Understanding Indigenous Perspectives

There are four main learning periods that exist when talking about Indigenous education: Pre-contact Learning, Early Contact Changes, Colonial Education, and the Contemporary Learning period. The way Indigenous learning was described and defined during each of these periods directly correlates with what was happening around the country at the same time.

In the beginning, Indigenous children were fully educated in Indigenous tradition. It was a communal, land based, and experiential way of learning. Basically, in the pre-contact learning period, teachers taught Indigenous students Indigenous content and this is how practices and knowledge were passed down from generation to generation.  As times shifted into the Early Contact Changes period, the way Indigenous education was defined shifted to more of an ‘equal exchange’ of knowledge, medicine, lodging, foods, etc. Non-Native learners were learning Native content from Native teachers and Native people were learning non-Native content from non-native teachers. In simpler terms, Natives and non-Natives were exchanging knowledge and were learning from each other. This sharing of information then lead to the rise of Residential schools during the Colonial time period and once again the definition of Indigenous education changed. Indigenous learners were forced to attend schools where they would be taught non-Native content by non-Native educators and this is when the First Nations culture began to get lost. Children from the age of 6-16 years old were mandatorily required to attend Residential school and were deprived of the opportunity to earn about their cultural ways and traditions. The Residential schools began to close down in the 1950-60’s and the last school shut down in 1996. This started the contemporary period. This period is about Indigenous students learning Indigenous content from Indigenous teachers. It is about forging new relationships and moving on from the ugly past. This period has lead to band control over reserve education as well as local jurisdiction over education given to Indigenous people in Nova Scotia and British Columbia.

It is incredible to see how Indigenous education has been defined over the course of history and it is interesting to look at how these changes line up with the changes occurring across the country at the same time.  This progression through the four periods has resulted in a much greater understanding of Indigenous education in my opinion and I think the changes being made in the current contemporary period are changes that are being made in the right direction.

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