Equity, Indigenous Learning, Opinion, Promising Practices

Bringing Spiritual Teachings into Education

Having been involved in Aboriginal Education for most of my life, from attending Indian residential school to working on the development of First Nation-controlled post-secondary institutions, I would like to focus on an issue that is not often mentioned: the importance of spirituality in education.

First Nation elders assert that spirituality was a special gift given to Indigenous peoples as a way to maintain strong and healthy nations. In pre-contact societies ceremonies, which were mechanisms for maintaining relations with the spirit world, dominated daily and seasonal life and marked progression though the principle stages of personal development.

Spiritual teachings were derived through vision, ceremony and meditation, and stressed the need for establishing good relations as they pertained to personal and community behaviour. These teachings reflected traditional values including bravery, love, respect, honesty, generosity, humility and wisdom.

Education theorists write about the importance of having a positive self-concept in order to learn most effectively. I believe that a key to restoring what has been referred to as the “learning spirit” is the rejuvenation of Aboriginal spiritual beliefs. Elders and many educators talk about the need for holistic education – physical, emotional, mental and spiritual.

It should be noted that Aboriginal spirituality is not about religious dogma, but rather is about establishing healthy relationships with all things, including one’s relatives, one’s nation, and the natural environment. The elders confirm that all things have spirit and that humans are really spirit beings on a physical journey. As we navigate through life, we are here to learn how to have proper relations with all things. The elders also say that learning, including school learning, is a fundamental part of the purpose for living. It is a sacred mission in life.

Unfortunately many Aboriginal youth today have lost touch with their spiritual heritage, and elders believe this is the reason why so many turn to substance abuse, crime and involvement in gangs. We as Aboriginal people need to heal ourselves by focusing on the spiritual mission of education, which often gets lost in the clamour for more funding and the politicization of schooling. The elders tell me that it is now time to research, write about and teach the principles of Aboriginal spirituality, something which I and other academics at the First Nations University are attempting to do.

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 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 info@cea-ace.ca if you would like to contribute a blog post to this series.

Meet the Expert(s)

Blair Stonechild

Blair Stonechild, PhD, a member of the Muscowpetung First Nation in Saskatchewan, is Professor of Indigenous Studies at the First Nations University of Canada. Dr. Stonechild’s doctoral thesis on First Nations post-secondary policy was published by the University of Manitoba Press as The New Buffalo: The Struggle for Post Secondary Education in Canada in 2006, and his biography of the singer Buffy Sainte-Marie: It’s My Way, a Saskatchewan Book Award winner, was released in 2012.

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