Lillian Nakarmura Maguire
Northern and Rural Education Issues for Women
Being one of three guest editors of this issue of the magazine, along with Janet Armstrong, former North West Territories CCLOW board member, and Dorothy Robbins, Newfoundland board member, has been a learning experience for me. I've learned about the complexities of transmitting articles by electronic mail from Iqaluit, NWT to Whitehorse, Yukon; dealing with deadlines, that were patiently extended by Elizabeth Amer, the managing editor, and Aisla Thomson, the Executive Director; and mainly overcoming my FEARS about tackling a task for which I had no experience! I owe a thanks to all of them and to Janet Patterson who, as chair of the Editorial committee, gave me encouragement and support. I hope that by reading about the exciting work developing in the North, you will begin to appreciate the complexities and challenges that northern women face as learners and teachers.
Why the need for a special issue on women's education and learning in the North and other isolated communities? Perhaps because the issues women in remote areas face are often the same as those confronting our southern sisters. Many of our communities lack support services such as adequate, affordable child care, transportation services (especially for women living outside towns or city cores), and financial aid to maintain a decent standard of living. These problems are often complicated by distance from learning resources, by cultural barriers and by the limited employment opportunities in small communities. Women are often the major force for change in communities, but they may also be fearful of the way personal change through education, might affect their families.
Many of the articles that follow describe how women have overcome these problems. Cultural perspectives from Jeanne Beaudoin, a Yukon Francophone, and Louise Profeit-Leblanc, an Indian storyteller, provide insight into the role of culture in access to learning and teaching. Profeit-Leblanc promotes the use of Indian myths and stories in assisting Indian people to obtain spiritual direction and cultural awareness. The process of storytelling, provides both the speaker and the listener with an opportunity for a deeper and more caring relationship.
Women adult educators are bringing learning to the people through community economic development, through popular theatre and through distance education techniques in Newfoundland. Underlying these activities have been the "empowering" of underrepresented groups in adult education activities. The use of popular theatre techniques in the Northwest Territories has provided a powerful tool for teaching written and oral communication, increasing awareness of social issues and possible solutions, and, more importantly, has increased the learners' self awareness and self esteem. The women's studies course, described by Joanne Prindiville and Catherine Boak allowed isolated Newfoundland women to connect within a feminist framework and to develop meaning and strategies for change in their lives.
Without the education of ALL sectors of the community, in particular women and native people, no government initiative will bring about local economic development. Women do hold up half the sky, and in many northern and isolated communities are the backbones of the community. Their volunteer work goes unrecognized; their community organizing provides recreational programs, pre-school activities and "safe homes" for victims of spousal assault. This commitment to families and children of the community is often taken for granted. Women are the first educators. . . and in many communities are taking the leadership role in providing innovative, creative approaches to teaching and learning based on principles of equality of opportunity and empowerment for all sectors of society.