Since this is my last MET Course and I’m finishing 590 at the same time I am thoroughly involved in reflecting. I thought I would revisit the blog, one last time. This was only the second time, I’ve been involved with a blog and one of the key benefits seems to me, that there is room for exchange and discussion. In this case that was limited. It is, however, an excellent compilation of resources. It certainly was a good idea to create a focus statement at the beginning to direct our internet exploration. The sites built the foundation for my exploration into education and technology in my local district. Even though my area is affluent and full of opportunity, connectivity limits many First Nations people from accessing many of these sites, especially those that are highly interactive. I’ve bookmarked the sites, and those of colleagues, so that they’ll be at hand. Since my school has good bandwidth and connectivity, it would be best to showcase the sites there and not expect students to be “digital explorers,” at home. Certainly the course, including the blog, discussions in Vista (which were insightful and spirited) and the final project, has allowed me to look at First Nations issues through a different and sharper lens.
While interviewing a colleague for my essay, she reminded me of Tribal Journeys and how important it was for young people to have authentic experiences. It is not enough to be digitally engaged or go on virtual canoe trips. The Tribal Journeys site is full of stories of expeditions, past and present and how to sign up for expeditions in the future. The focus is on having indigenous young people travel through the Salish Sea in much the same manner as their ancestors did. Huge canoes have been fashioned and as they move along the coast over about 25 days, they are welcomed at villages. The site also has a great deal of information of a more general nature, regarding First Nations communities along the Coast of British Columbia and Washington. Much like the video we watched about the Fraser River journey, Tribal Jounreys gives young people a chance to bond with each other, with Elders and with the land, and in this case, the sea. It has become apparent to me while writing my essay that the land in many ways dictates the nature of the First Nations communities. Coastal communities are connected to the sea and the land as well as rivers. Plains cultures would have different issues. Knowing the environment is critical to knowing the culture and there won’t ever be a “one-size fits-all” answer to addressing the issues facing First Nations communities.
A National Panel has been set up to investigate ways of improving education for Aboriginal students on reserves. Minister John Duncan and Chief Shawn Atleo have declared that their will be a joint panel on education. Graduation rates on reserves are significantly lower than that of the general population so it’s the panel’s task to figure out why. One reason, of course, would be the lack of funding as is indicated in this article in the Times Colonist. The Federal government needs to ensure that band schools have adequate funding but in times of fiscal retraint, it’s hard to see that happening. Funding is always a challenge for schools that are in remote communities requiring busses or boats. Connectivity infrastructure will likely be more costly and there will be many other expenses that would not be incurred in an urban area. Any lack of funding from the Federal or Provincial levels of government will unfairly impact these less urban communities, likely affecting First Nations students disproportionately. Schools are a great place to develop cross-cultural understanding. Underfunding undermines that potential.
AFN Virtual Summit on Indigenous Institutions of Higher Learning documents the virtual summit that was held March, 2011, to discuss the issues relevant to First Nations Institutions of higher learning. It was hosted by the First Nations University of Canada in Regina. The report includes many statements from students and educators. It is frequently noted that there is often a general disconnect with the mainstream curriculum and methods and location of delivery. There are, in mainstream institutions, historical barriers, social barriers and financial barriers to attendance and success as is outlined in the report that is quoted, prepared by Katenies Research and Management Services: The Business Case for First Nations Post-Secondary Education, prepared for the Assembly of First Nations, May 28, 2007, pp. 10-11.
In the article, Jesse Robson (page 11) reminds us that there is a general misunderstanding that First Nations students are not paying for their education. He points out that most of the students have student loans and that this is “the furthest thing from a free ride.” (page 11) Blair Stonechild on (page 11) points to the importance of having a “healthy identity,” something that can be challenging for many of the students dealing with the legacy of Residential Schools. Attending an IIHL goes a long way to healing that wound. Shauneen Pete (page 13) states, “we are family, literally ….and that we teach in an intergenerational manner,” that is more in line with her values. She appreciates the support of her elders within this educational system.
Many of the students indicated that they need funding and support for computers for transportation. Overall commitment to stable funding to support programmes continues to be an issue as is stated in the section on “What do IIHL’s need to strengthen their role in the Post-Secondary Education system in Canada?” (page 14) Of course, that’s a challenge in the face of general fiscal restraint from all levels of government. However, it is clear that the students benefit from learning in an environment that supports both the their academic needs as well as their cultural needs as First Nations people in Canada.
The Eagle Village website is an excellent resource for including authentic First Nations content in the classroom. As is outlined in the Enhancement Agreement in my school district, including language studies of the local indigenous language goes a long way to providing opportunities for cultural understanding. The site is focussed on the Algonkian people, especially the Anishnabe from the Eagle Village on the shores of Lake Kipawa in Quebec. There are lists of books that would be useful and other resources in terms of language activities, games etc. Locally, First Voices is used to promote the Hul’q’umi’num language and culture. While this site is primarily for the use of members, there is a great amount of information that is useful to anyone teaching social studies curriculum. This seems to be an excellent example of a remote band using technology to enhance their own community and to share their culture with the world at large. On both sites, actual voice recording help teach the indigenous vocabulary to learners. With advances in technology both in terms of ease of use and availability will certainly go a long way to helping preserve language and culture. However, we must bear in mind that connectivity is far from universal within Canada and within each village. We still have a way to go to ensure that everyone has the same opportunities.
