For a long time, Aboriginal education and culture was not taught in our schools or in western society. Recently, the progress that has been made with the Truth and Reconciliation curriculum has been put on hold and so we felt that now, more than ever, it is important to continue to learn about, speak to, and educate others on this topic.
As teachers, it is crucial to be culturally responsive and learn about our student’s culture by speaking to students, talking to parents, and creating culturally relevant curriculum that makes our students feel included and represented. It is for these reasons and because of our desire to create inclusive and diverse classrooms that drive our interest in this topic.
Reflections of Research Process:
Before beginning the research process for this project, we felt we had decent background knowledge of what Aboriginal education was. Once we started the basic task of seeking a definition and/or characteristics of what Aboriginal Education is, we quickly became overwhelmed. Other than one Wikipedia definition, there did not seem to be a clear, concise definition available. Also, many resources regarding Aboriginal education were government documents and we wanted to seek less of a one-sided approach. We therefore contacted Paul Carl from the Queen’s Aboriginal Teacher Education program.
Paul confirmed that this topic was a huge undertaking. When we asked him what the characteristics of Indigenous education was, he informed me that it depends. It depends because characteristics of Indigenous education varies from band to band. Some of these places are more culturally based, whereas others are less. It also depends on what influence the residential schools and/or church had on each of these communities. First Nation schools are able to perform smudging and ceremonies whereas this is not allowed in the public and Catholic school systems. He informed us that education is a treaty right nation to nation and education for status people is the responsibility of the federal government through the Indian Act. Curriculum, however, is the responsibility of provincial governments and can therefore vary from province to province. Truth to Reconciliation for First Nations People is an effort for Indigenous people to have more control over their education in what they teach (i.e., language, culture).
After our meeting with Paul, we were surprised how much we did not know about the topic. We feel as though the majority of Ontarians share in my limited knowledge regarding Aboriginal Education. It is therefore imperative for Aboriginal Education to be included in the Ontario curriculum to bridge the disparity between Aboriginal and Non-Aboriginal students achievement.
As a result of our conversation with Paul, we sought out to discover how many other Teacher Candidates had the same experience as us. We were interested to know what other people’s experience of Aboriginal Education in schools were and how they varied. We conducted a survey that consisted of 6 questions (please see attached results for further clarification). 53 people responded to our survey and of those 53 people 92% of them identified as Non-Aboriginal and stated that they had limited knowledge of Aboriginal Education and how to move forward as teachers in the future, with the expectation to teach this topic in a culturally responsive way. We thought that this was very interesting as teachers are expected to teach this topic but some of us are uneducated ourselves. We also found it alarming the amount of Non-Aboriginal teachers compared to Aboriginal teachers which clearly shows the divide and the need for more Indigenous educators in our school system. (Olivia Rondeau, Survey Monkey, 2018)
MOE Achievement Gap Statistics:
Indigenous people are the original inhabitants of Canada. When Europeans arrived, early treaties were signed with the intent of mutual benefits. For some of us, these treaties made us prosperous – having land to live on and cultivate and water to drink. Generations built on the success of previous generations. These treaties did not bring the same success for Indigenous people. Instead, they became the target of colonial policies designed to exploit, assimilate and eradicate them.
The residential school system removed many thousands of Indigenous children from their homes and stripped them of their Indigenous languages, cultures and rights. Children were physically, emotionally and sexually abused. These residential schools have seen been closed, but have only been closed for one generation. These events continue to have an impact on individuals, families and communities today. Many self-destructing behaviours resulting from this intergenerational trauma include depression, suicidal thoughts, anxiety, addictions and family violence. It is these barriers to learning that contributes to the Indigenous peoples’ achievement gap (The Journey Together: Ontario’s Commitment to Reconciliation with Indigenous People, 2016).
Practical Teaching Implications:
To support this issue in their practise, teachers should teach using both Universal Design for Learning and Differentiated Instruction approaches. This will help make the class equitable for everyone, including Indigenous students. The teachers should get to know their students - their cultural background (band) and trauma they, their family and/or communities have experienced or are still experiencing. Teachers should also be empathetic to the barriers Indigenous people continue to face today (i.e. intergenerational trauma). Teachers can use this info to build relationships and to create learning environments (Indigenous literature, medicine wheels, tipi space, etc.) and curriculum (songs, activities, crafts, etc.) where their cultures are incorporated. Teachers can acknowledge the First Nations territory on which the school is located and can celebrate the Indigenous holidays (National Aboriginal Day/Month) and cultural traditions and invite elders to the classroom to share their history and knowledge. Lastly, teachers can complete culturally relevant training and workshops that can help them develop a deeper learning and understanding of Aboriginal Education and culture.
ATEP (Aboriginal Teacher Education) Verbal Conversations with Paul Carl.
Casey, Liam. “Ontario University's New Program Aims to Boost Number of Aboriginal Teachers.” Thestar.com, Toronto Star, 20 Jan. 2016, www.thestar.com/news/canada/2016/01/20/ontario-universitys-new-program-aims-to-boost-number-of-aboriginal-teachers.html.
The Journey Together: Ontario’s Commitment to Reconciliation with Indigenous People, 2016.
Land, Native. “NativeLand.ca.” Native-Land.ca - Our Home on Native Land, 2018, native-land.ca/.
Ministry of Education- Implementation Plan: Ontario First Nation, Metis, and Inuit Education Policy Framework. 2014.
Ministry of Education- Third Progress Report on the First Nation, Metis, and Inuit Education Policy Framework: Strengthening Our LEarning Journey. Published March 9th, 2018.
Rondeau, Olivia. “Teacher Candidates Knowledge of Aboriginal Education and Culture.” SurveyMonkey, 2018.