Part 2: An interview with Marion MacIver, executive vice-president and director of education
Marion recently presented at the 2011 World Forum, which was held October 18 – 21, in Melbourne, Australia. The theme was Education and Children’s Well-being – Philosophy, Policy and Practice. Marion spoke on her doctorate research, entitled Education in alternative settings: Aboriginal students’ perspectives on factors influencing high school completion. Her main goal in presenting her findings was to increase awareness of the issues facing Canadian Aboriginal students in completing high school.
“Stepping away from theory and actually talking to Aboriginal students to see what they perceive as the issues and solutions,” is key maintains MacIver. “Many times we get immersed in what “theory says” and it is very high-level. I wanted others working in the field of child welfare to hear what the Aboriginal students themselves have to say about it.” MacIver maintains that you need to actually talk to people rather relying on what statistics say.
Marion was excited to cite methods by which the Ranch engages and listens to its youth. “The Ranch has a youth SRC, client feedback surveys, and several opportunities for youth to talk to staff which is used to help shape the agency model.”
MacIver spoke more about her research for her doctorate. All of the students she interviewed were from the Ranch, of Aboriginal heritage, out of school for at least six months before coming to the Ranch and back in school now. “I wanted their perspective of what would keep them in school now? What do schools need to do to better assist them to stay in school and complete their grade 12?” explains Marion. Interestingly, Ranch Ehrlo’s six month follow-up after youth are discharged shows that 80 percent of students are still in school. Marion wondered what the Ranch had done to garner these findings and felt that her research helped answer this question.
Marion outlined her research, explaining that she was given a list of 20 students from Ranch principals, from which she interviewed 12 and then used 10 interviews to compile her final data. Armed with the questions of how we can help aboriginal students graduate from grade 12, Marion’s major findings were that aboriginal students wanted to learn more about their cultural heritage including language, customs, and traditional team sports. Specifically, students would like teachers and people around them to converse in their native language. It doesn’t matter if the teacher is non-aboriginal –students fell that they can and should be able to still teach them about their culture. Only half the students were concerned whether the teacher was Aboriginal or non-Aboriginal. Students want to see their culture integrated into everyday learning and activities. All students spoke about relationships, with 9 out of 10 talking about how important relationships are to them succeeding in school.
“It is evident that we need to integrate the various aspects of culture into everyday life for the youth at Ranch Ehrlo,” acknowledged Marion. She pointed to the fact that, without knowing it, the students were referring to the four cornerstones of the Ranch - recreation, education, work, and treatment – as factors important to their completing high school. The Ranch, of course, strives to achieve a balance in all four areas as well as incorporating culture throughout them.
Marion expressed keen awareness of the cultural challenges facing the Ranch saying, “The Ranch is very challenged because we have such a variety of Aboriginal cultures; we have the Inuit, Cree, Dené, and so on. We recognize that the Inuit culture is an area we need to work on, learning more about this culture, and integrating into our youths’ lives here.”
She alluded to the recent trip to Nunavut made by five Ranch staff as being an important strategy for the Ranch, so that the staff could bring back some of their learning of the Inuit culture and look at how we can integrate it into the students’ learning. Marion believes that the Ranch needs to continue to build its capacity in a variety of Aboriginal languages and cultures, so that youth can continue with it and not lose it when coming to the Ranch.
“When people are away from their first language and do not use it consistently, we know that they tend to lose it. The Ranch endeavours to prevent this loss of language amongst the clients it serves,” asserted Marion.
Marion has been asked to present her research in Washington, DC in February 2012 at a child welfare conference on Aboriginal and Native American families and youth, organized by the CWLA and CWC. Her doctoral works tends to raise awareness of issues that people did not know existed. She really hopes to build into this presentation the Ranch education model and the overall treatment model for the Ranch including the four cornerstones, which she feels exemplify most of what her research suggests should be done. Some examples of what the current Ranch cultural programming includes are the drumming/ singing/pow wow club, recreational programming, Cree classes twice a year, as well as art and animal therapy.
When asked what education has meant to her, and specifically the chance to participate in WorldForums and doctorate research, all while working at Ranch Ehrlo, Marion becomes emotional and speaks from her heart,
“I think that for me, being at the Ranch has always been about a life-long learning experience. I do believe that Geoff does not believe that learning stops at one place, but rather that it continues your whole life. So for the Ranch to provide me an opportunity to go around the world and learn about what similar work is being done and being able to see how we all have similar goals and contexts – but how that is delivered to our audience - is always an opportunity for me to stretch my professional growth. The Ranch has been such an important aspect of that professional learning experience. I just really value the time I have been here with the Ranch. Geoff’s leadership in promoting that life-long learning, whether that be in the boardroom or going to an international conference and hearing some cutting-edge research, will impact or has impacted what we are doing with the families and the youth at the Ranch.”
***Photo retrieved from http://www.ifcw.org/