Thursday, April 28, 2011

Four Short Passages from The Absolutely True Story of A Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie that stand out for me

I love this book!

  1. Page 195-196.

 “And then I realized something.

I realized that my team, the Reardon Indians, was Goliath….-

I was suddenly ashamed of my anger, my rage, and my pain.”

This passage really hit home to me.  When, as a support worker, or as a teacher, I have had to deal with some very annoying interactions with my Rez students, I found myself stepping back and letting the Principal deal with the student as they saw fit.  On those occasions, when I was surrendering, I would realize that I wasn’t just surrendering out of frustration but abandoning them and their real powerlessness to the disciplinarians.  At those times, I knew that I was on the side of the powerful and felt like I was betraying my kids but had given in to the fact that I, as powerless as my students but unable to lash out in the anger and aggression that they used to show their frustration, had had to give up because I had other students to worry about.  We are on different reserves, but I knew what they were going home to and I knew that the administration didn’t really understand that.  I also know that, despite my own poverty, I am better off then a lot of kids on my reserve and the nearby ones.  I also am reminded that, in becoming a teacher, I have sided with the oppressor, even when I know that my intentions are to change the system from within.  The kids don't always see that.

  1. Page 155.
“Indians can be just as judgmental and hateful as any white person.”

What more needs to be said.  What really hurts is how we are able to turn that hate so effectively on each other and on any perceived difference.  When you are placed in a position of powerlessness, the desire to lash out at the oppressor is strong, but lacking the resources to take on the oppressor, the oppressed will seek out weaker targets for their rage and those weaker targets are often from within the ranks of the powerless, only more vulnerable.  The most hurtful interactions I have had in the world of education and education advocacy have been with other Indigenous people.

  1. Page 189.
“’You can do it.’

‘I can do it.’

Do you understand how amazing it is to hear that from an adult?  Do you know how amazing it is to hear that from anybody?  It’s one of the simplest sentences in the world, just four words, but they’re the four hugest words in the world when they’re put together.”

I don’t remember my father ever saying them specifically, but I do remember him saying “Well done.” when I did something he was trying to encourage me on.  That “well done” was the whole world to me.  I remember in army cadets one time, we were on exercise and the troop was given the task of building shelters.  We were handed rope and tarp and other little essentials that we would need to carry out the project.  My Dad, one of our instructors, then came up to me and took everything away.  When I complained, he said "What are the odds you will have everything you will need to survive?" (Now that I think of it, he may have said those four magical words).  No one explicitly said this is how to build a shelter, but as I stood there, my Dad nudged a broken branch with his foot and always sort of stood near the next piece of the puzzle, making me figure it out on my own, although I realize now that I wasn't really on my own.  By the end of it, I had a full audience of cadets and instructors who applauded the completed (but far from perfect) shelter.  The only response that mattered was the soft "Well done" from my Dad.

  1. Page 63.
“Well, let’s get something straight.  All of those pretty, pretty, pretty, pretty white girls ignored me.  But that's okay.  Indian girls ignored me, too, so I was used to it.”

Story of my life.

Friday, April 22, 2011

On Becoming Visible- Please Vote...

Just a quick post here, as I realized that there is advanced polls taking place for Canada's general election.  I was interviewed recently for an article on MediaIndigena for the article Should First Nations be part of Canadian elections?50 years after getting the vote, the debate rages on by Martha Troian.  There is an ongoing debate regarding whether First Nations people should participate in the vote, do we surrender a part of our sovereignty in voting in Canadian elections?  Do we weaken our stances and claims of nationhood  by casting a ballot?

Dr. Taiaiake Alfred makes the argument that we do give up a part of ourselves and our independence by participating in general elections.  I do disagree with him, although I do not believe that there is anything wrong with taking this position, which is shared by many First Nations' people across Canada. 

