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Aboriginal Youth And Education

By Matthew William Martin

According to the United Nations website, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are a set of seventeen goals adopted by all United Nations Member States in 2015. These provide a guideline of what we can do collectively to support each other and the planet. Each goal works hand in hand to preserve and better the people and the planet.

Goal number four of the SDGs focuses on inclusive and quality education for all. Inclusive education refers to education that is non-discriminatory, allowing anyone in the classroom regardless of barriers or obstacles to participate (“What Is Inclusive Education” 2020). Quality education refers to education in a safe environment, with adequate resources, whose students are healthy and supported by their community and families (Rasheed 2000). According to the United Nations website, at the end of 2019, millions of students were still out of school, and more than half of those still in school were not meeting minimum proficiency standards in reading and numeracy (Guterres 2020). Looking more specifically at First Nations struggles, a 2016 article focusing on the barriers to Aboriginal education shows that 48% of Aboriginal people aged 25 to 64 had a post-secondary qualification (Timmons 1). This figure is compared to 65% of non-Aboriginal people in the same age group having a post-secondary qualification (Timmons 2016).

Education is an extremely important part of our society that cannot be understated. When it comes to the SDGs, education will be the most important SDG of them all. Without education we cannot progress and grow, and there would not be anyone to work together to tackle these goals. We need educated people to understand the risks and causes of consumption and pollution to be able to work on the goals of affordable and clean energy, and the goals of responsible consumption and production.

Colonialization and lack of support for First Nations culture continues to stand in the way of fully inclusive education. Racism and the constant need to fit in affects people of all ages and prevents them from being able to express themselves in a way they feel comfortable at school. These problems are seen at all levels but looking at post-secondary education we see how finances are a large barrier. Right now, Status Indians are the only people eligible for federal funding to attend post-secondary institutions. There is also the issue that funding for post-secondary education comes from the community. Although there may be many people that would qualify for the funding, the community will only be able to send a certain amount of people. An example of this would be in 2009, when over 5,000 First Nations students could not receive funding for their post-secondary education due to lack of funds from the communities (Timmons 2016).

It is never too early or too late to start talking about education and encouraging people to push for the best they can. There are many successful First Nations people all around us that we can learn from. Several institutions have programs in place to support First Nations success. The University of Cape Breton and Trent University, for example, have been cited as having approaches that cater directly to Indigenous students. These approaches include student success services directed at Aboriginal populations, Elders-in-residence, and developing curriculum and teaching methods that reflect Aboriginal history, culture, and beliefs (Preston, 2016; Timmons et al., 2009). If we can develop more community gatherings to bring educated people together, our youth will begin to see that it is something they can do too. There is no place for social stigma in our communities and it should be emphasized to our youth that success is attainable.


Matthew William Martin is a participant with the Indigenous Global Leadership Program, implemented by ACIC and the Northern Council for Global Cooperation, which brings together 20 Indigenous youth from across Canada to share their perspectives as youth changemakers, learn about global issues and the Sustainable Development Goals, and build their leadership skills for local and global change. The IGLP is funded by Global Affairs Canada. The blog is part of the DevelopMEnt Blog Series launched during International Development Week. The blog series aims to highlight stories, journeys, and perspectives of people associated with the development sector. It also aims to highlight how journeys, shaped by the knowledge and experience our guest authors have amassed, has helped, and can help shape the world. Any views and opinions expressed in the blogs are of the guest authors.


1. What is inclusive education? – inclusive education. (n.d.). Retrieved February 08, 2021, from

2. Rasheed Sadig. "Defining Quality in Education." (2000): 5.

3. Guterres, and António. Progress Towards the Sustainable Development Goals. 2020.

5. Preston, J. P. (2016). Education for Aboriginal peoples in Canada: An overview of four realms of success. Diaspora, Indigenous, and Minority Education, 10 (1), 14-27. DOI: 10.1080/15595692.2015.1084917\

6. Timmons, V., Doyle-Bedwell, P., Lewey, L., Marshall, L., Power, B., Sable, T., & Wein, F. (2009). Retention of Aboriginal students in post-secondary institutions in Atlantic Canada: An analysis of the supports available to Aboriginal students. Report available at SSRN 1530293. Canadian Council on Learning.


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