English as a Second Language and French as a Second Language Programs and Services For Indian and Metis Students In The Northern Lights School Division
By Shirley Fredeen (1990)
SSTA Research Centre Report #90-06: 17 pages, $11
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Executive Summary
Recommendations for Research
This study examined the English as a second Language (ESL) and French as a second Language (FSL) needs of aboriginal students in Saskatchewan's Northern Lights School Division.

There appears to be a critical and urgent problem with respect to English, aboriginal, and French language education in the Division. A strong argument is made for the existence of federal responsibility in addition to the provincial responsibility. There is a national interest in ensuring that all citizens of Canada have the opportunity to acquire proficiency in one or both of Canada's official languages, and hence, to gain entry to the job market and post-secondary educational institutions. There is a federal responsibility with respect to the aboriginal languages

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The SSTA Research Centre grants permission to reproduce up to three copies of each report for personal use. Each copy must acknowledge the author and the SSTA Research Centre as the source. A complete and authorized copy of each report is available from the SSTA Research Centre.
The opinions and recommendations expressed in this report are those of the author and may not be in agreement with SSTA officers or trustees, but are offered as being worthy of consideration by those responsible for making decisions.


The Saskatchewan School Trustees Association (SSTA) and the Northern Lights School Board (NLSB) have recommended to the Canadian School Trustees' Association (CSTA) that a study be undertaken to examine the English as a second language (ESL) and French as a second language (FSL) needs of Aboriginal students in the Northern Lights School Division (NLSD). Up to one-half of the students in this region enter school with Cree or Dane as a first language. Among the remainder, the majority are of Aboriginal ancestry. The English-speaking Aboriginal students may not speak the Standard dialect of English used in the school, and they may not have developed the functions of English that are required for school success. Proficiency in Aboriginal languages among Aboriginal students ranges from full to none.

The education of students in the Northern Lights School Division is within provincial jurisdiction. The Saskatchewan Department of Education has policy and guidelines for teaching English as a first language, hut no official curriculum for ESL Cree, or Dene. The Division encourages a whole language approach to the teaching of English language arts. The ESL program Circle has been used to varying extents. Individual schools determine instructional goals and approaches within provincial and Divisional guidelines. There is also a need for instruction in the Aboriginal languages. At present, half of the schools have Aboriginal language programs. Teachers with the appropriate training to teach ESL or Aboriginal languages have been difficult to find.

The primary sources of revenue in the Division are the province (about 804); the federal government, in the form of tuition payments for the treaty Indian students in Division schools (about 84); and the municipal tax base (84). The provincial portion of the revenue includes a small amount of grant funding for ESL, Cree language, and Dene language programs. This grant is made available by Saskatchewan Education at essentially the same rates as are used to fund ESL programs for immigrant and refugee students in southern Saskatchewan. However, the ESL needs of northern Aboriginal students are different from those of immigrant and refugee students in the south. The situation in the north is socially, culturally and linguistically complex, and indications are that a range of language curriculum options would he helpful. The development of these options would require an infusion of resources at a level considerably higher and of a different sort than existing program maintenance grants available from the provincial government for ESL, Cree, and Dene programs.

The information available supports the view of the Northern Lights School Board that a study should be done. There appears to he a critical and urgent problem. There is a clear argument far the existence of federal responsibility in addition to the provincial responsibility. There is a recognized federal responsibility for the education of Treaty Indians; nearly one-third of the Division's enrollment falls into this category. There is a national responsibility for the maintenance of Aboriginal languages, and there is a national interest in ensuring that all citizens of Canada have the opportunity to acquire proficiency in one or both of Canada's official languages, and hence, to gain entry to the job market and post-secondary educational institutions. Furthermore, when resources in language education for Aboriginal people are scarce, it makes fiscal sense to consider research and development on a national scale rather than a provincial one.


The following questions should be addressed:

1. What are the language education needs of Aboriginal students in the NLSD: English language arts, ESL, ESL, FSL, and Aboriginal languages?

