Tuesday, May 31, 2011

How far have we traveled, really? Where do we want to go?

I have been sitting at a crossroads for some time now.  Four weeks ago, I submitted my resignation from all of my duties and responsibilities at the BCTF, my position as Chair of the Aboriginal Education Advisory Committee, indeed my seat, as well as the teacher Inquiry into Aboriginal teacher health and wellness I had been leading.  I informed my Band that I was stepping down as their Representative to our District Aboriginal Education Council.

I have made no secret of my employment situation, but that was not the primary reason for this set of actions.  I was, indeed still am, somewhat, disillusioned with what I am seeing in our province around Aboriginal Education.  I am understanding of the current crises in the education system, the downloading of costs and the stealthy ways that funding has been slashed everywhere, but it still isn’t a good excuse for the attack I have seen Aboriginal Education come under in this province.  Successful programs, like the EAGLE program in Langley and the FN Teacher/Counsellors in Salmon Arm, have been cut.  Successful First Nations kindergarten programs are being replaced by the new Full Day-K program that is not committed to giving the leg up to Aboriginal students that the FN-K was doing.  I have heard rumours that some of the targeted funding set aside to do the above and beyond work for Aboriginal students has been, in some cases, redirected into Full Day-K and/or core courses.  If this is true, what happens when the funding is audited and determined not to be in use as specified in the regulations?  I have heard rumours that the sole core courses dedicated to the improvement of Aboriginal Education, BC First Nations Studies 12 and the English First Peoples courses, are not necessarily being offered, or promoted in some districts and, where they are being offered, being downplayed as the easier course, or as a course that will not meet the requirements for university.  I admit that these are rumours, possibly wild tales, who knows?  I have witnessed the Fraser Institute release a Report Card on Aboriginal Education that gave a failing mark and, by inference, call our students and our teachers of Aboriginal ancestry failures. 

I also witnessed the silence from ALL the major education stakeholders, so quick to condemn the FSA rankings.  The odd Principal disputed the Report Card, the Minister released a statement, gave a soundbite.  So far the only lengthy repudiation I have seen of this, has been my own, here on the blog, and it lacks the articulation and creditable information that is accessible by people with a higher education than me.  There are so many articles that repudiate testing, so many names trotted forward telling us that the ways the Report Card tells us to teach our Aboriginal children is wrong.  Why did none of the major stakeholders stand up and say “Fraser Institute, you are wrong! These amazing, brilliant, wonderful children learn differently than we have been taught how to teach.  We need to assess and evaluate differently.  You say we need to find a different way to get them succeeding.  I agree.  First we need to stop calling them failures, for not fitting into the definitions of success you are imposing on them.”

My Graduate Advisor’s focus has always been on inter-group and intra-group alliances and dynamics.  Something I found extraordinary to observe in my graduate cohort.  I have wondered about it ever since as I observe the education system around me, in action.  I see a lot of talk about building alliances and developing networks, but I do not see much action beyond that.  My own questions on Twitter about what directions Aboriginal Education appears to be heading, asked of my PLN, have met nothing but silence, echoing back at me as I send it out again periodically.  Those that follow my Twitter account may have noticed my disengagement from the education game we have played around with.

 I am not innocent on this count either; I have been unwilling, or unable to participate in the action needed to build those necessary alliances.  I am distrusting.

We are not immune to the infighting and intra-group disapproval.  Most of my fights around this subject have been with other Aboriginal people who don’t agree with my ideas, or don’t think that anything is working, or just believe that we should not be participating in a western system at all.

Marjorie Dumont talked me out of my departure, in case you were wondering (A former student also invited me to his graduation. These kids are always messing up my self doubt and self-pity sessions, dammit!).  I have talked about the positives I have seen in the past and I maintain that there are positives happening that the FI is unwilling to see or acknowledge.  I also see the recent positives: the Vancouver School Board has approved a working group to develop an Aboriginal-Focus School.  They need to do it right.  That has to be stressed.

But the negatives seem to be rising again.  I get that the negatives are keeping time with all the challenges being experienced by the education system right now from all sides, but I would argue that the demography that is our Aboriginal students, and our Aboriginal teachers as well, are feeling it much more acutely.

