Aboriginal Perspectives and the Curriculum - Discussion Papers

Why are Aboriginal perspectives in the curriculum?

Many educators were taken by surprise when it was first made know to educational stakeholders that Alberta Education was planning to introduce curricular initiatives that emphasized Aboriginal perspectives. It was a fairly dramatic and unexpected policy shift. Many people wondered why such a shift was made.

Of course, the more cynical people among us have their own theories. Probably the most common explanation was that the move was just another example of the 'dance‘ of Indigenous victimization, white guilt, and political correctness. To be politically correct is to avoid expressions or actions that can be perceived to exclude or marginalize or insult people who are socially disadvantaged or discriminated against. The cynical argue that the inclusion (interesting word) of Aboriginal perspectives in curriculum is motivated by a desire to apologize for past injustices and assuage white guilt—hardly the basis for sound policy decision-making. I have heard teachers at curriculum workshops argue against Aboriginal perspectives on the grounds that: (a) they do not have adequate background knowledge of Aboriginal issues (b) they do not have any Aboriginal students in their classes (c) we already have multiculturalism as a curricular focus.

These resistances are deeply rooted in issues of identity, culture, and the stories that Canadian students have been told in school for many generations. The story, in summary form, is that Canadian settlers have carved civilization out of wilderness. Of course, Aboriginal peoples are perceived to be unfortunate remnants of this process. They have been considered outside the national narrative. Learning this official version of Canadian history has left many of us unable to comprehend the resurgence of Aboriginal cultures and ways of knowing. It leaves some educators also unable and unwilling to accept that Aboriginal cultures could have something meaningful to contribute to mainstream educational processes.

As Aboriginal populations continue to grow significantly, especially in urban areas, this historical problem of insiders (Canadians) and outsiders (Aboriginal peoples) has become an issue of political and social concern in Canada. Increasingly, Aboriginal people who wish to demonstrate the ongoing presence and participation of their people in Canadian society are asserting their own notions of knowledge, citizenship, ethics, and sovereignty. The perspectives being shared are very much related to the exclusion or isolation of Aboriginal ways of knowing from EuroCanadian ideas, and the process of colonization through which Aboriginal peoples and communities were relegated to the sidelines as the nation of Canada was developed.

Canadian society is slowly beginning a détente with this difficult past. The potential exists for a new era of respect, integrity, and renewed partnerships. An ethical space has been created. Aboriginal perspectives are an educational issue today because there is growing acknowledgement that Aboriginal wisdom traditions, as organic world views, can help deepen our connections with the land and places we call home. This policy shift requires a tour through the contested terrain of the past, rereading and reframing Aboriginal presence and participation in Canadian history and society. We need to identify the holes in the story of our country and note what has been left out. This is necessary, not to lay blame, but to repair the story. Doing so will repair us as citizens. Holes in a story mean that passageways for new understanding still have a chance.

< Previous    Next >

Aboriginal Perspectives and the Curriculum (Social Studies) – Discussion Papers Developed by the Edmonton Regional Learning Consortium and ATEP Aboriginal Teacher Education Program, University of Alberta as a result of a grant to support implementation from Alberta Education