Tag Archives: public schools

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.

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.

Edmonton Public Schools Aboriginal Education

This is a link to the Edmonton Public Schools Aboriginal Education page.  Edmonton has a very high urban aboriginal population (2nd highest in Canada) and according to a Globe and Mail article, may be poised to move ahead of Winnipeg into first spot.

One of the goals of Edmonton Public Schools is to improve and enhance the educational experience of Aboriginal students, families, and staff within the district. Edmonton Public has also committed to including aboriginal outcomes in its curriculum and to include an aboriginal educational perspective.

This website provides information and links to a number of initiatives, among them the Amiskwaciy Academy which is the first urban First Nations high school in Canada.  Besides this school there are wide range of programs customized to the educational needs of urban aboriginal youths as well as training and professional development for staff.

I didn’t find any specific references to the use of educational technology with respect to aboriginal education; however Edmonton Public Schools does have a strategic plan for the use of technology in schools, which addressed the technological needs of barriered populations.  This would presumably include aboriginal groups.