Change. It is a word used so freely in relation to education that it has perhaps become a cliché. However, to Indigenous persons living in Canada and many other countries, that word carries with it a variety of important meanings.
Above all, change is hope: a hope that the historical and ongoing experiences and contributions of First Nations, Métis and Inuit people to what people today call Canada will be recognized and understood.
Education is a powerful tool that can lift a person to realize great opportunities and fulfilment; it can also be used as a powerful weapon to remove the identity and spirit of entire cultures. As Justice Murray Sinclair, Chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, stated, “Education is the cause for much of the challenges faced by Aboriginal people today. However, it is also the solution in moving forward.”
Recognizing the irony, I would use the questioning teaching method of Socrates to challenge each person who has an interest in this area. I would ask: “What do you truly know about First Nations, Métis and Inuit peoples? Whose truth is it? Whose interests does this truth serve?”
In this country, individuals hold differing and sometimes intransigent opinions on Indigenous people based upon their knowledge. Again, I would ask: “Knowledge gained where? And from whom?”
I realize that it is rather provocative of me to challenge folks about their personal values and experiences, but I do so with the intent of asking us to reflect on what has historically been a negative educational context for First Nations, Métis and Inuit people. This experience colours our opportunity for an appreciative relationship – for example when I say the term “Indian,” what comes to your mind? Is it appreciative or deficit thinking?
In the education world we are quite comfortable with the term evaluation. I would encourage people to evaluate and reflect on their current paradigms in Aboriginal Education, to take an honest look and reframe those views in a place that starts from mutual respect. There is a requirement to rebuild trust, which can only happen if we are willing to work together to create shared understandings that support each other. It cannot be an either/or pathway any longer if we wish to achieve success.
Simultaneously, I would ask that we seize the opportunity that is before us to use the education system as the means to ensure everyone enjoys all the hope and prosperity this country has to offer – and I am defining prosperity beyond the simple economics to include positive social interactions, self-worth and positive community engagement.
The manifestations of change provide us with our greatest opportunity to see every child succeed. Education is the societal agency of change that we ourselves control and that we can indeed ensure is the “solution in moving forward.”
This blog post is part of CEA’s focus on aboriginal student success, which is also connected to Education Canada Magazine’s aboriginal student success theme issue and a Facts on Education fact sheet on what the research says about how can we create conditions for Aboriginal student success in our public schools. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to contribute a blog post to this series.