I was a fresh graduate from the Native Studies department at Trent University, working part-time on my master’s degree, when Pauline Harper called from Wandering Spirit Survival School to say, “We’ve suddenly lost our admin assistant. Can you fill in?”
That job stretched to nearly two years, and I still count it as one of the most enriching experiences of my life. Wandering Spirit was what was then called a Native Way school, an alternative school within the Toronto School Board mandated to teach the students about Aboriginal (mostly Ojibwe, in our case) culture and worldview throughout the curriculum. We had about 45 students, K-8 in three classrooms. We began each day – all of us, all together – with a smudge and prayer in Ojibwe from our Elder, Mr. Solomon. There was a giant Medicine Wheel, painted by the kids, on the Grade 3-5 classroom wall and Ojibwe word labels displayed in the K-2 class. We hosted a monthly community feast that lasted all day. These visible details don’t begin to capture the deep differences that seep into the bones of a school when everything, from student discipline to the parent council, is filtered through the lens of Indigenous philosophies and cultural practices. I am deeply grateful for being welcomed into this world.
That’s why I was excited about planning this theme issue on Aboriginal Student Success. The topic is of critical importance; as Darren McKee notes (p. 11), education has been used as an extremely destructive colonial weapon, and the reverberations of that history continue into the present day. Yet education also has the potential to empower today’s Aboriginal students to create their own, better future. And while that education must be shaped and controlled by the First Nations themselves, part of what’s required, as some of our contributors point out, is to strengthen the teaching of Aboriginal history, issues and ways of knowing in all our schools. Educating ourselves is the place to begin.
I knew that finding outstanding Aboriginal scholars and practitioners, who could give us a sense both of the exciting work being done and of the complexity and varied viewpoints involved, would be key to a successful issue. And so I would like to send out a special thank you to our Consulting Editor Michelle Hogue, from the University of Lethbridge, who not only co-authored an article this issue but volunteered her time to advise and connect us with some of Canada’s leaders in Aboriginal education. K’chi meegwetch, Michelle!
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Photo: Dave Donald
First published in Education Canada, June 2014