I do, however have to take a different stance on the subject and it is because there is too much going on that affects us as First Nations people to ignore and not have a say in.  We face many critical challenges today.  How are we fighting to protect our water rights and the right to access clean water on our reserves?  How are we ensuring that our missing and murdered women are being properly investigated and resolved?  How are we ensuring that there is no way for people to believe it is okay that these women are disappearing?  How are we ensuring that the needs of our people and our children are being looked after?

By staying away from the voting booth?

In Martha's article, Joseph Quesnel says “just because you don’t take an interest in politics, doesn’t mean politics will take an interest in you. You become part of someone else’s design for political life.”

Do we let others make the decisions on how we live our lives? Yes, that is what a democratic society does, but we are allowed to influence those decisions by voting.  What happens when we choose not to vote on the people who will be deciding our fates?  What is happening to First Nations now?  By choosing not to exercise the right to vote, we become invisible. 

I have talked to my students about resistance.  How do we resist colonialism?  How do we resist assimilation?  How do we resist losing our identity?  Our students are expected to fail, and the ones that fail as an act of resistance are not failing the education system, they are failing themselves and their Bands.  They are reinforcing the belief that we are failures.  I encourage my students to resist by succeeding.

I am also encouraging those that are old enough to, to vote.  Resist assimilation by ensuring that your voice is heard.  If Aboriginal people were to go out and vote, we would be heard and listened to.  Resist by ensuring that we don't become invisible.

Please vote on May 2nd.  I don't care for whom you vote, listen to the candidates and make your choice, but, please, make the choice.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Vancouver's Aboriginal Focus School Forum Report Released!

The Vancouver School Board has released a report titled Reporting on the Vancouver School District, January 2011 Aboriginal Education Forums.  Compiling and synthesizing the comments and opinions of the forums, the report was written by Dr. Jo-ann Archibald and research assistants Allyson Raynor & Ramona Big Head of the University of British Columbia.  Find the Report here.
The essence is supportive of the Choice school, although I note that they are now using the better term Aboriginal Focus school.

At any rate, I am still very intrigued at the idea.

Below, I have cut and pasted the essentials of the Executive summary:

participants indicated: (1) support for

establishing a new school with an Aboriginal

focus; (2) support for a larger school model

that addresses K-12; (3) that the new

school be one of choice; and (4) that the

new school be open to all interested

students in the Vancouver School District

and that Aboriginal students be given

priority. The goals of the school that the

Forum participants articulated were that the

school should:

a. strive for excellence in which students

are confident, respectful, critical thinkers

and engaged learners;

b. focus on quality education through

Aboriginal worldviews, knowledge,

culture, and values;

c. maintain high expectations for student

learning and success;

d. value cultural diversity;

e. develop a welcoming, culturally safe, and

inclusive school environment; and

f. engage parents and community groups in

school planning and decision-making.

The framework for the Aboriginal focused

school is discussed using a wholistic lens,

which addresses the spiritual, emotional,

physical and intellectual components/needs

of the students, teachers, school, and

community. Forum participants, for

example, wanted: the school to include

Aboriginal ceremonies, the teachers to

develop meaningful and supportive learning

relationships with the students, the

community to be engaged in the

development of the school structure and

policies, and the students to experience

learning shaped by Aboriginal content and

ways of knowing.

The one component of the new school that

was repeatedly underscored by Forum

participants was the need to hire excellent,

effective, innovative and caring teachers.

Specifically these ideal teachers:

• develop effective learning

relationships with students,

recognize students’ talents and


• demonstrate care and patience

toward students, listen intently;

• have high expectations of students

and challenge them to do their best;

• have knowledge, experience, and

commitment for using Aboriginal

Knowledge in pedagogy and

curriculum, understand the impact

of colonization on Aboriginal

people, and use strategies to

decolonize education;

• are experts in subject areas and use

varied pedagogy; and

• are aware and knowledgeable of

urban Aboriginal contexts.

