000 union members who have been on strike since April 19.

The strike has put more than 1,100 grade school students in Six Nations out of class.

"If this were in a big city like Hamilton, and all the kids in Hamilton were not going to school, it would be a focal point," Benjamin Doxtdator, a teacher in Six Nations and PSAC member, told CBC Hamilton.

"As an Indigenous person and as a teacher of Indigenous students, it feels like another case where Indigenous issues in Canada are invisible."

Submitted by Laurie Kanerahtokon Green
Submitted by Laurie Kanerahtokon Green

Outside of Six Nations, one other school, in Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory, near Belleville, Ont., is being impacted by striking teachers, according to ISC.

The strike also affects a significant portion of the national capital's largest employer, disrupts about 30 departments and affects a range of services, including processing of income tax returns and passports.

PSAC employees are striking over wages, job security and remote working options. As of Sunday, the federal government had offered the workers a nine per cent raise over a three year period. The union had initially demanded a 13.5 per cent wage increase over three years but has said it has lowered its demand twice, though has not confirmed by how much.

On Sunday, PSAC said it has "made some progress on our wage demands and job security," but that negotiations continued, according to a message posted on Twitter.

If the strike continues, teachers from Six Nations said they expected to be back on the picket line Monday morning.

Teachers expected back on picket line Monday

Lenora Maracle, a Mohawk language teacher at Oliver M. Smith Elementary, told CBC Hamilton there were around 100 people picketing in the community on Friday.

She said she hopes the strike will make the federal government "realize the importance of its workers and start on treating us better."

Aicha Smith-Belghaba/CBC
Aicha Smith-Belghaba/CBC

Doxtdator said he is frustrated the strike has gone on for almost two weeks.

"I fully support the union. I think the union is essential to workers having rights and to workers making making progress and having fair wages," he said.

However, he added, he thinks the union should also be talking about the impact the strike is having on Six Nations children.

"The PSAC strike has impacted our Six Nations of the Grand River community and has the Six Nations of the Grand River elected council concerned for all of our members, students and families," elected Chief Mark Hill said in a press release April 19.

Zarah Malik, a media relations officer with ISC, told CBC News, "officials will continue working with First Nation leadership and families to ensure students are provided with opportunities to continue their learning during the labour disruption."