I want to share with you a speech made by Chief Dan George in 1975 to a graduating class of new teachers at Simon Fraser University (Thank you to Marj for the transcription).  He makes a challenge to the teachers arrayed before him.  When you are finished, I have a job for you to do.  Reflect on his words and my words here in this blog.  I would like you to consider two questions:

How far have we traveled, really?  Where do we want to go?  Not brilliant questions, I admit, but you can build on them.

What is the future of Native children?

My very good, dear friends.  Was it only yesterday that man sailed around the moon?  And he said tomorrow that we will stand upon its barren surface.  You and I marvel that man should travel so far and so fast.  Yet if they have traveled far then I have traveled farther.  If they have traveled fast then I faster.  For I was born a thousand years ago, born in the culture of bows and arrows.  But within the span of half a life time, I was flown across the ages to the culture of the atom bomb and from bows and arrows to the atom bomb is a distance far beyond the flight to the moon.  I was born in an age that loved the things of nature and gave it beautiful names like tsiel watauth (?)  instead of dried up names like Stanley Park.  I was born when people loved all nature, spoke to it as though it had a soul.  I can remember going up to North Arm to Indian River, with my father, when I was very young.  I can remember him watching the sun light fires on mount ___ as it rose above its peak.  I can remember him singing his thanks to it, as he often did, singing the Indian word, thanks, very very softly.  (song)

Then the people came.  More and more people came.  And suddenly I found myself, a young man in the midst of the 20th century.  I found myself and my people adrift in this new age but not a part of it.  Engulfed by its rushing tide, but only as a captive eddy, going round and round.  On little reserves, on plots of land, we floated in the kind of gray unreality.   Ashamed of our culture which you ridicule.  Unsure of who we were or where we were going. Uncertain of our grip on the present, awake in our hope of our future. 

And that is pretty well where we stand today.  Soon you will be teaching my children.  And you will wonder how you will teach these strange creatures.  You will find they do not fit into the norms set by white society.  And of course, your norms are always so right.  And ours so wrong.  I know we can talk of integration.  But what does integration mean?  To some it may mean a patronizing visit to an Indian family on the reserve where all feel ill at ease as monkeys in a cage when people stare at them. Perhaps it means placing an Indian student in the classroom mostly white where the Indian population must not exceed 50%, otherwise you would have integration in reverse.  And we are told that, that is very bad.  Since you are choosing a teaching career, I presume classroom integration comes to your mind.  I hope it is not far from your heart because integration at the high school is failing.  Perhaps you will be able to save it.  As you know, our students play in the same play ground as your other students, they sit in the same classrooms but what do they share in common with the other pupils?  The respect of the teacher, you see, I fear not.  If teachers respected my people they would not teach from history books that down grade my people.  And list them behind the Orientals as the founding race of this country.  What do they share in common?  The concern of the teacher, I hear you say, no.  I fear not.  Otherwise such a high percentage of Indian students would not be slated off to into seemingly useless occupational classes because extra effort would be required to prevent this.  At SFU they have teacher training course to teach the average white children, not my child.  We do not share you in common.  Three weeks ago, a bill was passed in the legislature in Victoria.  It provided the takeover of Indian education at all levels.  This program has been in the books for years.  Yet what was done by department of Indian education to prepare for the influx of Indian students into local schools?  I say nothing.  SFU has the largest teacher training course in the west.  What has the university done to prepare them for the Indian students they will meet in these classrooms?  Nothing.  Absolutely nothing.  Perhaps I should not say absolutely nothing.  I believe there have been seminars or teachings here and at ubc, these are nothing, they are worse than nothing. There are anthropologists here but education seems to have never heard of them.  There are people who could help but I don’t think education really cares.  If education did care, it might look to universities like Saskatoon and find out things can be done to prepare.  But in the end, can we really talk of integration?  Until there is social integration.  Unless there is integration in minds and hearts, you have only a physical presence.  And the walls are as high as the mountain range.  Come with me to the playgrounds of an integrated school.   See how level, flat and ugly the black top is, but look, now it is recess time, the students pour through the doors, see over there is a group of white students, and see over there, near the fence, a group of native students, and look again the black top is no longer level.  Mountain ranges rising, valleys falling, and a great chasm is opening up between the two groups, yours and mine, and no one seems capable of crossing over, but wait, soon the bells will ring, and the students will leave the play yard.  Integration has moved indoors.  There isn’t much room in the classroom to dig chasm, so there is little ones there, only little ones, for we don’t allow big ones at least not right under our noses.  So we will cover it all over with black top cold, black flat and full of ugliness in its sameness.  I know you must be saying, tell us what do you want? What do we want?  We want first of all, to be respected and to feel we are people of worth.  We want an equal opportunity to succeed in life but we cannot succeed on your terms.   We cannot raise ourselves on your norms, we need specialized help in education, specialized help in the formative years, specialized course in English, we need guidance counselling,  we need equal job opportunities for our graduates otherwise our students will have lost courage and ask what is the use of it all?  Let no one forget it, we are a people with special rights guaranteed us by promises in treaty.  We do not beg for these rights.  Nor do we thank you.  We do not thank you for them because we paid for them.  And god help us, the price we paid was exorbitant.  We paid for them in our culture, our dignity, our pride and self respect.  We paid, we paid and we paid until we became a beaten race, poverty stricken, and conquered.  When you meet my children in your classrooms, respect each one for what he is, a child of our father in heaven and your brother maybe it all boils down to just that.  Now may I say thanks for the warmth of your understanding?  And may I humbly thank you in the words my father used to thank the sun for its light and its warmth.  (song)

