Author Archives: Devinder Deol

City of Vancouver – Directory of Aboriginal services and context

The City of Vancouver’s department of Social Planning has created a directory of Aboriginal resources entitled:  Aboriginal Inventory of Services and Context. The website helps city staff and Vancouverites develop an understanding of the activities and stakeholders relating to Aboriginal issues within Vancouver. The directory is intended to help Vancouverites make informed decisions about how the City can best support the Aboriginal community.

Each report (see partial list below) provides: a) relevant background on each topic b) a list of the organizations and communities involved with that topic  and c) info on partnerships, committees, trends, and gaps in services

Much of the research cited in the reports was conducted by locals and provides excellent information about Vancouver’s Indigenous communities that isn’t readily available anywhere else.  I found this site to be indispensable in writing my paper about Vancouver’s urban Aboriginal youth.  Here are some of the documents (of dozens) available on the site:

  • Coast Salish First Nations html PDF
  • Outreach and Engagement html PDF
  • Arts, Culture & Multimedia html PDF
  • Education html PDF
  • Elders html PDF
  • Two-Spirit / LGBTQ html PDF *Some Aboriginal people refer to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and trans-gendered people as Two-spirited.

Keep them coming back for more – Amy Parent

In 2009, now PhD student at UBC and video speaker from Module 2 of Etec 521, Amy Parent completed her Master’s thesis:  Keep them coming back for more: Urban Aboriginal Youth’s perceptions and experiences of Wholistic education in Vancouver.

The goal of the thesis was to gain insight into the experiences of Aboriginal youth who were participating in Aboriginal organizations in Vancouver.

Amy also published a community report that is available on the Vancouver based Urban Native Youth Association website.  This 8 page report summarizes the 196 page dissertation that she submitted and contains key findings and lessons learned from the youth.

In writing her thesis, Parent hoped that it would encourage development of a wholistic educational framework for Aboriginal youth which pursues the goal of transformative praxis by honouring Indigenous culture within a positive, empowering and generative contemporary urban context.  I’ve read both the report and the thesis and can tell you that her research was exhaustive, thought-provoking, and ground-breaking.

Of note, Parent add a fifth R (relationships) to the well-received Four R research framework put forward by Kirkness & Barnhardt (1991).  These authors argued that  research in Aboriginal communities should be reciprocal, relevant, responsible, and respectful.  For Parent, the fifth R allows her to maintain relational accountability to her family, clan (Nisga’a), and community.

I recommend the study for anyone who is looking for an extensive literature review of leading Indigenous research.  Additionally, Amy’s findings on urban Aboriginal youth are thoughtfully framed by an explanation of wholistic education that is second to none.  Finally, the commentary, stories, and interjections about her guide, the Raven, is worth the price of admission on its own.

Raven’s Children II: Aboriginal Youth Health in BC

Raven’s Children and Raven’s Children II were both published by the McCreary Centre Society (MCS).  MCS is a nongovernment, non-profit organization involved in improving the health of B.C. youth through research, education and community-based projects

In 1992, MCS conducted the first Adolescent Health Survey (AHS) with close to 16,000 youth in schools throughout B.C.  In 1998, MCS conducted the second AHS with approx 26,000 students.  In 2003, MCS conducted the 3rd AHS with over 30,500 youth.  Raven’s Children II, combines the data from responses of more than 4,800 Aboriginal students who took part in province-wide youth health surveys in 1992, 1998 and 2003.

The report was written under the direction of Kim van der Woerd of the Namgis First Nation.  Kim is a Ph.D. Candidate at Simon Fraser University.  Here are some interesting findings from the 2003 AHS that was published in 2005:

  • Most Aboriginal students rate their health as good or excellent.
  • Most Aboriginal students feel strongly connected to their families and school.
  • Nearly two-thirds want to continue their education beyond high school.
  • Almost three-quarters regularly participate in organized extracurricular activities.

