Chapter 10

Moving Forward: Indigenizing Education

The following video was created by Nicola Valley Institute of Technology (NVIT) in British Columbia and is titled, “It's Not an Opinion, It's a Fact: Aboriginal Education in Canada”. The video explores the statistics of the failing state of education in Canada. The final Indigenous Education Module will explore some of the possible reasons why these staggering statistics exist as we work to uncover ways that we might be able to move forward with our 'new buffalo.'

As the statistics show in the video, the current state of Indigenous education in Canada is not on par with federally or provincially funded mainstream education institutions and facilities.

The Treaty term and promise to education has arguably not been fully implemented in the spirit and intent that was understood at the time of Treaty. Elder Peter Waskahat describes the system of education that Indigenous peoples traditionally transmitted to their children: 

“We had … our own teachings, our own education system – teaching children that way of life was taught [by] the grandparents and extended families; they were taught how to view and respect the land and everything in Creation. Through that, the young people were [educated about] what were the Creator’s laws, what were these natural laws. What were these First Nations’ laws. And talk revolved around a way of life, based on their values. For example: … to share, to care, to be respectful of people, how to help oneself. How to help others. How to work together …”

Peter Waskahat, Cree Elder, Frog Lake First Nation- In Cardinal and Hildebrandt, 2000, pg 15-16.(1)     

But with the interference of the newcomers, the near extinction of the buffalo, and with the impending end of a traditional way of life as was known to First Nations people, they recognized the education would become the 'New Buffalo.' In the 1870's, when Treaties 1-7 were negotiated in Canada, each included a provision for education.(2) Pre-contact, the buffalo 'met virtually every need of North American Indian[s], from food to shelter': the 'New Buffalo' should 'ensure a strong and prosperous future for First Nations.' (3)

Historically, education has meant an Indigenous student would endure the systems put in place with the majority choosing that it was not a place they wanted to be. This human cost affects every Canadian whether by moral or economic standards. For the many Indigenous nations across Canada, self-determination through education is still seen as the most powerful tool for their nations economic prosperity and reclamation of cultural transmission of values.

The success rate of Indigenous students was far lower at mainstream universities than at Indigenous-controlled institutions. A number of elements make Indigenous controlled higher education unique and contribute to the success of Indigenous students, such as culturally relevant approaches to education that include a holistic balance of spiritual, physical, emotional and intellectual components. (Stonechild pg. 103). This may be called Indigenization of education. Indigenization of the current education system is defined as to infuse Indigenous ideas, values, peoples, symbols, aesthetics, procedures and an authentic history into an organization so that it is as thoroughly a product of indigenous imaginations and aspirations as it is of western or settler ones.

Canada is a signatory to The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples which states in article 14 (1) that Indigenous people have the right to establish and control their educational systems and institutions providing education in their own languages, in a manner appropriate to their cultural methods of teaching and learning. 

There are a few universities such as the First Nations University of Canada that offer a range of Indigenous-based curricula and offer access to Elders as well as cultural activities. One of the suggested moving forward items was to create an Aboriginal Peoples International Universtiy (Stonechild pg. 104). As well, a critical componant of a moving forward item is to infuse anti-racism and anti-oppressive education in all curricula.

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(1). Cardinal, H., & Hildebrandt, W. (2000). Treaty elders of Saskatchewan: Our dream is that our peoples will one day be clearly recognized as nations. Calgary: University of Calgary Press.

(2). Carr-Stewart, S. (2001).  A treaty right to education.  Canadian Journal of Education, 26(2), 125-143.

(3). Stonechild, B. (2006).  The new buffalo: The struggle for Aboriginal post-secondary education in Canada.  Winnipeg: University of Manitoba Press.

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