Monthly Archives: February 2012

Reflection on 8th Fire’s – Indigenous in the City…

“It’s been about 500 years since your people met my people”.

With this statement, Wab Kinew, host of this four part series invites Canadians to consider what occurred during this time period and he features several highly talented young Aboriginal people who within moments of speaking shatter all stereotypes about Aboriginal people.  As I watched this brilliant documentary, I wondered if it sparked a genuine curiosity in mainstream Canadians as to who we are and how we have managed to maneuver our way i

n this changed world as Aboriginal people. I wondered how mainstream thinking might shift if this series indeed became the most checked out DVD resource from each school library. The ideal plan is for each library to purchase it for general circulation in schools.

Starting in the 1970s many Aboriginal people left their ancestral homes to settle in urban centers and now it is home to 70% of the Aboriginal population. Some of us were sent away to live in boarding homes with complete strangers in order to attend high school. I attended New Westminster High School whose school population was the same size as my home community and the adjustment was a very difficult one – one that saw most of my classmates back home within months. I have moved back to my home community twice and each time returned to the city where, like 70% of the Aboriginal population, I make my home.

Some Aboriginal children have limited connections to their ancestral homes. Others may be caught between two worlds as they move between their ancestral and their urban homes. For those who were born in the city, they may have little or no connection or knowledge of their ancestral homes; they are in classrooms across all school districts in this country. They are as diverse as the rest of the children in classrooms across BC where there are over 30 diverse First nations.

Aboriginal children want to know where they came from and what their history may be. Because of the curricular content in Social Studies 11 for example, most high school students understand the impact that the residential school experience has had on individuals, families and First Nation communities, but students also need to be taught about the resilience of Aboriginal people. In particular, Aboriginal students need to know that our ancestors survived many social, political, cultural, and economic upheavals, and that our legacy can be expressed in one word: RESILIENCE. As well Aboriginal students need to know that they are part of a renaissance where the 8th fire is being ignited and things are changing.

Because over half the population of Aboriginal people are under the age of 25, it is time to pause and become curious about the Aboriginal students who arrive to our classrooms each day: Where are their ancestral homes and what paths took them to this part of the city and into my classroom? What hopes and dreams does each child have?  What kind of community support is available to each child academically, socially, and culturally?  Does each child live with their parents, relatives, or with foster parents?  How much knowledge do the children in my classroom have about the Aboriginal people of Canada? With such a youthful population and an abysmal 52% graduation rate, Wab is right when he says the time has come to kindle more dialogue with each other about the implications of being indigenous in the city. In his edgy way, he challenges us to work toward reconciliation by building a new fire – a new relationship that is ignited when we begin to have conversations about what it means to be indigenous in the city and why that should matter in our respective classrooms and other learning communities.

Statistics remind us that Aboriginal children are five times more likely to be in trouble with the law and they are twice as likely to live below the poverty line. Wab reminds us that too many children are out of school, in trouble, and without the resources to bring them along the path less travelled.  Hanging onto students long enough to see them cross the stage with a graduation diploma or school-leaving certificate depends on a number of factors, which educators intuitively know and understand.  We also know what research confirms and it is this: It takes one meaningful relationship to make a difference in helping a student stick with school long enough to transition to the next phase whether it is post secondary school, trade school, or something else.

Early in my career, a brilliant principal asked his staff to look around our classes to see which student(s) appeared to be disconnected and to discreetly find ways to connect with those students. He encouraged us to share this with colleagues who taught the same student.  The goal that our school embraced was to ensure that each kid felt that she or he belonged at CSSS in some way.  Dr. Martin Brokenleg’s circle of courage led us there and it changed the culture of the school – a school where 10% of the population was Aboriginal.  By looking at our students with a different lens, we discovered students who would otherwise remain at the margins of classrooms and learning.

As educators we can help to kindle the 8th fire by helping to break down stereotypes about Aboriginal people and by paying close attention to each of the four parts of this important series. Please check out what the CBC series 8th Fire has ignited in the minds and hearts of its viewers.

A 500 year old relationship … coming out of conflict, colonialism and denial.

“We’re kind of invisible almost” 

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