The authors of Raven’s Children II noted that while Aboriginal youth have made some progress in rates alcohol consumption, smoking, pregnancy, there are issues that continue to pose a significant challenge for youths, parents, educators, Aboriginal leaders, and government: Problem Areas –

  • One in five Aboriginal students experienced racial discrimination.
  • Too many Aboriginal youth think about or attempt suicide and rates have not improved in the past decade.
  • Too many Aboriginal students, especially girls, continue to experience sexual and physical abuse.
  • Fewer youth reported feeling safe at school in 2003 than in 1998.

Raven’s II is a very comprehensive report, but it’s also very easy to read.  I recommend it for anyone who is searching for up-to-date and extensive information about the health of BC’s Aboriginal children

Urban Aboriginal Peoples Study

Aboriginals are the fastest growing population in Canada.  The 2006 census revealed that there are half a million First Nations, Métis, and Inuit people living in Canadian cities and that over 50% of this population is under 25 year old.  Given the dramatic increase in urban populations, 60% of Canada’s Aboriginals now reside in urban settings, more research is sorely needed to understand how Aboriginals and Non-Aboriginals are relating in this atmosphere of rapidly changing demographics.

The Urban Aboriginal Peoples Study (UAPS) began to take shape when Michael Adams, founder and president of Environics Research Group and the non-profit Environics Institute, and Dr. David Newhouse, Chair of Indigenous Studies at Trent University, found themselves at a conference discussing social change among Canada’s Aboriginal groups.  In response to the startling information emerging from the 2006 census, Dr. Newhouse asked: “Does the average Canadian have any image of who these people are, how they relate to their cities, what they are contributing, or what their challenges are?”

The approach being suggested by Dr. Newhouse differs from earlier studies that focused research on social-services being utilized by Aboriginal populations.  That research tended to view Aboriginal communities through the lens of some problem or need— without the needed complexity to generate meaningful understandings of urban Aboriginal groups.

Hence the UAPS was born.  The Study has been funded by the government of Canada, the governments of various provinces, some private organizations, Elections Canada, and the United Way.   The goal of the UAPS was to gone beyond the numbers and capture the values, experiences and aspirations of Aboriginal peoples living in Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary, Regina, Saskatoon, Winnipeg, Thunder Bay, Toronto, Montreal, Halifax and Ottawa. 2,614 First Nations peoples, Métis and Inuit living in these major Canadian cities, as well as 2,501 non-Aboriginal Canadians were surveyed.

    Click here for the UAPS report summary, full report, or quick key findings from the study.  City findings are also available such as the  Vancouver City Report

      This research is useful for anyone looking for comprehensive information about the dynamic interaction between Non-Aboriginals and Aboriginals in Canada’s major cities.

      Vancouver Aboriginal-Focused School of Choice

      On June 10, 2011, the Vancouver School Board announced that it is moving forward with its plans for an Aboriginal-Focused School of Choice. This school is scheduled to open, at least partially, as early as September, 2012.  The school will focus on quality education by teaching and learning through Aboriginal world views, knowledge, culture and values.

      To avoid the mandatory stigma and legacy of residential schooling, the school will be one of choice and will be open to all students, Aboriginal and Non-Aboriginal – although preference will be given to First Nations, Inuit and Métis people, including individuals with Indian status or without status.

      VSB trustees have put together a working group to develop short and longer-range implementation plans for the school.  The plan is to start small with a cohort of 30 grade 8 students, perhaps using the mini-school model that has been successfully used for other enrichment and alternative programs.  Extensive consultation and years of planning have gone into the decision to move ahead with the school.   The consultation process which began in January, 2011 was led by UBC’s Dr. Joanne Archibald and included a team of graduate students.  Student, parent, staff Forums were held at four different VSB sites between January 21 and January 27 with over 130 individuals sharing feedback, proposals, concerns, and insights.  I read the entire report and can tell you that it contains many inspirational and heart-wrenching stories of those who endured the legacy of racism, discrimination, and residential schooling that has long characterized BC’s educational system.  Interestingly, a substantial number of Indigenous persons from outside of BC attended the forums and described how they have been involved in successful Aboriginal school implementations on the prairies and the U.S.