In the development of this school, however,

the VSB needs to be knowledgeable and

respectful of the concerns that the Forum

participants voiced during the consultation


Four of the more prominent

concerns centered on the following issues:

1) the fear of segregation and racism; 2) the

worry that this school would not encourage

academic excellence; 3) the concern that

the grade range of the school will be too

narrow; and 4) the apprehension that the

systemic barriers within the VSB will not

allow the new school to have the flexibility

to meet the students’ needs in the best way


Despite these concerns however, the time

is right to be bold and take action to start a

new school with an Aboriginal focus. In

following Aboriginal oral tradition, we

would tell others that the January 2011

Aboriginal Education Forums resembled a

feast where we were fed extremely well

with ideas and reminders (see Figure 1) of

what is important for educational and

school success; how Aboriginal Knowledge,

values, and culture can effectively shape

learning and teaching; and how parents and

Aboriginal community members can work

in partnership with the Vancouver School

Board to offer education that is meaningful,

inclusive, and excellent.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Let me tell you a story...

Stories are everywhere.  Thomas King wrote a wonderful book “The Truth About Stories” based on his 2003 Massey Lectures, which told the Indigenous story after Contact through Coyote stories, federal legislation and personal stories.  On Friday, April 15, 2011, Darrell Dennis presented the keynote address at the BCTF Social Justice Conference, telling the story of the Native Canadian experience in schooling through the personal experiences of his growing up, relating back through the history and connecting to the now. 

I was fortunate enough to have the honour of introducing him, and it was only after, that I realized what I had done in the introduction (I was up there longer than I needed to be to read a short bio and say “Here he is!”): I told a story.  I talked about getting the text from a colleague informing me that I would be introducing Dennis, followed up by the curt, texted command “Be Funny”.   I talked about my crazy week and how hard it was to be funny on command.  How I sat up, in an admittedly uncomfortable bed, and struggled with the idea of being funny when I’m not, by nature a funny fellow, especially when I was bringing up a noted entertainer and comedian like Darrell onto the stage.

And while Darrell was making everyone laugh and opening their eyes to the history of schooling of Aboriginal people, I sort of tuned him out.  Not intentionally, mind you, I was struck at how similar our stories were, but because I was thinking.  My comments had turned serious while I introduced Darrell and I was dwelling on the implications, and reflecting on their meaning.  What had I done when I spoke at the Bargaining Conference?  I told a story about the impact the current system had on me, on that Aboriginal doctor and on Guu’jaw.  What had I ever done in BC First Nations Studies 12 or Social Studies 11, when I introduced a new concept or discussed a bit of legislation?  I told a story about its impact on me or someone I knew, exploring the history while firmly planting it in the now.  I taught about the residential school system by sharing how it affected me, my mother and my grandparents.  I shared that I cried when I heard the apology, because it came after my Grandpa had passed away.  I shared the meaninglessness of the apology because it changed nothing for anybody because the words, while having some power, did not change anything for anybody.  Words have power and meaning, as I have written here before, but they can also have power in their meaninglessness.

Stories are who we are.  They are our truths, even when they aren’t explicitly about us, as in King’s Coyote stories, or any of the Trickster tales that are out there.  They are how we come to understand our past, where we have been.  They tell us who we are and they tell us who we can be.

There has been a lamenting the loss of the story in many Aboriginal cultures, but I am not convinced it is lost.  Stories, like culture, like history, are not static.  They evolve and grow and change, just like the storyteller who tells the story.  Today, he or she is finding new ways to tell stories, using film, using music, using art, writing, the list is endless.  I’ve told you about my students who write their own music telling the story of their lives and sharing their truths.  Darrell is an entertainer, he wrote plays, films, tv and Revision Quest on CBC Radio.  My brother makes movies.  I am bragging here, I have a tv show (with my brother and sister) that tells the story of youth reconnecting to the land and understanding who they are.  I teach.  My friend Starleigh teaches.  She writes.  She also shares her world through her blog.  Joseph Boyden’s novels are trickster tales set in the modern or near-modern world, without a visible trickster necessarily.