2. How might these needs be met in a curriculum? What bilingual or trilingual education models, and what teaching approaches could be expected to facilitate the attainment of high levels of English language proficiency, while at the same time promote high levels of proficiency in Cree or Dene, and provide the opportunity to study French if there is a desire to do so? What factors in addition to teaching approaches and curriculum models are critical to the attainment of language proficiency in the Division?

It is further recommended that consideration he given to the following: that the research he carried out from a provincial, a national, and a cross-jurisdictional perspective because the problem is not restricted to students in this provincial school jurisdiction: that the research he conducted in consultation with the NLSB and the staff of the NLSD: and that one element of the research involve a case study of a school or classroom in the Division that is judged to he particularly successful, to gain insight into what can actually work, and to view the various elements involved in language instruction as they interact in a northern setting.

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At the 19S9 Annual Meeting of the Canadian School Trustees' Association (CSTA), the following Saskatchewan School Trustees Association (SSTA) resolution was passed: "...to undertake an ESL/FSL study to examine the needs of students whose first language is one of the Aboriginal languages". The resolution originated from the Northern Lights School Board. Before the CSTA could act on this resolution, it was necessary to seek clarification of certain points and issues. First, what were the specific concerns that lead to the formation of this resolution? Second, was there a clear case for a level of federal responsibility, rather than only provincial? The researcher vas subsequently contracted to conduct the research and report to the CSTA and SSTA.


Saskatchewan's Northern Lights School Division is unique in several respects. It is 650,000 kilometers square and covers the vast majority of the northern half of the province. It ranges from one-room schools in fly-in communities to schools with several hundred students. According to statistics supplied by the Division for the 1989-90 school year, it has 29 schools in its jurisdiction, 4304 students, 281 teachers, and 48.5 tutors, teacher assistants and school counselors. Treaty Indian children constitute 31% of its student enrollment.

Most Treaty Indian students in Northern Saskatchewan are enrolled not in provincial schools, hut rather in Band-controlled schools (Northern Education Task Force, 1989). Cree, Dene, and Mechif are the Aboriginal languages spoken in northern Saskatchewan. There are two dialects of Dene spoken in the region; three dialects of Cree: and Mechif, a variety of Cree influenced by French. Dene is part of the Athabaskan language family, and Cree is a member of the Algonquian family. For a more thorough description of the Division, see the report of the Northern Education Task Force (1989, pp. 5-31).

There are 15 Cree and Dene language programs among the 29 schools, with an enrollment of 2035 students, or 474 of the total student enrollment. In about 60% (17) of the schools in the Division, Cree or Dene is the first language of the majority of students; while in about 40% (12), the majority of children enter school speaking primarily English. Estimates of the numbers of individual students who require an ESL/ESD program of some sort range from 504 to close to 1004, according to those interviewed. Most of the students in the School Division are of Indian or Metis ancestry. Those Aboriginal students who come to school speaking primarily English are likely to have an Aboriginal language used in the home. They are also likely to speak a nonstandard dialect of English, and they may not have developed more than a conversational variety of English language proficiency. Yet in order to succeed in the school system, students need to develop the sort of proficiency in English which enables them to effectively handle the cognitive tasks of schooling (see Toohey, 1985; and CSTA, 1989b). Students who speak a non-standard dialect of English may be referred to as ESD students.

The task of providing effective language instruction is made even more complex and difficult by a host of problems associated with the delivery of education in an isolated northern setting. Some of the challenges faced include: the need to align the home and the school, high staff turnover at all levels (teachers administrators, and central office staff), a physically vast region, and the maintenance of physical facilities.

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To obtain the information required, the researcher made phone inquiries and/or conducted informal interviews with staff members of Saskatchewan Education: Community Education Branch, School Grants Branch, Northern Saskatchewan Branch: with a member and the Chairman of the Northern Lights School Board: with staff members of the NLSD; and with other language educators in Saskatchewan. A variety of documents vas reviewed, including policy documents and research reports. A list of these appears at the conclusion of the report.