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Words & Meanings Part III: What's in a Name?

Yesterday, the Federal Government changed the name of the Minister of Indian Affairs and the Federal Interlocutor for Métis and non-Status Indians to Minister of Aboriginal Affairs.  This change also means that the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development, or Indian and Northern Affairs Canada, will now be known as the Department of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development.  The Prime Minister’s Office, reportedly says that this is so that it is a more modern name, more inclusive.  As such, the legal and fiduciary obligations of the government will not change with regard to Status Indians, non-Status Indians, Métis or Inuit.  I hope this is the case, secretly I worry that using the all-inclusive name is a quiet means of assimilation, a one-size-fits-all term that would permit the government to forgo their obligations to the various groups, because they don’t recognize those groups individually but the tent-pole term Aboriginal.

While it is true that Aboriginal is the term used in the Constitution, it is also a catchall term that just sort of grates on me.  I am aware that, as Chair of the BCTF Aboriginal Education Advisory Committee, I have sort of bought into and accepted it as the most inclusive term available for the needs of our parents and students of British Columbia.  This is true, but I do so grudgingly.  I am always after a better term.  I truly prefer the term ‘Indigenous’, but it does seem to be more scholarly and less universal in its application as a result.

This is an ongoing struggle.  Am I an Indian?  Am I Aboriginal?  Indigenous? First Nations?  Well, technically, I am a Status Indian, registered under the Indian Act and a member of the Peters First Nation.  That would make me Stó:lō, if you like, but I do not belong to either of the tribal councils that represent the Stó:lō in Canada, my Band is an independent and I am fiercely proud and protective of that.  A whole other layer, right?  Wild.  Through my paternal lineage, I am also Saulteaux.  They also go by the name Anishnaabe, Nakawe (I think, but am not sure), or Plains Ojibwe.  As I was granted my traditional “Indian” names from this particular side, another layer is invoked. 

I call myself Indian.  Usually amongst other Indians.  Many don’t like the term.  Almost everyone hates it when a non-Aboriginal person uses the term to identify us.  It’s an empowerment thing.  I am told that the Native peoples in Saskatchewan are okay with the term and are offended if you use any of the others.  I cannot comment on the veracity of that claim.

I call myself Aboriginal, grudgingly.  It is inclusive, yes.  It is also the term my students have grown up with and are comfortable with.  They don’t care for the term Indian.  They don’t mind ‘Native’ (and I don’t either), but I feel uncomfortable wearing my Native Pride cap because many Native people view me as not Native enough, because of my skin colour or my lack of language or lack of practice of traditional things.  I have already addressed this in previous posts, but I do want to point out that, as a reminder, I do not believe that makes me less in any way.

I call myself First Nations.  I realize that this is somewhat exclusionary, but only in the legal sense.  Non-Status Indians may not have membership in a Band or Nation, but that does not mean that they are not First Nations.  The legal terms are arbitrary and imposed from outside.

