Source: Patrick D. Walton, Ph.D. and Gloria Ramirez, Ph.D., School of Education, Thompson Rivers University
Focus: Language Teachers and Researchers
Summary: Aboriginal (First Nations, Métis and Inuit) education has a long and tumultuous history in Canada, stemming from decades of colonialism and residential schooling. Residential schooling policies included mandatory graduation ages and were intended to destroy Aboriginal culture and languages. This resulted in widespread social and psychological upheaval in Aboriginal communities (Battiste, 2000). Children, placed in residential schools from the age of 5, were forbidden to speak their Aboriginal language and were required to speak English only and to stop communicating with their siblings (Battiste, 2005). Residential schooling resulted in many Aboriginal parents not seeing value in providing print-based materials in the home and feeling intimidated by schools and teachers (Ball, Bernhardt, & Deby, 2006). In 2003, the BC Ministry of Education (reported in Bell et al., 2004) found that between 40% and 50% of Aboriginal students failed to meet the requirements of literacy tests conducted in Grades 4, 7, and 10. Not surprisingly, school success is more closely linked to competence in one of Canada’s official languages (English or French) than to proficiency in an Aboriginal language. Schools have only recently begun to respond to Aboriginal communities and reflect Aboriginal culture in the curricula and teaching methods (McDonald, 2012). Teaching Aboriginal children to read in English has implications that go beyond the cognitive processes of acquiring meaning from text, as there are extensive cultural differences between Aboriginal peoples and the predominant population of Canada (Walton, Canaday, & Dixon, 2010).
Some key educational goals recently identified by several Aboriginal communities, which are especially relevant to reading acquisition, are knowledge of Aboriginal culture, particularly Aboriginal language, and high levels of competence in reading in English and mathematics (More, 1984; Napoleon, 1988; School District No. 73, 2010). The Aboriginal communities want their children to know their own culture, speak an Aboriginal language, and also learn the required skills to succeed in the non-Aboriginal world.