Weaving aboriginal knowledge into the educational fabric of Manitoba
*Originally Published in January, 2011
A movement to integrate Aboriginal perspectives is gaining momentum in the field of education in Canada. The Faculty of Education at the University of Manitoba is honoured to participate in a trend that sees First Nations, Métis, and Inuit people join the discussion in the evolution of contemporary Aboriginal education. Aboriginal education approaches learning in holistic ways that address spiritual, physical, and intellectual development. Through our scholarly activities, we have begun to weave Aboriginal knowledge and approaches to learning into the fabric of Manitoba’s education systems.
Our Aboriginal professors and students are affecting change in education in the province of Manitoba. Their teaching, research, and community service gives us hope that Aboriginal perspectives will become more integrated in kindergarten – grade 12 (K – 12) education. As Dr. John Wiens, Dean of the Faculty of Education (2000 – 2011) commented, “The study of Aboriginal values, cultures, languages, practices, and ways of knowing, will flourish in all Canadian education settings. In our faculty we are proud to have four Aboriginal scholars who can help us understand, experiment with, practice and encourage these highest human ideals.”
The research to integrate Aboriginal perspectives into our schools is still in its infancy and requires more Aboriginal people’s involvement to help uncover and educate others in authentic Aboriginal ways of knowing. “I believe it is important for our youth to pursue education as a career because education will help us maintain and advance Aboriginal people’s ways of thinking and being,” encourages Dr. Laara Fitznor, a member of the Nisichawaysihk Cree Nation. Laara has designed and taught numerous Aboriginal education courses available in the Faculty of Education at the University of Manitoba including Aboriginal World Views; Aboriginal Curriculum Development; and Anti-racism Education for Teachers and Administrators.
By getting involved in the field of education, people can affect change and be role models for children. Dr. Frank Deer, an Aboriginal scholar from the Kahnawake Cree Nation, struggled through school because he lacked role models that could nurture his learning experience. “This lead to a high school experience that was not very enriching, I was not interested and my mind was frequently on other things,” he explains.
Franks school experiences are common. Reuben Boulette, a second year education student, also lacked roles models in his K – 12 classrooms. “As a K-12 student I saw that many Aboriginal students felt neglected because non-Aboriginal teachers had a hard time understanding our cultural perspective. I hope to remedy some of that in the years to come,” explains Reuben. Reuben is pursuing a Bachelor of Education in order to reach out to Aboriginal students and become a role model for them. During his teacher training at the University of Manitoba he will be encouraged to continue to express his perspectives and share his stories. It is essential that Aboriginal people are involved in these discussions in order to advance Aboriginal education.
“Aboriginal education is for everyone,” explains Frank. Aboriginal and cultural programming is a holistic and experiential process. Through this process, Frank is able to raise awareness of important social issues, participate in incorporating cultural programming in the area of education, and is able to provide environments where students can develop mutual respect with one another regardless of racial or ethnic background. A career in teaching has allowed Frank to contribute to the betterment of his community and added to the growing movement to integrate Aboriginal knowledge in our education systems.
Frank encourages people not to be afraid of the university experience, “Education is a journey that may involve struggle. Don’t fear this journey, even if it takes you away from home. It is important to remember that we must often make sacrifices in order to realize our goals.” In order to go to university, Frank had to move away from his community. This sacrifice, although difficult, has been worthwhile because it has allowed him to give back to Aboriginal communities as a teacher, through his research, and as a teacher educator.
Education is the key to overcoming life’s obstacles. Dr. Fitznor suggests that Aboriginal education will maintain and advance Aboriginal peoples’ ways of thinking and being. She also indicates that the integration of Aboriginal knowledge in paramount to educating everyone about who Aboriginal people are locally, nationally, and internationally. It is important that Aboriginal people pursue education in order to affect changes in their communities and across Canada. The Faculty of Education, at the University of Manitoba is proud to participate in the preservation and growth of Aboriginal people.