Saturday, January 1, 2011

Hello 2011! or Reflections on the past year in Aboriginal Education in BC

Hello 2011!
                I know that it is that time of year to be doing the big reflections and the important resolutions for the New Year and all that wonderful stuff.  So, some wonderful things from this past year (and it is, by no means, an exhaustive list):
1.       The BC College of Teachers has announced that it will require all new teachers in BC to have knowledge of special needs and First Nations education.  See the press release here.  This is really exciting news.  I, and the rest of the Ab. Ed. Advisory Committee, have been pushing this for a long time at the BCTF, to encourage the BCCT to require this and to get university teacher education programs to make this a requirement.  The necessity to have some knowledge of the lived experience of the children of First Nations’ ancestry can only be a positive for both the teacher and the learner.  Having knowledge of the history of colonialism is one of the ways that we can ensure that we are not making assumptions about our students based on stereotypes and media hype.  The historical teacher response of refusing to know the other does not stand up in this day.  “But I treat all my kids equally” is not treating kids fairly when they come from such disparate lived experiences.  Thank you BCCT.
2.       As a BCTF Aboriginal Education Associate, I give workshops around BC on topics related to Aboriginal Education: Working with Aboriginal Youth, Aboriginal History &Culture, Indigenous Perspectives, etc.  2010 has been the busiest year for this particular aspect of my job and for the other Ab. Ed. Associates as well.  My first year in this position was very dry, I do not recall giving any workshops, but as my second ramped up and the third got under way, I have had to turn down requests due to the number of teachers’ associations and districts that have been requesting our workshops.  This set of workshops has never been more important or more requested.  I am happy to see teachers taking on this subject and asking for advice and for more information.  My term in this position is almost up, and I may have to consider re-applying to carry on now.
3.       Other teachers’ workshops on issues related to Aboriginal education and curriculum development.  I have also never seen so many workshops and presentations put on by other teachers dedicated to this particular issue going on in the province and it is starting to happen across the curriculum, in all subject areas.  Teachers and administrators everywhere are looking at their teaching practice and thinking about how to incorporate Indigenous knowledge into their subjects.  I am very excited to see this.  Very excited.  With the advent of this and the start towards acknowledging Indigenous pedagogies, or ways of learning and knowing, we are starting, finally to make progress here.  Still have a ways to go, of course.
4.       Employment Equity for Aboriginal teachers seems to be moving forward in many parts of the province.  I am proud to say that my school district is looking at it now and starting that discussion.  It is not a done deal, however and a lot needs to be worked out, but we are talking about it.  Aboriginal students need to see Aboriginal people in leadership positions, working in the community, being successful.  They need those role models.  So do non-Aboriginal students.
5.       Teachers of Aboriginal ancestry are not being as silent as they have been.  I have heard a lot of Aboriginal voices lately and many of them are teachers.  There is not necessarily a lot of agreement in Aboriginal circles about what educational success should look like, I can provide ample evidence of that and some of my colleagues have heard me complain about disagreements I have had over what should or could be done.  One of the marginalized voices in that context has often been the voice of the teacher of Aboriginal ancestry.  These folks give up a lot to teach, especially in a public system.  This system is viewed with mistrust by many in the Aboriginal communities and to go into it, voluntarily can be detrimental.  A lot of these teachers are speaking up about their experiences and what they see as the needs of our students.  It is about time.  I will write a more in depth post on this at a later time.
On the other side of the coin, the Federal government has stated that they will be making FN education a priority and the Assembly of First Nations will be assisting.  Their planned panel to meet with stakeholders sounds good, but the timeline doesn’t allow for any meaningful discourse.  There seems to be no interest in looking at the educational needs of students, who are non-status or live off-reserve, nor on-rez students who attend public school.  There is nothing to be learned that can’t already be found in the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples.  The Feds and the AFN are very good at letting me down and so I am not too excited by all of this talk.
So, these are the positives of the past year and in them, there are also challenges.  What are your thoughts?  What do you see as positives in the coming year for Aboriginal Education?  What do you see as challenges that we will have to overcome to continue this rather exciting ride?  Happy New Year everybody!

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