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.