Thursday, 18 August 2011

Aboriginal Teachers Face Racism, Need Allies

Special thanks to Larry Kuehn, Director of Research and Technology at the BCTF

"Aboriginal Teachers' Professional Knowledge and Experience in Canadian Schools" was a research project undertaken by Verna St. Denis for the Canadian Teachers' Federation.  Excerpts from the Executive Summary are included here.

 Eager and willing to teach Aboriginal content and perspectives, Aboriginal teachers in this study
wanted to share what they knew and sought each other out to learn more. They described their
culturally grounded teaching practices and how these practices positively influenced both non-
Aboriginal and Aboriginal students.

 Many described how they began their teaching of Aboriginal content and perspectives by talking about their own lives and identities as Aboriginal persons. The Aboriginal teachers in this study emphasized that the integration of Aboriginal content and perspectives into public education must happen every day, for all students, in all subject areas.

 But Aboriginal teachers in this study suggested that there is still a lot more that can be done to ensure that Aboriginal content and perspectives are being taught in a meaningful way to all students. The often implicit hierarchy of school knowledge and subjects within a school system typically places a low valuation on Aboriginal subject matter, and this had negative implications on how others received both the Aboriginal teachers and the Aboriginal content and perspectives they taught in schools.

 Many Aboriginal teachers in the study still encountered attitudes and behaviors that suggested they do not belong in the profession, such as a questioning of their teacher education, qualifications or capabilities. This questioning occurred even as these teachers performed a number of services, such as developing Aboriginal curriculum and supporting their colleagues to teach Aboriginal content and perspectives; services that they often did willingly, and usually without compensation.

 The participants in the study identified ways to support the integration of Aboriginal curriculum:
meet the on-going need for schools to acquire Aboriginal curriculum and materials; adequately support Aboriginal teachers and non-Aboriginal teachers to teach Aboriginal content and perspectives; find supportive and understanding administrators and develop policies that come from the top down; accept Aboriginal teachers as fellow professionals; and hire more Aboriginal teachers and professionals.

 Feeling that racism in education was typically denied, ignored and trivialized, Aboriginal teachers in this study described various ways in which they experienced racism. They reported a disregard for their qualifications and capabilities, and for Aboriginal content and perspectives; a lowering of expectations of Aboriginal students; and a discounting of the effects of colonization and oppression on Aboriginal people. Institutional responses to racism were often seen as inadequate, leaving the burden for addressing racism on Aboriginal teachers.

 Aboriginal teachers in the present study interpreted the idea of who is an ally of Aboriginal teachers and Aboriginal education broadly, including themselves, their families and communities, in addition to non-Aboriginal colleagues, as potential allies. They identified non-Aboriginal colleagues who were allies as being genuine, honest and trustworthy; good listeners; and persons who remained positive
and open minded despite facing many challenges in education. Those non-Aboriginal colleagues
who were allies also were said to show respect and support for Aboriginal people by learning to
use community resources. Aboriginal teachers in the study stressed that allies seek to be a part of the local Aboriginal community without taking over; that allies avoid becoming experts about,
or saviours of Aboriginal people and culture.
The entire report is available on the CTF web site at

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