      The consultation forums focused on the need for Wholistic education, and got into specifics such as those surrounding time-tabling, teacher recruitment, teacher retention, training, physical space, Funding! and mission.  There is still considerable work to be done on these issues, but the report on the consultation process is a great resource for anyone interested in authentic, Aboriginal-guided, wholistic approaches to education.

      To view the report, please click here: Report on Aboriginal Education Forums

      Decolonizing Our Schools

      Decolonizing Our Schools: Aboriginal Education in the Toronto District School Board

      Report presented: September 30, 2010.  Written by Aboriginal scholar Dr. Susan D. Dion, along with Krista Johnston and Dr. Carla Rice

      In this report, the authors describe the work of the Urban Aboriginal Education Pilot Project (UAEPP) in Toronto District schools (TDSB) between April 2009 and September, 2010. It’s interesting to note that the goal of the UAEPP is to deliver education that is “worthy of our children and our ancestors” in a large, diverse urban context.  Much of the report is based on the research findings of the Talking Stick Project.

      The research confirms what Aboriginal parents, students, and educators already knew: institutions of formal schooling are failing to provide Aboriginal students with the educational environment and experiences that they need to achieve success. Urban Aboriginal students face a number of unique problems – they are unable to find suitable connection with cultural knowledge and do not see themselves represented in the curriculum.  They are “encouraged to attend school in the spite of a long, negative, and hurtful relationship between Aboriginals and schooling.”  School employees in urban settings face unique challenges in first of all recognizing Aboriginal student populations and then delivering programs when FN students are dispersed across a range of schools.  Additionally, almost all educators lack the requisite knowledge and training for meaningfully teaching Aboriginal subject matter.

      After interviewing and studying approximately 200 students, parents, teachers, administrators, community members, and other stakeholders the following four key findings were generated:

      1. TDSB must recognize the importance of understanding and responding to Aboriginal students, youth, and their learning needs

      • reject narrow definition of learning and success in the form grades in favour of a focus on well-being

      2. Meaningful incorporation of Indigenous issues must be supported by providing thoughtful pro-d for teaching staff

      • educators need access to expertise and training to understand Aboriginal culture and appreciate their role “inheritors of a colonial legacy.”  This is part of the larger process of Decolonization and Indigenizing.  Teachers must be prepared to take on this challenge and must be supported in their attempts to do so.

      3. Schools must be transformed in order to Decolonize and Indigenize learning spaces

      • Aboriginal students and Aboriginal education thrive in safe environments

      4. Aboriginal Education must be supported at all levels and prioritized by establishing internal and external partnerships

      Some of the many other recommendations:

      • sustained funding is needed
      • Aboriginal teachers need to be recruited
      • Student well-being should be the center of educational approaches
      • Aboriginal history and culture, including the history of colonialism, should be taught at multiple points in curriculum
      • Board must require all principals to participate in decolonizing and indigenizing professional development
      • Board must require all departments to demonstrate a plan for integrating Aboriginal Education

      ———– Decolonizing our Schools is as powerful an educational research report as one will ever read. The authors pull no punches and directly challenge the stereotypes and misguided thinking of those who declare that Indigenous education should be compartmentalized or marginalized because Aboriginals are a minority in their classrooms/schools. This report reminds us that were all the products of a colonial legacy that has ravaged Indigenous practices.  In many ways, the report is a refreshing departure from the non-committal babble that emanates from school district research departments.  Of course, it has to be…the topic is simply too significant for any lesser approach.