Don’t let that creative need to tell a story be stymied by the fact that you don’t recognize the story as a traditional story, or something telling you how we used to be.  Our stories, in whatever form they take, are the stories of who we are.  A reminder to you and ourselves, that we exist and that we are still worthy of a story.

And yes, because I know you are wondering, of course I was funny.  There were Native women in the room and when there is another Native male in the room, you have to be funnier than him.  It’s hardwired in our DNA to get these women to laugh. 
What? I heard it in a story once.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

An Incomplete Thought Continues- A further consideration in working towards a definition of Aboriginal Education

In working towards a definition of Aboriginal Education we must consider the issue of the target audience.  Forgetting for the moment the issues of integration of Indigenous content and pedagogy into the mainstream classroom, and the education of the mainstream population on Indigenous peoples, history and culture, we need to take into account the contentious issue of whom we are targeting among the Aboriginal population.  In this regard, we need to account for what makes up the Aboriginal population in Canada.  There is a tendency to apply a “pan-Indian” definition of what constitutes the Aboriginal student demographic and that is something that is detrimental to the improvement of educational practice for Aboriginal students.  This often results in a one size fits all implementation of “fixes” that fail for the most part to improve anything.

There are different categories that we could place people and students in, all of them with their own subcategories and subsets, ad infinitum.  To say the least, we can say that the Indigenous population in Canada includes First Nations, Métis and Inuit.  Within those categories we can further sub-categorize: FN, status and non-status; status can be further sub-categorized as section 6(1) and 6(2), as well as on-reserve and off-reserve, urban and rural.  We can add to this the awkward characterizations of Treatied and non-Treatied here in British Columbia if we wanted to, but I am unsure of the ramifications of being members of a Band or Nation with a Treaty at this point in time.  The recent McIvor decision by the Supreme Court of Canada, and the subsequent legislation to meet the ruling’s requirements, also changes the definitions of who gets to be considered Status versus non-Status Indians and I do not know how that will change the delivery of services to Aboriginal students.  Métis can have similar categorizations, complicated by the ongoing fight between the Métis and the Federal Government over who gets to legally define what constitutes a Métis person.

Having unnecessarily complicated the issue, I prefer to keep it simple.  Self-identification is key for determining services to students.  Where we need to make considerations above and beyond that is in determining strategies for rural and urban students.

The needs of an Urban Aboriginal student, by definition will be different from the needs of a Rural Aboriginal student, both in the design of the services required and in the delivery of said services.  How we incorporate culture and language will be different for the two regions, as they represent different divergent types of students with different accesses to language and culture in their environment. 

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Sometimes I need a reminder

I'm writing this on my cell phone, so I can't provide the link, my apologies for that oversight.
It has been one of those weeks. This whole reflecting on my practice has been a bad idea. On layoff into my third month now, I have had difficulty fighting off those doubts that tend to sneak up when you least expect it. I have attempted to keep busy, either with this blog, or doing some work with the Ab Ed provincial specialist association or with my local bargaining team, but it is hard to avoid dark thoughts sometimes: am I really so bad a teacher that no one wants to work with me?
In addition, having to put up with that report on Ab Ed and not seeing any of the big education stake holders putting up any real response has been sort of depressing. I than look around at what others are doing for Aboriginal education and I am humbled by their work and innovation. What do I contribute? Nothing like some things I have seen.
I was moved by the post Why we do what we do- Bookends of a perfect day by Shannon on her Shannon in Ottawa blog, but it did not liven my thoughts, as I dwelled on this dark place and demanded to know why I had become a teacher. I happened to be wandering the mall thinking this: Why do I keep doing this?

"Hey Mr. G!"
"Hello T., how are you?"
"Great! Working hard. How you been? We miss you at school."
"Well, I was over at Agassiz for a while, and now I'm ToC'ing."
"Wow, that sucks. Hope the kids aren't too bad, we could be rough sometimes."
"No, it's all good."
"That's good. Well, I gotta go, it was nice to see you again, don't be a stranger, Mr. G."
"No worries T., take care, eh."
"Yeah, you too."

