Thursday, February 18, 2016

Indigenizing the Curriculum

     As professionals tasked with the education of Canadian youth, educators require understanding of First Nations, Metis, and Inuit practices, in order to effectively apply appropriate pedagogy within their classrooms. Deyhle, Swisher, Stevens, and Galvan (2008, p. 344) illustrate the process in which Indigenous peoples of North America have fought towards building an educational model that addresses the biases found in current models and strives to reshape education from an epistemological perspective. The authors’ lament over the multiple instances of cultural genocide through post-colonial education systems and call for a shift to self-determination in Indigenous education (Deyhle et al, 2008, p. 337) that echoes the ideologies of the five-point program of education advocated by reconstructionists (Ornstein & Hunkins, 2013, p. 45). Fueled by both equality and equity, the program calls for a model that includes the examination of a society’s cultural heritage, unapologetically addresses controversial issues, is committed to bringing forward social change, and enhances the educational experience of all children (Ornstein & Hunkins, 2013, p. 45).

     In Manitoba educators see this call for action outlined in the 2003 curriculum document, Integrating aboriginal perspectives into curricula,
     The goals of integrating Aboriginal perspectives for Aboriginal students are:
     - to develop a positive self-identify through learning 
      their own histories, cultures, traditional values, contemporary 
      lifestyles, and traditional knowledge
    - to participate in a learning environment that will equip them with 
     the knowledge and skills  needed to participate more fully in the 
     unique civic and cultural realties of their communities
     The goals of integrating Aboriginal perspectives for non-Aboriginal students        are:
     - to develop an understanding and respect for the histories, 
      cultures, traditional values,  contemporary lifestyles, and
      traditional knowledge of Aboriginal peoples
     - to develop informed opinions on matters relating to Aboriginal 
      peoples (p. 2).
Within Canada these sentiments have recently been reverberated through the 2015 report by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada,
     63. We call upon the Council of Ministers of Education, 
     Canada to maintain an annual commitment to Aboriginal education 
     issues, including:
     i. Developing and implementing Kindergarten to Grade Twelve 
     curriculum and learning resources on Aboriginal peoples in 
     Canadian history, and the history and legacy of residential
     schools.
     ii. Sharing information and best practices on teaching curriculum 
     related to residential schools and Aboriginal history.
     iii. Building student capacity for intercultural understanding, 
     empathy, and mutual respect (p. 7)
This author is employed at a school situated on Treaty 2 territory and whose classroom demographics reflect approximately 50% of students from First Nations and Metis ancestry; many of whom have experience living or regularly visiting family within the borders of a nearby First Nations reserve. In alignment with the reconstructionist philosophy that supports experimentation and the challenging of outdated structures (Ornstein & Hunkins, 2013, p. 45) the school in question has identified the implementation of aboriginal perspective into academic curriculum as a school priority within their formal school plan (School Planning Report, 2013-2014, p. 2). Moving beyond surface-level identification, the school has supported staff and students in this shift by providing resources and ongoing professional development opportunities through the Treaty Relations Commission of Manitoba.

            Integration of an educational model that appropriately and effectively incorporates an indigenous perspective does not guarantee success for indigenous learners who have unfortunately become accustomed to a Eurocentric model with roots in assimilation. Phenomenologist Abraham Maslow argued that a learner, “...whose basic needs – say, love or esteem – are not filled will not be interested in acquiring knowledge of the world” and that these needs will take, “...precedence over learning and direct his or her behaviour” (Ornstein & Hunkins, 2013, p. 119). Deyhle, Swisher, Stevens, and Galvan (2008, p. 335) shared that indigenous learners are faced with a system that forces them, “...to remove themselves at least emotionally from a school environment that considered them motivationally and cognitively deficient”. This results in a cyclical momentum in which the learners’ personal narrative convinces themselves that they don’t care about education as a coping mechanism for their disappointment (Ornstein & Hunkins, 2013, p. 140).

     The Manitoba curriculum document, Integrating aboriginal perspectives into curricula, specifically identifies that,
     - All students will be treated with dignity and respect
     - Student motivation should be provided through intrinsic rather 
     than extrinsic means (p. 18)
This author has observed that students of First Nations and Metis ancestry often demonstrate low levels of confidence in the classroom and often appear apathetic towards their own academic success. The First Nations and Metis people of Canada have been subjected to generations of colonialism and the students walking through the classroom door have a vastly different worldview than their teacher who has had the privilege allocated to her by her European background. This author feels that integrating indigenous perspectives into her pedagogy assists all students in regards to building their self-confidence and sense of value. By encouraging all students and assuming that everyone has something to contribute to the experience educators can address those students’ basic needs and set the platform for them to acquire knowledge of the world (Ornstein & Hunkins, 2013, p. 140).


Deyhle, D., Swisher, K., Stevens, T., & Galvan, R.T. (2008). Indigenous resistance and renewal: From colonizing practices to self-determination. In M. Connelly, F.M. He, & J. Phillion (Eds.). The SAGE handbook of curriculum and instruction. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.
Manitoba Education and Youth. (2003). Integrating Aboriginal perspectives into curricula: a resource for curriculum developers, teachers, and administrators. Manitoba, CD: Manitoba Education and Youth Publication.
Ornstein, A. C., & Hunkins, F. P. (2013). Curriculum: foundations, principles, and issues. New Jersey, US: Pearson Education.
Ste Rose School. (2013-2014). School planning report. Retrieved February 13, 2016 from http://trsd32.mb.ca/SteRose/PDF's/SchoolPlan/SchoolPlan.pdf
Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. (2015). Calls to action. Retrieved February 13, 2016 fromhttp://www.trc.ca/websites/trcinstitution/File/2015/Findings/Calls_to_Action_English2.pdf

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