The problem with these words are complex and simple all at the same time.  They are just words, you can argue, but they have meaning that can be harmful on everybody.  Your classification, in the legal sense can have ramifications on what sort of services you are eligible to receive.  I am happy that self-identification is the way we go with our students, but any Principal can tell you that the category is also divided by the fact that they also have look at and sign a nominal roll from Bands, the purpose of which is to determine which students get extra funding from the Federal Government to provide extra services.

The problem with these words is that they are used to divide, to categorize, and, at the same time, to lump together disparate groups.  I was recently outraged at a meeting I attended when a speaker reminded us to remember that his particular group had a special relationship that had to be honoured, the implication being his group was more important to the other Aboriginal groups present.  There needs to be equal honouring of the different groups present, all are important, all have a special relationship.

When I use the term ‘Indian’, it is a term of empowerment, but I have noticed that when a non-Native uses it, it is usually to disparage.  I wonder if the name change is a means to end that, or if it is a way to remove the empowerment I have taken from the word.

Please accept my apologies if this post is confusing.  I am confused right now and trying to figure it all out.  I am just thinking out loud.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Confused? You ain't seen nothing yet: Some context for pressures on identity for Aboriginal students

The following piece has been extracted from my Masters' Comprehensive Paper, The Boy Growin’ Up will be Young and Old: Emergent identity construction through hip hop in indigenous youth.  I decided to extract it out of the paper to start a quick examination of the identity politics at play in the lives of Aboriginal youth in our public education system.  This is by no means an exhaustive contextualization, I do not try to examine or explain the complexities of Inuit, or Métis identity, as the focus of the paper itself was with Status Indians and their identity construction in a small town in British Columbia.  The section I have placed here is just a surface summary of some of the pressures of legal definitions of identity and the legacies of oppression and colonialist thought on our understanding of self and identity, cultural and otherwise, within the Indigenous community in Canada.  The references at the bottom are what was used for this particular section, as are the footnotes.

Lawrence (2004) and St. Denis (2007) are among the many scholars able to offer excellent summaries of the legal legacy of colonialism in Canada.  The Indian Act, enacted in 1876, has set Indigenous people against each other by creating categories that delineate who is and is not a Status Indian, and by redefining for some such things as the traditional matriarchal systems of leadership and lineage into patriarchal systems.  In addition, the Act enabled the loss of Status for Indian women who marry out, while the addition of non- Indian women onto the Indian register complicates the question of who is considered Indigenous and who is not.  Losing Status under the Act meant that one was no longer considered Indian and was not recognized as such in their community.  The consequence of this policy created a crisis in Indigenous communities, splitting families and causing members to question each other’s claims of authenticity.  The residential school policies sought to remove Indigenous memory and culture, "to kill the Indian in the child” (Harper, 2009) by “slaying the language” (St. Denis, 2007) and disconnecting the child from his family and support systems; the reserve system sought to remove the people from their traditional territories which would serve the purpose of opening up the land for settlement and resource exploitation, particularly the rich agricultural industries of the Prairie provinces.

Indigenous women fought the discrimination regarding their Indian Status for many years in the Canadian courts and at the United Nations before Canada announced that it would amend the Indian Act to allow the reinstatement of Indian Status to some Indigenous women (Lawrence, 2004).  Bill C-31, though it brought many women back into the Status fold, along with their children, further divided communities as the internalized racism and mistrust, as well as limited availability of land, resources and government largess caused many communities to set new membership rules, designed to exclude.  In addition, the Bill set new rules about who can be considered Indian by setting a concrete lineage requirement known as the “two grandmothers” rule[1], to determine who could maintain Status thus creating two categories of Indian Status: sections 6 (1), or full status, and 6 (2), half status (definitions mine).  To qualify for full Indian Status, an Indigenous person needs both parents to be Status Indians, while half status requires only one Status parent both of whose parents are Status Indians (Daniels, 1998).  The children of half-Status Indians are not guaranteed Status[2].  Defining the identity of the Indigenous person, when that identity is disputed, and categorized by internal and external forces, becomes a complex and potentially agonizing experience for Indigenous people who have suffered under these policies. 