Oh yeah...

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Look'd up in perfect silence at the stars- Some Thoughts on the Fraser Institute's Report Card on Aboriginal Education in British Columbia

When I heard the learn'd astronomer,
When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me,
When I was shown the charts, the diagrams, to add, divide, and
measure them,
When I sitting heard the astronomer where he lectured with much applause
in the lecture room,
How soon unaccountable I became tired and sick,
Till rising and gliding out I wander'd off by myself,
In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,
Look'd up in perfect silence at the stars.
                                               - Walt Whitman (1819-1892) (Borrowed from the beginning
                                                 of Willie Ermine’s Aboriginal Epistemology in The Circle Unfolds,
                                                 edited by Marie Battiste and Jean Barman 1995)

I was dismayed to read the Report Card on Aboriginal Education in BritishColumbia 2011, released March 31, 2011.  As a teacher working in this province, I have always looked upon releases with some apprehension, as I do perceive a bias in the research that does not reflect the working and learning conditions of the classrooms or the lived experiences of the students, their families or their teachers.  I do, however, try not to let that govern my thinking too much when I read their report cards, as I am sure the Fraser Institute does try to avoid letting their perception of bias in their critcs’ words govern their objectivity in reading those words.  As a teacher of Aboriginal ancestry, I find it a little more difficult to maintain that level of objectivity, but I do strive to do ensure that I balance the opinions and points of view inherent in the words and research in all sides of a discussion.  I recently made the argument that, in order to effect real change, we need to be willing to hear and consider all voices, even if we do not necessarily agree with them.  To deny the voice of the other does a disservice to the transformative potential of education and weakens the strength inherent in the Indigenous ways of knowing and learning.

I do feel a need to respond to the Report and to some comments made by one of the authors, Mr. Cowley, in a Vancouver Sun article Aboriginal education in B.C. gets failing mark, by Janet Steffenhagen published on April 1, 2011. 

1.    I need to point out that the Report Card seems only to make a quantitative analysis of standardized statistics culled from FSA results and success rates on provincial exams, using these narrow set of criteria to shrink down Aboriginal education to a simple formula based on success versus failure.  In doing this, the report does say that it is using these statistics to allow parents of Aboriginal ancestry the right and freedom to make choices about the schools they place their children into.

Freedom for Aboriginal parents to choose is supported in the 1972 policy paper delivered to the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development by the National Indian Brotherhood/Assembly of First Nations:

If we are to avoid the conflict of values which in the past has led to withdrawal and failure, Indian parents must have control of education with the responsibility of setting goals. What we want for our children can be summarized very briefly:

• to reinforce their Indian identity,

• to provide the training necessary for making a good living in modern society. (pg. 6, from the report)

The statement seems to be a noble assessment of the Indian Control of Indian Education (1972) document, but I do not believe that the Report Card is respecting the intent of the document in its declaration above.  To give parents control of education with the responsibility means to allow them a seat at the table to work towards a consensus of the needs of their children and communities that allows them to protect and recover the sense of belonging inherent in the connection to one’s culture and identity.  It does not discount the second bullet, to provide the necessary training for making a good living in modern society, but the limited nature of the statistics analysed do not allow for a proper evaluation of what a school is doing or failing to do in preparing students for our modern society.

2.    I cannot speak to the FSA statistics as I am not a specialist in that area, either as a teacher or advocate, however I can speak to the provincial exam analysis, briefly.  I have had the opportunity to teach four different courses that require a provincial exam as a mandatory part of their final mark: BC First Nations Studies 12, Social Studies 11, English 10 and English 12.  I have not placed very much value in the exams as reflective evaluations of student achievement, as they have relied far too heavily on multiple-choice questions as a means of determining student learning in the course.  This reliance does not allow for an accurate measure of applied skills development or critical thinking, instead boiling down the curriculum learning outcomes to choosing between four possible answers to knowledge-based questions that assess factoid memorization and not whether the student understands the concepts being explored in the curriculum.  I can use the exam to test whether you know when the Calder Case took place and what the Sparrow Case was about, but multiple-choice questions do not let you determine if the student understands the implications of those two cases on the development of Aboriginal self-advocacy and the applications of that to their understanding of the lived experiences of Aboriginal people in Canadian society.