      You Belong Here (Parts 1 and 2)

      This short film explores the bond between Aboriginal youth and Elders and unites them in talking circles with the goal of sharing of words of wisdom.  Elders from the Dene, Cree, Blackfoot, and Metis from across Alberta helped provide the guidance that was central to the program.  The relationships were coordinated by the Alberta Native Friendship Centers Association and the Alberta Aboriginal Youth Council.  This summary of their work was filmed in Jasper, Alberta – August, 2007.

      The film begins by reminding us that Aboriginal youth are the fastest growing segment of Canada’s population and facing a strong set of challenges.  Like their ancestors overcame, the conviction is conveyed that through belief in their culture, in their own self-worth, and through a sense of belonging, these difficult times will be overcome.  Through the guidance of Elders (always capitalized), Aboriginal youth are coming to know their culture and appreciate their traditions and customs.

      A focus on emotion characterizes much of the film.  Many of the youth require emotional guidance and have been subjected to discrimination. Many Elders mention that lack of spirituality – lack of a belief in a power greater than yourself – is harming youth and getting them caught up in the material world that is full of ills such as violence, drugs, alcohol, and disengagement

      One girl describes being the only one of 8 in her family who does not drink or do drugs.  This is a sobering reality for some in the Indigenous community.  Becoming human and humble and moving away from the arrogance that characterizes substance abuse is described as a healing quality that needs to be spread among the youth.  This type of wisdom is passed on during hours and hours of informal discussion with Elders.

      It’s interesting that most of the Elders featured in the film were women and many of the participating youth were teens in crisis.  The ability of the women to be both nurturing and candid seems to have played a role in helping the youth who are interviewed to move away from harmful behaviours.

      [youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q3_e6M-Lulo&feature=related[/youtube]

      First Nations School of Toronto & Native Learning Centre Alternative High School

      Recently, the Vancouver School Board announced that it is moving forward with its plans for an Aboriginal-Focused School of Choice. This school is scheduled to open, at least partially, as early as September, 2012.  Interestingly, the school will be one of choice and be open to all students, although Aboriginal students may be given priority (more about the school in a future post).  Given this development, I thought it would be interesting to examine a couple of existing First Nations schools

      First Nations School of Toronto.  This school was initiated by a group of Aboriginal parents in the 1970’s who were concerned about the high numbers of FN children who were not completing elementary school.  The parents felt that the children lacked self respect and were significantly at risk.  They believed that education was key to teaching them about their Aboriginal heritage, and instilling pride for their identity. The initial school was called the “Wandering Spirit Survival School.”  After joining with the Toronto BOE, the school became the First Nations School. Today, it serves 70 students from JK- Grade – 8 and is located at Dundas and Broadview, sharing a site with public school.

      Some of the supports provided to students:

      • Half Time Librarian
      • Full Time Ojibway Teacher (in lieu of French), serving students from K-8
      • Half Time Traditions and Culture Instructor, serving students from Gr 1-8

      An Honour Feather Society was created to help build self-esteem. Individual students are recognized for their various successes, and awarded a feather in a traditional ceremony to honour their clan.

      Some interesting programs:

      • Diabetes Education Program (including parent component) with Toronto Public Health
      • Dodem Kanonhsa’ Aboriginal Cultural Facility: partnership to access Traditional Elders to support Literacy
      • Antibullying/Anti Gang Workshop

      Native Learning Centre Alternative High School (grades 9 – 12)

      In October 1998, the Native Learning Centre (NLC) was piloted as a high school program for at-risk First Nations students.  The NLC began with 15 to 20 students in a one-classroom setting, located at 456 Yonge Street.  The school includes an art program, recreational outdoor activities, traditional canoe trips, and cultural excursions led by elders.  The NLC has now expanded its programs and now is able to provide all compulsory credits necessary for students to achieve an Ontario Secondary School Diploma. In November 2005, the NLC received a City of Toronto Access Award (Equity).  The school is now housed within Church Street junior public school. Approximately 40 Native high school students currently attend.

