First Nations have constitutional rights to education that reflects who they are and where they come from. As mentioned in prior posts, First Nations also have Treaty Rights, Aboriginal Rights, and Inherent Rights to education–all of which are recognized and entrenched in the Canadian Constitution (1982).
In 1972, Indian Control of Indian Education Policy was written by the National Indian Brotherhood. First Nations wanted to “develop their own schools founded on First Nations culture and languages” (Battiste, pp.61). Leaders and communities wanted control over the education of their young people because they were feeling that (Western) education was failing them (ie. residential schools, day schools, and the difficulties experienced by students attending schools that were out of their home communities). That education reform policy was written forty-eight years ago.
Dr. Marie Battiste (Mi’kmaq) writes: “In 2004, the Council of Ministers of Education, Canada (CMEC), that national body of all the provinces’ heads of education, agreed to make Aboriginal education a priority” (pp.27) but what the CMEC found at that time was the following:
- First Nations gradate rate is 42 per cent compared to 78 per cent for the general population
- 31.3 per cent take and pass provincial examinations in Grade 12 English
- 5.5 per cent take and pass Mathematics 12
- Reading scores in grade 4 are well below non-Aboriginal students, suggesting a need for early childhood education and literacy programs (Avison qtd. in Battiste)
*From page 27 in Marie Battiste’s, Decolonizing Education: Nourishing the Learning Spirit (2013)
These statistics in Battiste’s book are now sixteen years old, but do we know if there has been significant improvement since 2004? Dr. Battiste argues that the “‘add and stir’ model of bringing Aboriginal education into the curricula, environment, and teaching practices has not achieved the needed change” in First Nations education (RCAP qtd.in Battiste, pp.28). She feels that more needs to be done to evoke true change. Here are a few of her recommendations:
- The key to designing meaningful [First Nations] education in Canada must begin with confronting the hidden standards…in the modern curriculum (pp.29)
- resources [must be] carefully assessed for the educational outcomes of Aboriginal peoples based on fully integrating their own knowledge and heritage into a system that values and respects Indigenous ways of knowing (pp.65)
- educators need to make conscious decisions to nurture Indigenous knowledge, dignity, identity, and integrity by making a direct change in school philosophy, pedagogy [the way we teach], and practice (pp.66)
- develop missions and purposes (pp.66)
- generate educational space that allows them to be challenging, caring, inspiring, and alert to their students’ [learning needs]…and attuned to their inner conditions (pp.66)
- most important work being done by young people is found in the self-reflective narratives that help them to understand their own situation and what has held them there (pp.71)
- respectful dialogue as a basis for arriving at a decolonized educational agenda cannot be over-emphasized (pp.73)
- exclusive use of Eurocentric knowledge in education has failed First Nations children (Schissel & Wotherspoon qtd.in Battiste, pp.87)
- provide a community-based model of education (pp.88)
- [create a] philosophy that supports the awareness and appreciation of one’s self in the context of one’s culture and capacities (abilities)(pp.88)
- help students to become independent learners
- teach eight basic independent learning skills…reading, writing, research, planning, problem solving, self-discipline, self-evaluation, and orality (pp.89)
- small classes…with structure, but security in freedom as well (pp.89)
- find alternate structures and time frames for learning that are tailored specifically to their goals and requirements (pp.90)
*All of the above bulleted information is from Marie Battiste’s, Decolonizing Education: Nourishing the Learning Spirit (2013)
There is much, much more to Battiste’s book. This is only a fragment of her important work. As an Indigenous educator and scholar for many years, she is certainly an expert in this area. After she completed her doctorate in 1984, she was asked to return to her home community to be the director of education for the Mi’kmawey School (Potlotek) (pp. 87). The school has “become a catalyst role model” in its successes (pp.89).
First Nations (Indigenous) Education is a conversation that has been taking place for quite some time. And it is a conversation that will continue. Indigenous educators will continue the important work of their predecessors and their ancestors–because education has existed for First Nations based on their own systems of knowledge since time immemorial. It is an inherent, Aboriginal, and treaty right entrenched in the constitution. New ideas in First Nations (Indigenous) Education will continue to be born in efforts to continue the hard work of decolonization. Keep up the good work!
“Ideas do not exist without people to implement them” (Battiste, pp. 68).
SOURCE: Dr. Marie Battiste’s, Decolonizing Education: Nourishing the Learning Spirit (2013) published by Purich Publishing Ltd.
Last modified: February 5, 2020