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The recommendation for a study of the ESL/FSL needs of students in the Northern Lights School Division originates in the Board's sense of being caught in the middle: between the perceived needs of the students in the Division and the lack of resources available from funding sources. The majority of the Board members are themselves speakers of English as a second language, so they have particular empathy with the plight of many of the students in the Division. While there is some funding for ESL programs available from the province, it is not considered to be adequate. According to the recently released report of the Northern Education Task Force (1989), the standard of education in northern Saskatchewan is still far behind that of 'the south. There are also urgent needs in the area of Indian language education. Students should also have the option to study French. The power of the Board to meet students' needs in the languages area is restricted because of inadequate funds available for the Division. It was relatively easy to implement a French immersion program in La Ronge because federal funds were made available. The need to undertake an "in-depth examination of current language arts Pedagogy" is echoed in the Northern Education Task Force Report (P 56).

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According to its 198B audited report, the majority of the Division's funding (about 804) comes from the province's foundation grant, about 84 from municipal tax revenue, about 84 from tuition paid by the federal government on behalf of the Treaty Indian students enrolled in Division schools, and the remainder is from other sources. Compared with southern Divisions, there is a very small tax base. La Ronge is apparently the only centre in the Division that contributes significantly to the tax base.

The cost of administering an effective education program in the north is very high. There are many factors including transportation costs, the costs of maintaining facilities and equipment, and the costs of helping teachers with accommodation. The funds received from the province are not considered by the Northern Lights School Board to be sufficient to meet these high costs.

There is a special grant available from Saskatchewan Education to the Division for ESL, FSL, and Cree and Dene programs. This is the same grant that is available to all provincial schools for the operation of ESL or core second language programs. The grants are determined on a per pupil basis, according to the percentage of instructional time used for language instruction. The funds for Aboriginal language programs are decentralized by the Division directly to those schools with programs. The schools use these funds as they see fit: for example, they may use them to Purchase language teaching materials, or to hire assistants to help the teacher make materials. Funds are not sufficient to pay for salaries of Cree or Dene teachers. Because of the lack of curriculum and the critical shortage of materials, teachers of Aboriginal languages need more preparation time than do teachers of other subjects.

There is only one French immersion program in the Division. Funds received by the Division for the immersion program in Pre-Cam school in La Ronge are decentralized directly to the school.

For the 1989-1990 school year, the Division received an ESL grant from the province for a total of 8B1 students for heaven 50% and 100% instruction time, which amounted to between $380 and $478 per student. The ESL funds are considered by the Division as part of the foundation grant from the province and are used to support the delivery of education in a general way. This is done on the premise that the Division's approach to meeting the needs of all students, including FSL students, is to use a holistic, student-centered approach to the teaching of English language arts. Student-teacher ratios are kept as low as possible to make instruction more effective, library resources are continually being upgraded, and considerable efforts are made to work with all teachers to increase their level of understanding of the philosophy and instructional approaches which are conducive to the English language development of all students in the Division. The Circle program, an integrated English language arts program designed for northern ESL children from Algonquian language backgrounds, has been purchased for the schools.

In calculating its ESL grants to the NLSD, Saskatchewan Education has recognized that the situation in the north with ESL children is different from that in the south. In southern school divisions, special ESL programs are implemented, and funding for these programs is limited to two years. In the north, more than two years of ESL support is needed, and it is understood that ESL instruction may occur across the curriculum. For instance, bilingual paraprofessionals may he used to interpret and translate for the students and teachers. Consequently, students from Kindergarten to Grade Three in NLSD schools are considered eligible for provincial ESL funding. The Division does not receive implementation grants from the Department because the approach used by the Division has not entailed the implementation of separate ESL programs as has occurred in the south. However, the maintenance grants Provided to the Division are supplemented with what is termed the northern factor, which means that the grant is increased by a factor of 1.39 to reflect the higher casts associated with northern education.