A more reflective evaluation process is necessary, with a more inquiry-based type of project may be more useful in determining the extent of learning and understanding the student has achieved.

3.    I won’t need to spend a lot of time reiterating the socio-economic issues of poverty, racism, ongoing colonialism and residential school affect, or intergenerational legacy.  These are constantly in the news and the comments sections of any online article that addresses Aboriginal issues.

Having said that, I need to address the issue of relationships in the education system.  Parents do care about the education of their children, despite what many non-Aboriginal people believe.  They are, however, balancing that desire with the aforementioned challenges and the foundation of mistrust in the institution that has been the result of many decades of abuse at the hands of the education system in Canada.  I have had to challenge the assumption of lack of caring many times and I reiterate here that, sometimes we have to be willing to set aside our own assumptions and reach out ourselves with a little bit of humility to the parents.  We do this by being the advocates our Aboriginal children need in the education system, and being willing to advocate on behalf of their parents if they need us to do so.

While the language in the Report purports to do so, it does so from the paternalistic perspective that we are giving you all the information you need now make the right choice.  This is my perception of course.  It is also not the best way to approach parents to build a relationship.  As I have already stated, we need to set aside our assumptions and ask them what they need, what they want and how they would like to see us work together in creating a successful environment for their children.

And then we should actually listen.

In addition, we need to understand that for many of our students, education is not the most important thing in their lives.  Our students face many challenges and we need to address this by creating a safe environment where a sense of belonging can be developed.  This needs to be built on a relationship of trust and respect that dignifies the voice of the student in the classroom.  I know teachers are doing this around the province.  It is an aspect that requires time and patience.  It is something that cannot be measured by analysing test and exam results. 

4.    I am opposed to the arbitrary measurement of six years as the required time to achieve graduation success.  I have asked about whether grad rates beyond the six year cut-off is tracked, but have received no answer.  To be fair, I have probably not found the right people to ask.  My experience with some students has been to have seen grad achievement in year seven or year eight, or through other means, adult education, GED completion.  Sometimes life gets in the way and arbitrary completion deadlines are not the most important things in the world of the student.

5.    I did want to acknowledge the compliment Mr. Cowley paid to Peter Skene Ogden (PSO) Secondary in 100 Mile House in Ms. Steffenhagen’s article, but I think it is unfortunate that he and the Fraser Institute have not made an attempt to see what work is being done in the schools across the province to improve the lives of Aboriginal students in BC.  Test scores are not the be all, end all for Aboriginal families and I believe that a lot of positives do exist in this province.  My previous post Twenty-Six Years addressed the lack of teachers and administrators of Aboriginal ancestry in the education system.  When I was a student, I never knew any, or knew of any.

Where is the commentary that acknowledges the integration of Indigenous pedagogies into the classroom?  Where are the celebrations of the relationship-building between schools and communities in collaborative efforts?  Why aren’t we talking about the improvements that are going on, or the fact we are teaching ALL students about the Indigenous lived experience so that the acceptance of our Aboriginal students into the modern Canadian society will be much less painful than it was for my generation or that of my parents.  Where is the commentary that acknowledges the loss of sleep we have worrying about suicides and whether our kids have something to eat in the morning, or the fact that our attempts to build positive relationships have shown some progress attendance-wise? Our efforts to build a safe environment and a sense of belonging are starting to show results, though I have no way to quantify that.

Where is the commentary about the Province’s abandonment of support for the First Nations Kindergarten programs?

