Learning About Walking in Beauty: Placing Aboriginal Perspectives in Canadian Classrooms comes from the Coalition for the Advancement of Aboriginal Studies (CAAS) with funding support from the Canadian Race Relations Foundation (CRRF). Walking in Beauty is a term that speaks of conducting oneself in harmony with all of the living world, and is respectfully borrowed from the Navajo People.
For generations, Aboriginal stakeholders have been calling for improvements to school curricula. Learning About Walking in Beauty is ground breaking because it demonstrates that Canadians also want curricula to present Aboriginal histories and cultures honestly and respectfully. Broad inclusion of Aboriginal perspectives in school curricula will increase students' awareness about this land, our interwoven histories and current issues in the relationship facing all Peoples who live in Turtle Island, now known as Canada.
The information in this report is presented using the Learning Circle, a pedagogical framework developed by CAAS based on the traditional Medicine Wheel. A valued intellectual tool among Indigenous Peoples, the Circle is a fluid and flexible model for acquiring knowledge and understanding. The Circle intrinsically has no hard and fixed points, and everything within the Circle is connected.
Pedagogically, this section covers content such as language, cultural elements, traditional spirituality and customs, relationships with other parts of the natural world, and responsibilities of individuals, families, clans, nations, and confederacies. In this section of the report, through its historical and social analyses, Learning About Walking in Beauty addresses Aboriginal perspectives on history, traditional education and the importance of changing what is taught in Canadian schools about Aboriginal Peoples.
CAAS stresses the importance of treaties, identifying the compromises and the thinking behind them from the Aboriginal perspective. School curricula must examine what happened after treaties were signed - or not signed, as the case may be. In various parts of the country this means an honest examination of land theft, broken promises, lies, exploitation of resources on treaty and unceded territories, as well as the policies of forced assimilation such as The Indian Act and those underlying the Residential Schools system. This approach promotes analysis of the diverse impacts of colonization, and rejects the "victim" representation of Aboriginal Peoples.
There is no single Aboriginal perspective, history or culture just as there is no one history or culture among European Peoples. Conventional Canadian social studies and history curricula have taken up some aspects of Indigenous identity and culture, but have mixed and matched cultures to create the hybrid "Classroom Indian". He wears a Plains Chief headdress, stands next to a Totem Pole and Tipi, and wears snowshoes. Behind him may be an Igloo. The stereotypical images of Indigenous women, when presented, are equally one-dimensional, and the coding does not resemble their roles and responsibilities within Aboriginal cultures.
I was barely taught ANYTHING regarding Aboriginal Peoples in school... I am absolutely clueless with regard to these issues. I am uneducated on these matters and as such feel ill equipped to even have an opinion much less come to an understanding. [Ontario respondent/Canadian]
At this point on the Learning Circle prepares the student to take up her or his adult civic responsibilities. Young Canadians must understand that Aboriginal Peoples are engaged in efforts to remove the damaging structures resulting from colonization. This information will help explain media reports regarding political disputes. Increased awareness will generate critical analysis towards collective responsibility on the part of Canadians to engage with First Peoples on constructive problem-solving.
The CAAS review of past and current mandatory Canadian curricula found that Aboriginal Peoples continue to be marginalized. At the secondary level in particular, Aboriginal or Native Studies courses are optional. While many of these curricula are of high quality, the vast majority of students remain inadequately informed about Aboriginal perspectives. A path is laid for moving away from the "Bad Old Curriculum" and its Pedagogy of Oppression, towards implementing a new pedagogy in which respect and honesty are the founding principles.
Aboriginal Studies is not an altruistic pursuit. A pedagogy infused with Aboriginal perspectives will help all students build both a knowledge base and the critical analysis skills relevant to contemporary regional, national and international affairs. Further, newcomer and settler Canadians can gain a great deal from learning about Aboriginal Peoples and Indigenous perspectives, which take into account the emotional, physical, cultural, spiritual, and mental elements of who we are as both distinct and interconnected Peoples.
Through their voices in this report, young Canadians are providing further momentum for change, telling us all that they must be able to make informed decisions about major issues facing Canadian and Aboriginal Peoples.
Education partners are called to publicly indicate their support to bring about solutions identified in Learning About Walking in Beauty. CAAS calls for:
More analysis, policy development and redirection of resources are required in other areas. The federal government, together with charitable foundations and other civic society institutions as well as education partners, must turn their attention to tasks such as:
The analysis, views and opinions expressed in this publication are those of the researchers and may not necessarily reflect the views of the Canadian Race Relations Foundation.
National Library of Canada Cataloguing in Publication
Learning about Walking in beauty : placing aboriginal perspectives in Canadian classrooms : a report from the Coalition for the advancement of Aboriginal Studies (CAAS) presented to the Canadian Race Relations Foundation (CRRF).
Includes bibliographical references.
1. Native peoples--Study and teaching (Elementary).
2. Native peoples--Study and teaching (Secondary).
3. Education, Elementary--Canada--Curricula.
4. Education, Secondary--Canada--Curricula.
I. Coalition for the Advancement of Aboriginal Studies
II. Canadian Race Relations Foundation
E76.6.L43 2002 971'.00497'0071071