|Aboriginal Education Best Practises|
Wednesday, 11 September 2013
Aboriginal Education: Canada's Two Real Solitudes
Chief John Snow (Wesley Band of the Stoney Nakoda Sioux First nation) wrote in the 1977 that we should have a different type of education in Canada, one based on integration. “Of course I believe in integrated education. Let the neighbouring communities bring their children onto our reserve and we’ll do our best to integrate them” (book These mountains are our sacred places). While many would not see this comment as being serious Chief Snow was expressing the exact same view point that many non-Aboriginal peoples held concerning Aboriginal peoples. Many Indigenous peoples in Canada believe that a separate Indigenized education system with access to similar resources as public system is not only necessary, but a Human Right (Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of HR). Others like Elder Winston Wuttunee are more pragmatic and hold that all students and humans should have access to the teaching of Indigenous peoples. Indigenous peoples have a duty to build understanding within all students. They have this duty because of their special connection to the land, earth and creation. We have as Winston says “a special role to play.”
Few actually understand many of ideas and the historical developments surrounding Aboriginal education. The idea of Aboriginal education as a separate field of study while it has gained currency as an area of expertise has not been wholly embraced. I was once told that the former Dean of Education at McGill did not believe in this field of study (anonymous personal communication). It is an area of education that is difficult to discuss do to potential accusations of racism and the high emotional issues that surround it. Many quietly question Aboriginal education as being a watering down of the standards that will enable students to obtain knowledge and skills useful for employment.
Though perhaps it is true that non-Native children should be taught in an Indigenous manner and Chief Snow has it right. Very few cultures in the world such as the Indigenous peoples in Canada have been able to demonstrate the high capacity for survival. The First Nations world-view has demonstrated stamina that even though it has been attacked, harassed and victimized it has still persisted to this day and in many cases is undergoing a revival and renaissance. Some have even called this interaction a form of genocide (Justice Murray Sinclair, Feb 17, 2012).
The debates about Aboriginal education run quite the gamut from institutions like the University of Manitoba promoting student support programs, to the Frontier Centre advocating a different Indian Control of Indian Education controlled not by chiefs and reserves, but by parents or even using a voucher system, to the First Nations University of Canada. Few though ask what we are trying to do; what are the intended outcomes, our long term goal. Some like the Dean of Extended Education at the U of Manitoba indicate that students outcomes must be tied to educational success and educational success is graduation from university; and this is the principal measure of success. Others like Aboriginal educator Audrey Richard write that success should be much more holistic taking into account not only academic success, but the way the student works and lives after they have completed some educational training. Other educational programs like the Le,Nonet program at U Victoria also discuss how students see success and it is generally it would be considered far more holistic.
It is certainly a very difficult area to make sense because of the many entrenched interests that often preclude the finding of solutions that meet the educational and holistic objectives of students, families, and communities.