We also need to be aware of the meaning of racialization.  According to St. Denis (2007), this term refers to racial formation, or the process by which racial categories are formed, usually by external forces (p. 1071), in order to support the inequity and oppression of minority groups by the dominant group.  Race matters because racism is internalized by the minority and, arguably the majority as well, and it plays a determining factor in considering authenticity within the group (ibid.).  To start to believe what is claimed about your minority group, to internalize that racism is an arguably damaging aspect of colonialism, particularly the legal definitions of “Indian”, and creates cracks in the solidarity of the Indigenous groups in Canada.  The groups divided are viewing each other with suspicion, determining their value as “Indian”.  In addition to the legal definitions of identity, there are also less explicit aspects of oppression which play a role in identity construction among Indigenous people.  The dominant society has created a nation building myth that is used to create the national history of Canada (Mackey, 1994).  This nation-building myth depends on the minimization of the lived experience of Indigenous peoples under colonialism. Mackey argues that Canada has defined itself as a benevolent society that has developed in a much less violent way than the United States or other settled nations.  The nation building myth tells the story of Canada as a progressive, benevolent society that worked civilly with its Indigenous peoples in the building of the nation, in sharp contrast to the US creation, born out of revolution and built on the violent oppression of its Indigenous population.  Canada also defines itself as a tolerant and raceless state (Schick & St. Denis, 2005), using the concept of meritocracy as the means by which power is wielded in the country, implying hard work determines privilege rather than a racialized hierarchy.  The idea of racelessness is created by refusing to know the other (Dion, 2007), or more accurately refusing to recognize the differences and inequities created by oppression of one group by another.  Racelessness is misleading in that it ignores the reality of race in Canada and places the blame for inequity on the shoulders of the oppressed by implying any disadvantage may be the result of something inherently wrong within the group.  . 

This is the context within which explorations of identity and culture by Indigenous youth in Canada are currently taking place.  How is this viewed by the dominant society, the vast majority of who have ascertained that Indigenous cultures are dying and in need of rescue?  In what ways are the dynamics of identity politics and hierarchies of authenticity (Genaille, 2009) affected by this exploration?  Of particular concern is the effect that this has on Indigenous youth, who, like all youth, are attempting to construct an identity for themselves, while surrounded by these competing internal and external forces that are obstructing these attempts to find their voice and identity. 

Stuart Hall (1990) cited in St. Denis (2007), states the following: “Cultural identity is not something that already exists, transcending place, time, history and culture” (p. 1070).  Cultural identities are not static; people are constantly acting or not according to an infinite array of variables and therefore cultural identity may be different for youth than it is for their elders.  Those that experienced residential schools, for example, may have a memory of a pre-residential time and a different understanding of that time.    Indigenous youth do not have a memory of a time before residential schools.  In this regard, I am convinced that the culture practiced and the identity performed by Indigenous youth is an emergent cultural identity.  In this view practicing identity means constructing cultural markers and social memory for their group, connected to the past, but not able to relate to it.  Deyhle (1998) makes a similar argument in her study of the Navajo youth she worked with regarding identity and resistance.  In her study, the youth, in seeking ways to reconcile their identities as Navajo living on the reservation and attending a white school, explore break dancing and then switch to listening to heavy metal music as a means to define themselves as different from the white people.  This is how they resist the imposition of white culture.  At the same time, they are also resisting the Navajo culture which is expected of them, because it is foreign to their contemporary understandings.  It is something from the past and which they cannot be a part of.  I am interested in how youth are using contemporary art forms and popular culture touchstones to examine both their cultural roots and their understandings of self, to construct an identity that both honours the past and recognizes the changed face of society.


Daniels, H (1998), Bill C-31: The abocide bill, Congress of Aboriginal Peoples, 1998. From the web:, accessed March 27, 2010.

Deyhle, D (1998).  From break dancing to heavy metal: Navajo youth, resistance and identity, in Youth & Society, September. 3- 31.

Dion, S. (2007).  Disrupting molded images: Identities, responsibilities and relationship: Teachers and indigenous subject material.  In Teaching Education, Vol. 18, Issue 4.  329-342.

Genaille, R (2009), All my relations: Challenges doing research in your own backyard AESA 2009 paper

Harper, S, The Right Honourable Prime Minister (2009) Statement of Apology to Former students of Indian Residential Schools, from the website:, accessed March 28, 2010.

