University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada
The Student Teachers Anti-Racism Society (STARS) promotes anti-racism education at the College of Education, University of Saskatchewan through the support of the College. We work collaboratively to understand, identify, and address individual and systemic racism and its interlocking forms of oppression based on gender, sexuality, ability, class, religion and other socially constructed categories. We believe that anti-racist and decolonizing education, when woven together, can create humanizing and emancipatory change for everyone.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Becoming and Being an Ally of Aboriginal Education

On January 26, 2011 Dr. Verna St. Denis gave a powerful presentation for STARS drawing on her findings from a study conducted for the Canadian Teachers Federation called A Study of Aboriginal Teachers’ Professional Knowledge and Experience in Canadian Schools (2010). Her study was based on 59 interviews with Aboriginal (First Nations, Métis and Inuit) teachers from across Canada. The research focused on four themes: the teaching philosophies of Aboriginal teachers, integrating Aboriginal content and perspectives in the curriculum, racism in education, and allies in Aboriginal education. At this STARS presentation Dr. St. Denis highlighted her findings regarding the characteristics of Aboriginal education allies.

Dr. St. Denis began the presentation with a review of the Hawthorn Report, a historical document about the context of Aboriginal education in Canada (1967). After the review, Dr. St. Denis clearly demonstrated how many of the concerns of nearly 50 years ago remain concerns of Aboriginal teachers today. She also pointed out how this historical research blames Aboriginal parents and cultural differences for low student completion and academic achievement rates. This blame occurred in spite of the data that explicitly stated that Aboriginal children received poor quality education in racist environments.
Dr. St. Denis then talked about the need for Aboriginal education allies within schools. Although many of the teachers who were interviewed reported that non-Aboriginal allies are difficult to find, they also highlighted the characteristics of allies with whom they have worked. In general Aboriginal education allies were described as those who:
  • Think outside of the box
  • Care about and connect with Aboriginal students
  • Listen to Aboriginal teachers, parents and community members
  • Take the initiative to support Aboriginal education
  • Get to know Aboriginal people as people and recognize the humanity of Aboriginal peoples
  • Are positive and want to see Aboriginal students and education succeed
  • Have humility, are lifelong learners, and can admit when they make mistakes
  • Are passionate about Aboriginal culture
  • Collaborate and cooperate with Aboriginal peoples
  • Follow through on commitments
  • Recognize the historical and ongoing trauma and violence Aboriginal peoples experience as a result of colonialism, and work collaboratively against racism
  • Don’t quit when they feel overwhelmed, think they have all of the answers, become defensive when they are challenged or try to take the spotlight
Although there are many ways to be an ally, Dr. St. Denis stressed that being an ally is a life long learning process and that we should not expect perfection. The study also tells us that to be an ally, teachers do not need to know everything about First Nations, Métis and Inuit knowledge, history, culture and perspectives. Nor can the right lesson plans or teaching strategies make one an ally. Rather, being an ally is more about seeing, treating and knowing Aboriginal peoples as human beings. This includes listening, being modest, staying positive, being a life long learner and taking a stand against racism. The teachers also stated that everyone can be an ally of Aboriginal education, including Aboriginal teachers and communities.
STARS would like to thank Dr. St. Denis for sharing her valuable time and knowledge! We also want to thank the Aboriginal Education Research Centre for providing the refreshments at the event.

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