The Northern Lights School Board considers the effective teaching of ESL a very high Priority, especially in the more isolated communities in the Division. The concern of the Board arises from the low achievement levels of students in the Division. In the communities where English is a second language, the problems are believed to be particularly severe. Children are below average in age-grade placement. In the view of the Board members interviewed, it takes two to three years to learn English, so that students' learning of academic content is delayed until they learn English well enough to comprehend the subject matter. For optimal academic achievement, they ask whether it is not a good idea for children to begin their education in their own language. They are concerned with how English can he taught effectively without resulting in the loss of the Aboriginal languages. While there is provincial grant recognition of ESL, it is left to the NLSD to develop policy and programs. The type of grant funding available is not sufficient to develop, implement, and maintain progress.

In Saskatchewan there is no provincial policy or curriculum for ESL. Provincial education policy for the English language arts represents an English is a first language perspective. The NLSD has Placed an emphasis on language arts education over the past number of years. Each school makes its own decisions relating to curriculum and instruction for its English program. According to Division staff, the approach Which has been promoted in the teaching of English as a whole language, child-centered, literature-based approach. This is in line with the current direction taken in the teaching of English language arts by Saskatchewan Education (1989b).

The Circle program is available in Division schools and is considered a useful approach, but other materials are needed too. The program may be considered too elementary to meet the needs in communities where the children enter school already speaking English, although effective teaching practice entail content adaptation of materials to match the needs of students. Some teachers may need extra inservice training to learn how to utilize the program effectively. Regardless of which programs or approaches are used, there is a scarcity of English language arts teaching materials appropriate to and relevant for the range of teaching situations in the Division.

Library resources are critical to the success of the whole language, child-centered approach, as is a corps of teachers who understand and are committed to the philosophy behind it, and who are trained in the teaching strategies associated with it. Low student-teacher ratios are also very important. This approach has not yet been acknowledged as official policy of the Division. Concerted efforts have been made by the Division to increase library services in the north, to maintain relatively low student-teacher ratios, and to conduct effective inservice training with teachers. This year there vas a total of 76 new teachers in widely separated schools, making the task of providing inservice and consultant support an immense one. A Language Arts Handbook produced by the Division has been used to orient and guide teachers (Northern Lights School Division, 1989).

It has often been the practice of schools in North America to inappropriately treat ethnic minority ESL/ESD students as needing special education programs, along with those whose English language development is abnormal. This is a phenomenon which has hem associated with the education of many Aboriginal people in Canada. According to the coordinator of the Special Education Section of the Division office, this approach has characterized Past practice in the Division, hut it is no longer so. Various steps have been taken to change the situation. Policy and practice have moved towards the appropriate use of special education programs for those with first language development abnormalities and those who are designated disabled or handicapped.


The Board members interviewed consider Aboriginal language education a very high priority in the Division. The Division and the Department of Education do not have adequate resources to provide for Aboriginal language education. There is no provincially approved curriculum: materials are very scarce; and fluent, specialized and certified teachers are few and far between.

The sociolinguistic context in Northern Saskatchewan is characterized by diversity and by a language shift from Aboriginal languages to English. In isolated communities such as Pinehouse, Cree is still strong; and in Wollaston Lake, the Dene language is strong. On the other hand, in a community like Beauval, the current generation of young people do not speak Cree. English language education is not perceived as needing attention; rather, in the view of the Board member interviewed, the school in Beauval needs to focus on teaching Cree.