Lawrence, B (2004).  “Real” Indians and others: Mixed-blood urban Native peoples and indigenous nationhood.  Vancouver: UBC Press

Mackey, E. (2002). The House of difference: Cultural politics and national identity in Canada.   Toronto: University of Toronto Press

Schick, C. & St. Denis, V. (2005) Troubling national discourses in anti-racist curricular planning.  Canadian Journal of Education, 28(3), 295-317.

St. Denis, V. (2007) Aboriginal Education and Anti-Racist Education: Building Alliances across Cultural and Racial Identity, in Canadian Journal of Education 30(4). 1068-1092.

[1] To qualify for Status, both parents must have Status, or one parent must have parents with Status.  To qualify and pass on Indian Status as a full Status Indian, both your parents need to be Status Indians which means that both of your children’s grandmothers have Status.
[2] A news release, in March 2010, has announced that, in response to McIvor case, the government will be tabling legislation to extend Status to the grandchildren of Bill C-31 returnees.  The case saw Métis woman Sharon McIvor challenge Bill C-31, which did not allow women to pass on their Status to their children in the same way that men could.  What this does is essentially eliminate section 6(2) from the Indian Act and make Status accessible to many more people.  It is too early to know what the ramifications of this will be for Band membership and for the availability of resources from the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Something, something, truths in stories, etc...Hey, I love this Song!

In my Masters' cohort on Indigenous Education, a colleague and I often had an argument over who was more rez.  She and I were the only members of the cohort who claimed an address that was on an Indian reserve, the rest of the group being a part of that other demographic we call, fancifully Urban Indians.  Granted, I often claimed victory because she was from the Squamish Band and her reserve was considered urban, while Peters is out in the middle of nowhere, somewhere near Hope, but not quite there (that's funny if you think about it, I'm not going to explain it to you).  At any rate, she did concede victory to me because of my collection of rez cars, which I endearingly call, my garden rocks.

I am sharing with you a video today from youtube.  It is a music video by RedPower Squad called "What's Really Rez", that takes a tongue in cheek look at rez life and what is authentic rez life.  I smile whenever I hear the song, but never forget the truths that are contained within it.  One of the arguments I have made about storytelling as a learning and teaching tradition is that we can laugh, while telling you about tragedy, it softens the blow, somewhat.

More importantly, if you see only the tragedy, how will you see the hope?  The story of Aboriginal people in Canada is one that is frought with tragedy and misery and ongoing crisis.  It is peppered with infighting, indifference and ignorance.  Is there hope there?  Of course, we're still telling stories, in this case, via a rap song and music video.

Is there hope in the ongoing Aboriginal story?  Of course, we're still here.

So, Blogger is acting funny, won't let me embed the video today, so here is the link to "What's Really Rez.  I've been having some difficulty lately with the blog, with regards to comments and video, but I am working on it.  Thank you for your patience.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

The Mythological Indian

“Sometimes realize
I can only be as good as you let me”- Pearl Jam

I was at pains today to explain the difference between the reality of the Indigenous and the mythology of the Indigenous.  This was not a bad thing.  The people, who were asking, were asking because we were working collaboratively to improve Aboriginal Education and the circumstances faced by our students in the public education system.

What did I mean by the mythological Indian?  This is an ongoing debate and Thomas King explores it brilliantly in his essay “You’re not the Indian I had in mind”, and it is one that has been reflected lately in the recent discussions around the choice to vote I have marginally engaged in during the recent election campaign.  In this discussion I was involved in today, we were looking at the mythological Indian as he appears in the public education system.  For better or worse, we have a vision of what a successful Aboriginal student is supposed to look like and it is all based on quantifiable data collection and the use of targeted funding to immerse the student in language and culture because the successful student will be a straight A student who is fluent in their cultural identity and their language.  We also have a vision of our students as being at a complete loss without that fluency and it is here that I had to disagree.

It is true that the stripping away of language and culture has had a devastating effect on Aboriginal peoples that will continue to have repercussions for generations to come.  It has had a negative effect on my family; I do not speak the language or practice much of the cultural traditions.  I do not consider myself to be less than another Aboriginal person however.  I know who I am, where I come from and I am still learning what I am capable of and where I might be able to take it, were I permitted the space and trust to do so. 