Unrepentant , produced in 2008, stresses that the issue of racism and prejudice against First Nations people continues today. While researching infomation regarding my local school system I came across this sobering video regarding residential schools, in particular in Port Alberni but also other areas. It follows the story of a United Church minister, Kevin Annett who chooses to expose the tragedies of the local residential school. He is removed from the church and his family is destroyed all in an attempt to silence him. It is the continuing sage of injustice regarding the schools. This was happening in the face of many lawsuits being filed regarding abuse in residential schools. It’s striking that so many people barely survived school, many of whom are the parents and grandparents of the students in my school district. It is certainly critical that teachers organize the classroom with this in mind. To my mind, school is not supposed to be about survivial. It’s supposed to about learning and sharing and growth. It also strikes me that this is part of the deep-reflection on my own culture and even though I didn’t move here until 1998, I may represent that culture, because I’m a non-aboriginal teacher. The critical point for me is that this happened recently and is ongoing and it is part of the key to student engagement. Annett continues to write on the subject in an attempt to tell the truth in spite of ongoing attempts to discredit him.
The Sookinchoot youtube channel is a component of the Skookinchoot Youth Center, an initiative of the First Nations Friendship Center. The channel presents a collection of videos on a variety of subjects, including First Nations games, culture and art. The Youth Center contains a calender of events for youth as well as informative videos and other relevant information.
There are not that many videos on the channel yet, but one of the events on the Youth Center Calender, Reel Youth, a summer program, will likely go some way to change that. One of the earliest videos covers the dismissal of Aboriginal Education Advocates in School District 22 a few years ago, a decision that was made unilaterally and without consultation, presumably for budget reasons. This speaks to my own research on how First Nations students can best be served in the public school system and the importance of meaningful discussion that promotes partnership and mutual respect, even beyond the notion of consultation. It also brings home the need for building technical skills within the Aboriginal communities to ensure that these stories are told.
The First People’s Language Maps of B.C. site is a wonderfully interractive series of maps showing the 203 language groups that are in B.C. The series of maps shows both contemporary languages and “sleeping” languages or languages that do not have any active speakers. It also shows the level of connectivity of each Band, which would be helpful for educators planning on-line programmes or for governments trying to ensure equal access. They provide information about each band and language group and contact numbers. One of the maps describes art initiatives all over the province. The Community Champions link describes people who are active in promoting language, culture and art throughout the province. The site was begun with the support of the First People’s Heritage Language Culture Council and the Ministry of Education in B.C. In order to be responsive to new information it is constinuously being updated to ensure accuracy. The sites are a great resource for language preservation and certainly bring home the complexity of the language and culture landscape throughout British Columbia. For the elementary classsroom, it offers a great perspective on First Nations culture throughout the province.
Articles in the Vancouver Sun on July 7, and 8 stress, as Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond says that BC needs a “more co-ordinated” approach to Aboriginal education. In the article, Grand Chief of the AFN, Shawn Atleo is referenced as saying that during his life-time there’s been a great many commissions and reports resulting great amounts of rhetoric and very little progress that might lead to real success for Aboriginal students. Aboriginal education is equally important for First Nations community as it is for all of Canada, given that First Nations youth represent the “fastest growing demographic”. More and more aboriginal youth are entering the workforce and it is essential for Canada’s economic success that they be educated to meet the needs of the growing knowledge based economy. On July 8th, some solutions are offered. It is noted that graduation rates among Aboriginal students continue to lag behind the general population, putting youth at a great disadvantage. They point out that in a “media-rich” global economy increased technical skills are key and that First Nations students are an “underutilized resource”. They state that “renewal must begin with the communities themselves”. They must move beyond the trauma of residential schools and “create a new warrior ethos”. Systemic flaws in the current system contribute to Aboriginal students’ lack of success and the system must respond and evolve to meet their needs. Early access to education, on and off reserves, in addition to stable, equitable funding are critical components of a successful system. First Nations communities, the Federal Government and the Province all need to work together to ensure progress is made on this issue. These articles will help support my work with my own school district and outlines the need for all levels to work in a co-ordinated fashion.
Once again, listening to CBC has led me to another link involving Aboriginal Culture. Aboriginal Tourism BC is an organization designed to promote cultural tourism in BC through training and promotion. It appears to be run almost entirely by First Nations people from all over the province. Their goal is to promote authentic tourism experiences while preserving First Nations cultural heritage. Their Action Plan outlines the programs that are available, including some training programs that would provide First Nations communities with technology skills to promote and provide the cultural opportunities for consumers. Klahowya Village in Stanley Park is one of their very successful efforts. Personally I’m inclined to see this as a positive effort to benefit economically and share culturally, providing that First Nations communities are able to maintain control of the product. Sponsors include some major corporations that may not generally be assumed to be culturally sensitive. I wonder if some of the corporate language is in-line with First Nations values. I wonder if, when First Nations from 6 regions in BC are working together if they are able to retain their uniqueness. However, when I visit other parts of the world, I truly enjoy and appreciate the cultural tourism opportunities and I always hope they are authentic and benefit the people that are sharing. No doubt there are varying opinions on this initiative.