Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Education

Coalescing in Cohorts: Building Coalitions in First Nations Education

Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Education

Coalescing in Cohorts: Building Coalitions in First Nations Education

Article excerpt

Cohorts are commonly formed in Indigenous undergraduate and graduate education programs. In this article, I have examined the notion of coalition building in the context of First Nations graduate cohorts. I interviewed women from a range of cohort experiences, asking--Is intra-group and inter-group coalition building a priority within cohorts? From these interviews, I conclude that cohorts ought to be sites for intra-group coalition work among First Nations students, and that the cohort experience should prepare students for inter-group encounters as well.

Key words: intra-group dynamics, inter-group dynamics, cross-cultural communication

La formation de cohortes est une chose courante dans les programmes d'education de premier et de deuxieme cycles s'adressant aux autochtones. Dans cet article, l'auteure examine la notion de coalition dans le contexte des cohortes de diplomes autochtones. Des entrevues effectuees aupres de femmes de diverses cohortes au sujet de leurs experiences au sein de cohortes et dans des contextes interculturels ont fait emerger une nouvelle question : la mise sur pied de coalitions intragroupe ou intergroupes estelle une priorite au sein des cohortes? L'auteure conclut que les cohortes devraient etre des lieux favorisant le travail de coalition intragroupe chez les etudiants autochtones et que l'experience de la cohorte devrait aussi preparer les etudiants a des rencontres avec d'autres groupes.

Mots cles: dynamique intragroupe, dynamique intergroupes, communication interculturelle


In his essay, "What Is It About Us That You Don't Like?" Thomas King (2003) begins a story about Coyote and the Ducks with Coyote noticing a group of ducks swimming in a river. It was his daily ritual to come down to the bank to admire his beautiful fur coat, which was reflected in the river. He observed the ducks' lovely, long, well-tended, glowing feathers. Coyote noted how they sang and danced, and swam around in circles. The Ducks explained to Coyote that they danced to achieve peace and harmony and their singing was to keep all in balance. Swimming in circles, they explained, served to remind everyone of their relationship to the earth. It quickly became apparent that Coyote's objective, when he asked for one feather and then returned for more, was to meet his own selfish needs and desires without concern for how he was bilking the ducks in the process.

King uses this story as a springboard to provide readers with his overview of how federal policies in the United States and Canada have served and continue to serve both to relieve Native people from land and to legalize Native people out of existence. It is a convincing story. He takes up the issue of Indian identity, noting how, in Canada, the Indian Act (1) has paternalistically defined who is an Indian and who is not, suggesting that amendments within the act have the power to "make Indians disappear in a twinkle" (p. 132). As King points out, the outcome of identity legislation has not solely been to remove all traces of Indians from the North American landscape; it has been to pit Native against Native. The creation of legal categories has, he argues, speaking from the perspective of a Native person, made us our own enemy. The messiness of issues of Indian identity is pervasive in King's essays, the source of which may be tied to identity legislation where questions such as "Who is an Indian?" have become "Whom will we allow to be an Indian?" King's views on this topic, I suggest, serve as well to illuminate solipsistic stances about what indigenous knowledge is, what constitutes an Indigenous ontology, and accordingly, what it is to be an Indian. I support King's argument that there are many ways to be Indigenous and suggest that to be Indigenous may be partially underpinned with the messages relayed by the ducks in King's story.

King alludes as well to what he terms "the uninformed public" who resent what they consider to be gifts paid to Native people. …

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