I use myself as the example here because it is the example I used there.  I attend meetings of my Aboriginal Education Council as a Band Representative and I, as a teacher of Aboriginal ancestry, argue and debate with the other Councillors about what type of teachers we need to have in order to encourage student success.  The Council always lean towards language teachers.  Our students need language teachers.  Without language teachers, we cannot see our kids succeeding. 

I disagreed with this assessment for a number of reasons.  I did not disagree with the need for language teachers, let me stress that, but we find ourselves constantly looking to these ideas as the only way to quantify success.  We can measure language acquisition. 

We seek the mythological Indian and forget the real Indian in the room. 

I am a teacher of Aboriginal ancestry and I am real.  I teach to improve Aboriginal students’ lives and the lives of all students by reflecting them in the classroom and sharing the journey with them.  By telling me that we can only succeed with language teachers, you invalidate my real existence in the classroom and my sense of identity as a teacher and an Aboriginal person.

The students I have taught are real students who are seeking real understanding of the world and their place in it.  Language and culture is a part of their identity, but it is not the only part of their identity.  Language and culture, one of my support workers pointed out, needs to be a part of that, it is as necessary as an arm, or a lung, but it is only a part of who our students are.  Their lived experience and reality and their hopes and dreams, their sense of self and dignity are also parts of that.

How do you quantify trust?  How do you measure self-confidence?  How do you test the sense of self-worth and identity in a young adult?  I would love to know my traditional languages, and I am not attacking language acquisition, I do believe we need to make every effort to teach it and ensure its survival.

But, the crux of my argument, I am teaching children, real people with real needs, wants, desires and dreams.  Should we not take these young people on a learning journey where the end result is a confident, self-assured person, who knows who they are as an Aboriginal person, who knows that they do not have to give up a part of themselves to be what they choose to be?  Should the journey not end with a young person who knows that they can learn the language and culture on their own terms but also stand up in front of a room full of Administrators, support workers and community leaders, again on their own terms, and share their challenges and successes in the education system?

This meeting I attended today was constructive; my table had administrators, Aboriginal Education Council representatives, and the aforementioned young man, a recent grad.  We had a conversation and worked to dignify all the voices around the table.  After, I saw a lot of “measurable” and “data collection” on some worksheets from other tables.  Our key points talked about trust, self-worth, choice.

There were some statements in the closing remarks about the need to measure student success and collect data to show where they fail.  These were followed by the young man getting up and talking about his successes and his challenges.  The young man also talked about his plans and what he is doing to achieve those goals.  He talked about how he is giving back to his community and how he hopes to continue to grow.

Over the last few weeks, I have been very unhappy.  I have struggled with being silenced (I will by blogging about that at some point), with the very real desperation of unemployment, with challenges to my identity by other Aboriginal people and my right to be dignified as a teacher.  I have struggled with the idea of leaving the profession.

That young man is not a mythological Indian.  He is real.  I have the privilege of being able to say that I guided and shared in a part of his educational journey towards graduation.

I was asked how to measure student success based on the above comments?  The confident, self-assured young man who spoke to the room, and being held up by some as an example of the success we all want to see? 

That’s how I measure success.

**Update** May 6, 2011
Mallory Whiteduck, on her blog These are my moccasins, wrote a response to an aspect of this post that I found to be very thoughtful and worth a read.  In it, she responds to my comments about the person as a whole and our identification as Aboriginal people, using it as a jumping off point to respond to a professor who had made some comments to her in the past which seemed to indicate a people cease to exist when they lose their language.  I know I say "seemed", I was being polite.  You can read her post: A Response to Prof. Doomsday & Where are the Sheep?
There is ongoing debate in the Aboriginal communities, which I allude to above about identity.  Do we have the right to call ourselves Sto:lo or Anishnaabe if we do not speak the language?  I argue no, when we have been placed in a situation where it has been stripped away, some of us never had the choice to learn it.  That is why it can only be an aspect of who you are.  I am Sto:lo and Saulteaux with a bit of French, Metis-Cree and Irish thrown in to spice it up.  I hope to one day learn my language, but it is not the most important aspect of my existence.  As I have mentioned in the storytelling post, I am a teacher and a filmmaker and in that way, I am preserving and creating my identity as an Aboriginal person.
Thank you Mallory for adding to the conversation.