Last week I had the opportunity to listen to a group of six First Nations educators who work in various districts around the province, with the Ministry of Education, and at the VIU. They were speaking to a group of teachers involved in the Provincial Reading Project “Changing Results for Young Readers”. The question they were addressing was “Many of us are wanting to make our classrooms, schools, and districts more inviting to our Aboriginal students. We want to make our teaching more relevant and connected to their lives. But … we really don’t know what to do. Can you help us?” Some of us in our project “Through a Different Lens” have been asking this very question. We are losing too many of our Aboriginal students from our schools. We are trying to make a difference but there are big gaps in our knowledge – and many of us don’t know what to do.
Here are 8 things they talked about:
1. Acknowledge traditional territory around the province. Put up a map of BC that shows the territories and have students in the classroom talk about the territory they were born in, the territory they currently live in, and any other territories they have lived in. Imagine if all of our students knew even that much. The Ministry of Education has a poster map that can be ordered on line. I have just ordered 15 copies for any teachers in the project who would like to have one in their classroom. (Suggestion: Ask someone from your local First Nation Community, or one of our Aboriginal Support Teachers how to do a proper acknowledgement of the local territory. For an example see SD61 website, or an example on the Changing Results for Young Readers website – see “resources” and then “Indigenous Principles of Learning”.)
2. Love Reading: Read texts as an adult. Read them to learn. Have book clubs so that more educators begin to understand the issues, thoughts, feelings… become more aware. Here are a few texts you might begin with:
- The truth about Stories – Thomas King
- Three Day Road – Joseph Boyden
- The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian - Sherman Alexie
- Smoke Signals – Screenplay / film: Sherman Alexie
- Indian Horse – Richard Wagamese
3. Model Reading using Picture Books with First Nations texts. Use First Nations text for reading strategies and think alouds in class. See FNESC k-3 and K-7 for authentic First People’s texts.
4. Watch 8th Fire. It is said that it takes 7 generations to heal from trauma. 8th Fire is a four part series produced by CBC. It “is a provocative, high-energy journey through Aboriginal country showing you why we need to fix Canada’s 500 year-old relationship with Indigenous peoples; a relationship mired in colonialism, conflict and denial.” The four episodes are called: Indigenous in the City; It’s Time!; Whose Land is It Anyway?; At the Crossroads. It is being aired on Sunday mornings at 11:00, and began on January 13. For more information google “8th Fire”. (This originally aired in 2011; all 4 episodes are available on line).
5. Strong Nations (www.strongnations.com) is a website that you can go to find resources. Terry Mack, who began Strong Nations, vetos Aboriginal resources so that people who go to the website will know which materials are good resources for teachers and classrooms. There are resources for young children, teens and adults. It is a great website.
6. Bring Aboriginal people into your classroom. Many schools are now asking elders to be present in their schools. Invite people in. (Check with your local community or member of the district Aboriginal staff for guest speaker protocol.)
7. Build relationships with Aboriginal students and families. Building relationships with our students and families is a given. We know how important this is. But these women went on to suggest that you build relationships with Aboriginal people who you can ask questions to, who can help you understand.
8. Learn about First Nations. Learn more through the organization called “FNESC”
Start somewhere and move forward:
The Time is Now
Thanks to Anne Tenning and Dustin Hyde for reading this blog and giving feedback. More to come!