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Learning Capacity and Culture

Culture and languages of students are reflected in education, according to Banks’ article “Diversity, Group Identity, and Citizenship Education in a Global Age”. Banks believes by reflecting the diversity of the groups being educated, individuals can achieve equality. Equality and recognition in a society allow for ethnic or immigrant groups to participate in both their home culture and the national culture. His argument is especially significant, given the rise of worldwide immigration, and the ease through which individuals can travel and settle.

Banks suggests that historically, Western schools have focused on students developing commitments to the nation-state. As a historian of Indigenous studies, and having worked in Indigenous communities across two territories, I would argue that despite the suggestion Canada is multicultural, we often forget about the first peoples to have inhabited the lands we teach on. Pashby et al provides an interesting viewpoint which speaks largely to my point. Race and gender have always played a defining role in citizenship of Canada. The article mentions Indian status, as well as the rights (or lack of rights) allotted to female Indigenous peoples. The article misses significant points however, particularly related to Indigenous history and contemporary Indigenous society.

Colonialist policies were only put in place once westward expansion was necessary for the growth of a colony. At this point, alongside of the mass death of Indigenous populations due to diseases, Indigenous groups were stripped of their rights to govern their own affairs. Indigenous bands were told if and when they could hunt, fish, or trap. They were told not to leave the reserve land that was allotted to them. They were given numbers. They were put into residential schools which leave legacies that children today still feel – they have parents who were not parented. They were taken away as babies, with their parents being told they died – and given to white people. There is a legacy of substance abuse and violence.

Despite the frequency of conversation to help renew the relationship between government and Indigenous peoples, not much has been done. There are still communities without fresh water. There are many communities that have to pay 30$ for a dozen eggs (I lived in one). There are communities where students do not show up for weeks to school, despite being in the community, with no follow up from teachers. Students are passed, regardless of their abilities, and get lost in the shuffle. This catches up to them, and they remain uneducated without the chance of furthering their education or finding a solid career path.

Despite Indigenous leaders regaining greater control over their own affairs, the decades of domination have made it difficult for Indigenous groups to revive and grow. How can a student begin to learn if they cannot access food or water? How are they expected to learn if they go home and have to take care of 5 other siblings because their parents are missing, murdered, or intoxicated? Moreover, how can teachers teach these children when they themselves are not aware of the injustices which have occurred, and continue to occur, in Canada? Many people I know did not learn about residential schools until university. Most are unaware of the 60s scoop. I had a FNMI course in my bachelors of education, and we spent the entire semester role playing. I was wildly uncomfortable with the course, as the teacher made us feel horrible and guilty, rather than actually educating us on the history, facts, and the beautiful culture that still thrives in Indigenous communities. I’m fortunate to have done my graduate studies in Indigenous history – and despite me bringing up the significance of time and place, and how we can’t possibly be able to put ourselves in the shoes of a child in the 1800s being taken away from their culture, the class pressed on leaving many of my peers uneducated.

If a pre-service teacher does not have any knowledge about Indigenous history, and goes and teaches in an Indigenous community – how are they expected to be of service and reflect the diversity they now teach in?

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