The Way of the Warrior: Indigenous Youth Navigating the Challenges of Schooling

Article excerpt

Abstract

This study examines the educational experiences of 39 First Nations youth, ages 16-20 years, from two, First Nations, on-reserve, communities in northern Ontario, who share their reflections and experiences of reserve and public schooling. We drew on the Indigenous metaphor of the "new warrior" to analyze how these youth experienced and responded to educational challenges. Their conversations describe how racism framed their schooling experiences and how they made use of their Indigenous sources of strength, which included family and community structures, to address the inequalities in their schooling.

Key words: First Nations youth, racism, Indigenous knowledge, family and community, Ontario education, northern education

Resume

Cet article porte sur les experiences scolaires de 29 jeunes autochtones. Ages de 16 g 19 ans et provenant de deux reserves du nord de l'Ontario, ces jeunes ont partage leurs reflexions sur l'ecole a l'interieur et a l'exterieur de la reserve. Les auteures se sont appuyees sur la metaphore autochtone du << nouveau guerrier >> pour analyser comment ils ont reagi aux defis auxquels l'ecole les confrontait. Dans leurs propos, ces jeunes decrivent comment le racisme a defini leurs experiences scolaires et comment ils ont puise leur force dans des ressources autochtones, comme la famille et la communaute, pour faire face aux inegalites qui etaient leur lot a l'ecole.

Mots cles: jeunes autochtones, racisme, savoir autochtone, famille et communaute, education en Ontario, education dans le Nord

Introduction

Although educational opportunities have been increasing for Indigenous youth in recent years, a significant disparity continues to occur in academic achievement and attainment between Indigenous youth and their non-Indigenous counterparts in countries like Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and the United States. For example, in Canada, the proportion of Aboriginal youth, ages 15 and over, who do not complete high school is 40 per cent, compared with 13 per cent for non-Aboriginal young adults (Statistics Canada, 2006). The trend is similar in the United States, where Trujillo and Alston (2005), describing the status of Native Indian and Alaskan Natives in education, report that the academic outcomes for Native Indian and Alaskan Native youth are significantly lower than European Americans. Attributing to their marginal success, Indigenous youth confront racism on a regular basis in their school encounters with peers and teachers (Schissel & Wotherspoon, 2003; St. Denis & Hampton, 2002). Further, they struggle to find relevance in mainstream curriculum and pedagogies that largely ignore Indigenous histories, worldviews, and perspectives.

Too often, Indigenous youth and their families are blamed for their failure to achieve in schools. This belief is rooted in deficit theories used to explain the school failure of students from low-income minority families that continues to be reproduced with disadvantage students from diverse linguistic and cultural communities. Yet, Indigenous families and communities have maintained that continuity and transmission of Indigenous knowledge is the foundation for learning for their children. Indigenous knowledge systems, which encompass the local and specific knowledge of their people, emerging out of their languages, values, beliefs, and practices (Barnhardt & Kawagley, 2005; Battiste, 2005), affirm Indigenous identity and are the basis of Indigenous peoples' cultural integrity. Indigenous knowledge includes processes that are intergenerational, land based, tied to narrative and experiential, ensuring continuity of knowledge across the generations. Indigenous knowledge is concerned with issues of power, place, and relationships (Villegas, Neugebauer, & Venegas, 2008), and as such holds promise for youth to reach within themselves and their communities for sources of strength to navigate particular challenges they face in mainstream schooling. …

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