Thursday, August 30, 2012

With a Good Heart & A Good Mind: Towards a transformation in Aboriginal Education

How do we promote Aboriginal Education in the public education system in BC?  And I mean not just seeking to achieve success for students of Aboriginal ancestry but making Indigenous histories, cultures, experiences accessible to ALL students.

Where to begin?

As educators, we have a responsibility to learn and grow ourselves, to seek to improve our own practice and to look for new ways to improve the learning environment for our children.  There is often resistance to do this when it comes to Aboriginal pedagogies or epistemologies, or accessing learning to improve our own knowledge of Indigenous experience or legacies.  This is not the fault of the teacher, administrator or SEA, rather it is a responsibility that must be held by our Canadian society.  This society has normalized the white-washing of Native history and made it okay for us to ignore that which is outside our own terms of reference.  This can be best viewed by the ongoing situations played out on Twitter and in the media: Ezra Levant's misinformation rants against Native activists, Justin Bieber's misguided quotes, the Nepean Redskins team name "isn't racist but rather a compliment," statements and actions that go unchallenged by most except the most vocal of Native activists online.

As educators, we have failed to get beyond our own understandings and to consider other ways of viewing the world, and other ways of knowing and learning.  This is something that needs to change.  There needs to be a shift in our thinking about Aboriginal education, from just getting Aboriginal students to succeed in our system to understanding Aboriginal education is something that needs to be for everyone so that we understand, we know, we accept.  We need to transform ourselves, as educators.  

Back in the day X'als and the trickster would travel the land and transform it so that it would be the land the people needed.  A land that they could use.  The education system is not a land we can use.  It asks Native students to give up a part of themselves to fit into the system, to fit into society.  A group of people already facing many, many challenges in Canada and we are asking them to choose to give up a further part of themselves.

So, what do we do?

Be leaders in education.  There are Aboriginal voices in the education system but they are few and far between, there is still a gulf between the desire to see a good education and a willingness to stick your neck out by becoming teachers in the public system.  For some Native people, survivors of the residential school system and survivors of the residential legacy, this is akin to selling out.  Placing all the responsibility onto Aboriginal people is unfair, particularly since we have to give up so much of who we are to give back to our people as educators.  That is not say ignore these voices, they have a lot to share, just don't ask them to take on everything.

Educators have a responsibility to become familiar with the Indigenous worldview and the ways in which it is marginalized and demonized.  Whether our students say it or not, even understand it or not, how they are perceived in the popular culture and, by extension, society as a whole, does have an impact on their sense of self and their understanding of where they fit in.  Educators, as leaders, need to take responsibility for challenging those assumptions that are made about Aboriginal people.  Failing to do so gives our students permission to believe those assumptions are acceptable.  

Invite presenters to your staff meeting.  Attend pro-D that focuses on Aboriginal issues.  The Mission school district have brought their administrators to the Charlie longhouse at Chehalis to learn about the local history, culture and experiences of the People of that territory.  Aboriginal issues and Aboriginal learning can be incorporated across the curriculum.  The idea that it can't be integrated because you aren't Aboriginal is invalid.  There are 250 Aboriginal teachers in the public system of BC, waiting for us to catch up is a long wait.  Acknowledge with the students that you are learning as well with them and teach with respect. 

Get on Twitter, ask questions.  There are many Indigenous teachers and scholars on Social media, they are willing to share, willing to join in a conversation.  A good site to start would be, run by Starleigh Grass, a teacher and scholar of Tsilhqot'in ancestry.  Check out the Aboriginal education sites in other school districts, other provinces, Band schools.  Promote and actually run the courses that are in place, despite the numbers.  I know that's hard to do, but if we are to commit to Aboriginal Education, we need to find a way.

Don't be afraid to learn about the different initiatives taking place.  Prince George opened up its Aboriginal Choice school, Nusdeh Yoh (House of the future) and Vancouver is opening up a new Aboriginal focus elementary school this coming year.  Scroll through my blog to see my thoughts on these schools.  There is serious potential in these schools if they are given a chance and function as they are intended to.  The Aboriginal communities are involved in the planning of these schools, they aren't paternalistically imposed from above.  I think Merritt School District has an Aboriginal Academy option available as well, but I'm not certain.

Education has always had the potential to change the world.  If we approach Aboriginal Education with a good heart and a good mind, we can transform it and create a world where we can ALL envision a better tomorrow.  Have a good start up and a great year!

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