Language shift is occurring at a steady pace in the north, a trend which greatly concerns the Board. If the Aboriginal languages are lost here in Canada, there is nowhere else in the world that people can go to learn them. This is the homeland of the Cree, the Dene, and other Aboriginal people. In the view of Berny Wiens, former president of the SSTA:

...all of the cultures in Canada, with the exception of Aboriginal cultures, have a home somewhere else in the world where their language and traditions will be carried forward. But (I believe) that we in Canada have a serious and special responsibility for the health and maintenance of the languages and traditions of only one group of Canadians, those of North American Indian and Inuit heritage. We, the immigrant peoples of Canada, have for so long viewed history and development through the eyes of a 'conquering nation' that we fail to respect a good deal of the experience that Indian men and women have had on the very soil which now sustains our existence. It continues to disturb me that in reading Saskatchewan and Canadian history, even by historians who begin by suggesting they know better, to find that the best recognition of the contribution of native peoples is a brief prelude and some reflections on their assistance to the so-called 'founding nations'...(Wiens, 19B9, pp.8-9)

There are many reasons for including Aboriginal languages in the school curriculum, reasons that will not be discussed in this paper. What is relevant here is that the Board believes it important for Aboriginal languages to form part of the curriculum in the NLSD. The issue is relevant to a discussion of ESL issues and programs because in practice, the development of proficiency in English in northern Saskatchewan has often been associated with the loss of Aboriginal languages. This is an example of subtractive bilingualism; that is, the replacement of proficiency in a first language by proficiency in a second language. Prom a sociolinguistic perspective, subtractive bilingualism is a typical result of interaction between two languages of unequal socio-political status. In bilingual settings such as those which exist in northern Saskatchewan, unless the school or other societal institutions play a decisive role in the promotion of the less powerful language, its use will continue to decline.


In the view of one of the Board members interviewed, Northern students should have access to trench language programs in addition to English language and Aboriginal language instruction. Students should not be placed in the position of having to choose between studying an Aboriginal language and studying French. There was resentment expressed from more than one quarter regarding the seeming ease with which funding and resources have been obtained for teaching French, in contrast with how difficult it has been for the Cree and Dene language programs so desperately needed. Because of the inadequate level of resources existent for Aboriginal languages, the matter of French language programming for Aboriginal students has at times become an unnecessarily contentious issue. The challenge is to develop Program models which accommodate all the language needs of the Aboriginal communities in the Division. Trilingual education programs can and do work, but they need to be thoughtfully planned, and responsibly implemented and evaluated.


The issue of language instruction in the Division is not only a provincial issue, hut also a federal one. Elements of the argument are as follows:

1. First and foremost, the Treaties signed by the federal government and the Indian nations have clearly established a federal responsibility for Indian education. The federal government has acknowledged its responsibility toward Treaty students in the Division through payments of tuition fees. Considering that approximately one-third of NLSD students have treaty status, the fact that the federal government's tuition payments constitute 8% of the Division's revenues might well he presented as an argument far federal involvement at the program ESL/FSL. 'It is clear that determine how the language development level in the area of extra resources are necessary to education needs can be met in the north, and to implement measures to meet the needs. It is not simply a matter of implementing existing programs: the programs have not yet hem developed.

2. A large number of Treaty students in the north have recently gained their Indian status as a result of Bill C-31.

3. Although a large number of the Aboriginal people served by the NLSD are Metis and therefore under provincial jurisdiction with respect to education, the origin of many aspects of the Metis heritage is Indian cultures and languages.

4. The scarcity of resources necessitates sharing between provinces; the official languages and the Aboriginal languages cross provincial boundaries. The Circle program vas Produced in Ontario with the assistance of Indian Affairs Canada and the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education. It is relevant in other provinces and territories of Canada because there are similar groups of students across the country. Other badly-needed materials and programs might he produced with the aid of federal resources and used in various regions across Canada.

5. Aboriginal language retention needs to he viewed from a national perspective if effective measures are to he taken. Federal policies have had a great deal to do with the decline in use of Aboriginal languages (Tschanz, 1980). If learning one or both of the official languages of Canada has meant in practical terms that an Aboriginal student must sacrifice his or her own language, surely it is incumbent on the federal government to sponsor the research and development required to produce bilingual and trilingual education models that have more satisfactory end results.

