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.