      Native Studies courses available to NLC students:

      • “Aboriginal Beliefs, Values and Aspirations in Contemporary Society”
      • Aboriginal Governance: Emerging Directions
      • Aboriginal Peoples in Canada
      • Current Aboriginal Issues in Canada
      • English: Contemporary Aboriginal Voices
      • Issues of Indigenous Peoples in a Global Context

      This list of courses goes well beyond the First Nations 12 that is available to BC students and is indicative of a strong commitment towards Aboriginal education by the TSB.

      invert media – it’s the angle

      invert media is an Aboriginal internet and video production company that focuses on archiving and communicating traditional Aboriginal teachings in an Indigeneous framework.  The company attempts to collaborate in ways that respect cultural and community sources.  Like many other production companies, invert media tries to work closely with First Nations communities to respect the cultural protocols that exist in each community.

      “We believe indigenous knowledge is essential in addressing urgent matters in the world today” – this is the mission statement posted as an introduction on the company website.  In their work, the company’s two principal directors, Jennifer Wemigwans and Doug Anderson, claim that they respectfully to translate and apply indigenous knowledge frameworks, without compromising them.

      Of interest, is the company’s intent to research thoughtfully and remain authentic to traditional Indigenous teachings.

      The company’s two major projects are:

      The Full Circle Project: a cultural learning Framework for Toronto Aboriginal Youth

      Intro: “Aboriginal languages and cultures are threatened everywhere, especially in the city. The rapid pace of cultural loss is not being addressed fast enough to ensure survival of indigenous knowledge among urban aboriginal youth.”

      Four Directions Teachings

      Four Directions.com is a narrated series of animations that passes on some of the teachings and philosophy of five First Nations groups in Canada: Blackfoot, Cree, Ojibwe, Mohawk, Mi ‘kqmak

      Each series of teachings is delivered by an Elder and provides a fairly rich multi-media introduction to each culture.  I am not expert on any of the tribes that were researched as part of Four Directions Teachings.com, but I think that this project may be bogged down by its ambitious scope.  In reviewing the teachings, it’s evident that the lessons being discussed by the Elders are simply an introduction to each culture.  There is no significant depth to the discussions and some sensitive subjects are deliberately not addressed in the online teachings.  For Wemigwans and Anderson to have carefully researched each culture (as they claim to have) would have take extensive resources which appear not to have been available to this private production crew.  In this light, while the media productions on the five tribes are interesting and somewhat useful, they certainly have limitations.

      The vital relationship between Aboriginal Elders and Youth

      Video Link

      • In the time of change of mother earth,
      • there would be a group of young people born,
      • and those young people would carry all the gifts of ancestors,
      • the healers, the visionaries, the dreamers, the leaders,
      • they would bring spirituality into their work
      • and they would empower their work with that spirituality.

      Diane Longboat

      The above passage leads us into this video that documents the efforts by Native Child and Youth Family Services (NCYFS) of Toronto to connect urban youths with Ojibway, Cree, and Iroquois elders.

      What has remained constant among the many changes of the Macaw Hawk Youth Council in Toronto is a desire among members to learn about cultural traditions.

      Some of the Elders and staffers with NCYFS mention how difficult it was for them as urban Aboriginals to connect with their cultural teachings when living or growing up in Toronto.  NCYFS has attempted to address this shortfall through the construction of a lodge in the heart of urban Toronto.  Through the efforts of Elders and connections with culture, youth have described feeling more empowered and unified than at any point in their lives.

      The prevalent theme among interviewed youths is a desire to “know who they are.”  In urban settings, youth do not have the benefit community support from clans or families, and can become very isolated.  Once youth connect with Elders, it is felt that they are better able to identify who they are as brothers, sisters, and beneficiaries of a rich ancestry.

      The video provides an example of how far the urban Indigenous have come in re-connecting with traditions in a short period of time.  One of the NCYFS staffers, Alita Sauve, mentions that when she was growing up it was difficult for her to acknowledge to others that she was Indian.  Now she helps youth re-connect with authentic traditional practices in the heart of Toronto.