I think we need to remember that by simplifying Aboriginal success down to a set of statistics based on small test results, we forget the whole person that is the child we are teaching and learning from.  These are extraordinary young people who face many challenges and who persevere in circumstances many of us would call, at the very least, unfair.  There is a spark there that we need to nurture and it takes far more than what the Report Card measures to nurture that spark, and I believe we are doing that.  In the larger picture, I believe we are making progress and we are achieving successful results, even if they are not easily quantifiable.  Where are the sheep in this picture?  Understanding that we need to take the time to do what is right by our children and grandchildren.  Understanding that we are trying to nurture the whole child at every stage of his or her development.  I understand these stats are important as assessment tools.  I live in my community on my reserve.  I have taught my cousins in the local public schools.  At the end of the day, when I have to answer to my Elders and my community, I need to be able to say that I taught the children, they entrusted to me, with a good mind and a good heart.  I want to be able to say I taught them how to learn and to wonder and to live with hope.  To seek, not just knowledge, but wisdom and understanding as well.  I don’t know how to measure that and I do not see that reflected in the Report Card. 

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Friday, April 1, 2011

An Incomplete Thought- Working towards a Definition of Aboriginal Education

This is an incomplete work in progress, please treat as thus, sort of a stream of consciousness thought process on figuring out what Aboriginal Education is and can be.

In working towards a definition of Aboriginal Education, we must consider what we are trying to achieve. It can be easy to simplify the process and say we are trying to improve the success rates of Aboriginal students and leave it at that, but that disregards the absolute necessity of educating the rest of the student population on Aboriginal history & culture, issues and rights. Without that aspect, improving the success rate would essentially be meaningless because we are just ensuring that our educated students are being placed within in a society that considers them, at best, second class, at worst, invisible.

In my introduction to BC First Nations Studies 12, I spend that first class or two defining why we need this course in the curriculum, despite the flaws I perceive in it. And in doing that, I ask my students: “What does it mean to be invisible?”

From there, we discuss how it is possible for five hundred or more women to disappear and no one speaks up to challenge this. We discuss how it is possible for so many Indian reserves across Canada to not have access to clean water and how, in response to calls for help in fighting H1N1, northern Manitoba reserves received body bags instead of medicine or sanitizers because of concerns about the alcohol content in hand sanitizers. We discuss how it is possible for such deplorable living conditions, some argue third world or worse, can exist in one of the richest countries in the world. We discuss how our perceptions of Aboriginal people are shaped by what is reported in the news and other media and how very little of it tells an Aboriginal perspective. We brainstormed what we know about Aboriginal people, including what the Aboriginal students in the class knew and then dissected which of those were stereotypes and myths and which could be considered real. Everybody, including Aboriginal students had stereotypes to offer, many more than realistic items, outside of life on the Rez thoughts put forth by the Rez-dwellers. We discussed why these are allowed to persist.

Because of my personal obsession with seeing Aboriginal people succeeding and how that affects our students, we talk about seeing Aboriginal teachers and lawyers and entrepreneurs and all the rest of the necessary role models. I have always been upfront with my students about my challenges as a teacher, a student and a producer of Aboriginal ancestry, something I would share with them. I would talk to them about the positives and negatives of having to be a role model, whether I wanted the job or not, by virtue of my career and personal choices and would share some of the thoughts that have been shared with me by others in different professions who had “Aboriginal role model” thrust on them by the very fact that they were there. The pressure to not screw up is heightened by the fact that any falldown would not be just on you but on all Aboriginal people. Some have shared with me that they don’t order a drink at social gatherings because they don’t want to have to deal with the perception of the drunken Indian. I worry about that every time I have a meal with non-Native colleagues and someone orders a beer or a glass of wine. I order a diet Pepsi or water. I don’t want the judgment of the Indian is drinking...

What does it mean to be invisible? It means you don’t matter. And when you do, it is for all the wrong reasons.

In defining Aboriginal education, we need to acknowledge that we are not just educating Aboriginal students, we are educating all students.