6. English and French are official languages of Canada. If it is a national goal to enable every person in Canada to acquire a level of fluency in one or both of the official languages sufficient to allow full participation in Canadian society, there is clearly a federal responsibility to contribute to the development of effective ESL and FSL programs for Aboriginal people.

Teacher training is a federal issue to the extant that the federal government is financially involved with post-secondary education. The teacher preparation factor appears to be an important one influencing the ability of the Division to deliver a language arts program of any sort. Teachers in northern Saskatchewan need specialized training and experience in second language teaching and cross-cultural and northern education. Also required are teachers who have the background and philosophy to use a whole language, child-centred approach: who understand and meet the needs of minority bilingual children: and who are knowledgeable about Aboriginal languages, cultures, and traditions. The difficulty experienced by the NLSD in locating teachers with the requisite skills and knowledge brings into question the extant to which our Canadian teacher education institutions are meeting the needs in this area.

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Language should not he a harrier to employment or to participation in Canadian society. Functioning in a meaningful way within the democratic process, the judicial system, the health care system or other societal systems calls for higher levels of proficiency in French and or English than are presently attainable by large numbers of Aboriginal people within our educational institutions. The lack of language makes finding employment difficult and creates an unnecessary level of dependence on social welfare systems. The Northern Lights School Board has called for basic research to be conducted to identify the language education needs of the students in its jurisdiction.

There is clearly a federal role to play in the undertaking of the research requested by the Board. Education is one of the rights guaranteed to Treaty Indians by the federal government; there is a large proportion of Treaty Indian students enrolled in NLSD schools. Furthermore, it is in the national interest to both promote the use of the official languages and to contribute to efforts to retain the ancestral languages and cultures of Canada's Aboriginal peoples.

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It is recommended that the research be conducted in consultation with the NLSB and the staff of the NLSD. The following questions and issues should be addressed:

1. What are the ESL/FSL needs of the Indian and Metis students in the NLSD? What are the current levels of proficiency? What are the desired levels of proficiency?

2. What are the education needs with respect to Aboriginal languages? What are the current levels of proficiency? What are the desired levels of proficiency?

3. What instructional measures would he appropriate and sufficient to meet the needs in the language education area in the Division? Areas to examine should include teacher preparation, curriculum and teaching materials, policy development, models of bilingual and trilingual education and jurisdictional issues. In any given sociolinguistic setting, a range of monolingual, bilingual, and trilingual program models should be Presented as curricular options. The choice of a particular option would be influenced by such factors as community attitudes toward language retention and language education, the availability of high-quality bilingual materials, and the availability of trained teachers with appropriate specialization's.

4. How might optimal instructional measures be determined? A case study of a particularly successful program in the Division could prove instructive in terms of determining what works; as could an international review of the literature in the area of bilingual and trilingual education, and case studies of bilingual education programs for Aboriginal students elsewhere in Canada.

Issues to keep in mind include:

1. the fact that special education programs have in the past often been used inappropriately with ESL students.

2. the need to look at the larger picture: not only with respect to jurisdiction (Treaty Indian children are educated in Indian-controlled, federal, and provincial schools), but also to include Indigenous ESL/ESD students enrolled in schools outside of the Northern Lights School Division: some in other rural school divisions, and some in urban schools. What happens, for instance, to a Dene-speaking child whose parents move from Wollaston Lake in northern Saskatchewan to Saskatoon? What about the other Provinces and Territories? What about. the role of other agencies concerned with Aboriginal language retention: for example, the Northern Access to Communication Societies, the Aboriginal communities themselves, CITEP (the association of Canadian Northern Teacher Education Programs), NORTEP (the Northern Teacher Education Program), the Gabriel Dumont Institute, the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations, and the Saskatchewan Indian Languages Committee, to name a few.

4. the fact that many children who exhibit a high level of conversational fluency in English may require ESL or ESD programs in order to acquire the sort of language proficiency which is critical to academic success.

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