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.
CyberCircles is a paper written by Canadian researcher, Mike Patterson of Carleton University. Patterson’s focuses the paper around many of his personal accounts of the positives that “cyberspace” and social media tools have had within the Aboriginal communities. One of the biggest concerns is what Patterson calls “Institutional Interference: academic, Aboriginal, and other organizations have varied degrees of acceptance of these tools.” Fear and reluctance of using such tools are real elements that the Aboriginal communities face, and it can be linked to the potential lack of training. “Cyber networks and communities have to develop their own technical expertise. There is an ongoing need for community capacity building to address these challenges and use video communications to its full potential.” If education isn’t available to provide assistance to successfully implement cyber/social media tools, than the value and meaning of them becomes lost. It doesn’t just stop with a “one-time” training session, the tools that are currently being used within cyberspace, are active and useable for the now but like everything, change occurs, and with these changes, retraining is necessary.
It does seem to be a vicious circle of how the in-and-outs of technologies are, but if we don’t focus on the “how” we can change the ways, the circle will remain broken, and the divide left unattended.
Patterson, Michael. CyberCircles: InternetWorking for Aboriginal Community Research. Retrieved July 20, 2011.
In the last decade, numerous efforts have been made to improve the situation for the Aboriginal Canadians, in an attempt to bridge the digital divide. 1994 saw the inception of the Canadian Community Access Program (CAP) with early efforts primarily focused on rural communities where Internet access was less available. CAP, in conjunction with provincial governments and local agencies, worked to bridge the gap in “public locations like schools, libraries and community centres and acted as “on-ramps” to the Information Highway, providing computer support and training” (Industry Canada, 2011). In 2011, the Canadian Government agreed to continue supporting the efforts of CAP within local, regional, and national networks and bridge the significant technology infrastructure. Action plans, such as CAP, provide the pertinent funding needed to keep the attempts moving in the forward to interject many of the unique challenges that Aboriginal Canadians face.
Industry Canada. (2011). Community Access Program (CAP). Ottawa: Government of
Canada. Retrieved July 18, 2011 from http://www.ic.gc.ca/eic/site/cap
To continue focusing on Bridging the Gap of the Digital Divide, repeated concerns have been made in regards to the culturally relevancy of what students are learning in Aboriginal communities. The Killick Centre for E-Learning Research (2011), observed the experiences of a sample high school group from Coastal Labrador. The course facilitators and participants of the study raised the concern about the content not being culturally relevant. Educators understand the importance of engaging the learner. When course content is relevant and engaging, the learner is apt to be motivated towards success. Educators demonstrated this, when adaptations to the core content of a English Grade 12 course within a pilot program were made, “We’re in the process of piloting a new course here, an English First-Peoples 12 course which is basically English 12, which every student needs to have, written exclusively with Aboriginal content for the resources. So the plays, instead of doing Shakespeare, they’ll do an Aboriginal play. The poetry is all from Aboriginal authors; the short stories are the same. The first cohort that went through here, their provincial exam results were 10% higher than Aboriginal students taking [the regular] English 12.”
(Sharpe, Phillpott, Bourgeois 2011: p.61)
Sharpe, Philpott, Bourgeois. (April, 2011). A Pan-Canadian Survey of E-Learning for Aboriginal High School Students.
While researching possible resources for my project, I was curious to discover that there are very few (4 that I found) e-learning communities that were specifically created for students and adults within the Aboriginal communities. I was astonished that there were so few! The following is an excerpt from my paper, focusing on the Digital Divide and Bridging the Gap.
“Bridging digital and educational divides has enabled simultaneous growth in the technological and educational skills within the Canadian Aboriginal population. Many Canadian Aboriginals reside in rural; often remote areas of the nation. Web-based educational instruction offers an opportunity for individual success by bridging the gap within the learning environment. A Calgary Alberta based e-learning facility, Sunchild e-learning Community, is an example of an online K-12 learning program for Aboriginal Canadians. The Sunchild e-learning community provides an educational learning experience that stresses accountability and interaction amongst its participants, whether within the classroom setting or remotely. Teachers motivate and keep “students involved through synchronous voice exchanges, chat line discussions and the monitoring of student assignments” (Sunchild website testimonial, 2011). With the availability of e-learning programs such as Sunchild, participants do not have to leave their community rather, the program is delivered to them.”
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.