Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Education

What Do First-Year University Students in Ontario, Canada, Know about First Nations, Metis, and Inuit Peoples and Topics?

Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Education

What Do First-Year University Students in Ontario, Canada, Know about First Nations, Metis, and Inuit Peoples and Topics?

Article excerpt

Introduction

This article shares the results of the Ontario Student Awareness Questionnaire, part of a project that investigates how post-secondary students in provinces across Canada have learned to think about colonialism and its relationship to First Nations, Metis, and Inuit peoples and Canadian society. Disseminated online to 42,916 first-year students at 10 Ontario universities (1) in the fall of 2014, the questionnaire sought to engage students in learning better about Indigenous peoples and topics and to explore barriers to that learning. Following Linda Tuhiwai Smith's observation that "real power lies with those who design the tools," the questionnaire includes a multiple-choice knowledge test co-designed with over 200 First Nations, Metis, and Inuit educators and community members across Ontario, as well as questions on where students learned what they know, their social attitudes, and demographics (Smith, 1999, p. 38; Ermine, 2007). The knowledge test and associated questionnaire reflect what First Nations, Metis, and Inuit people associated with Ontario universities believe all residents of Ontario and Canada, especially university-level students, should know to be able to act responsibly as treaty partners and fellow citizens and neighbours.

In Canada, many Indigenous leaders and activists, as well as decolonial and anti-racist scholars, attest that the principal barrier to decolonization is ignorance. Ignorance of the structural injustices at play in land claims and land use negotiations, resource extraction, governance and jurisdiction, identity definition, health, education, child welfare, and justice systems all work to uphold and retrench inequities faced by Indigenous people/s (Coulthard, 2007; Dion, 2009; Environics Institute, 2016; Maddison, Clark, & de Costa, 2016; Regan, 2010; Truth and Reconciliation Commission, 2015). Ignorance in this sense is not a mere absence of knowledge, to be alleviated through the acquisition of new facts. Rather, it is systemic and foundational to structural methods of not knowing that are deeply linked to power and hierarchy (Calderon, 2011; May, 2006; Medina, 2013; Steyn, 2012; Sullivan & Tuana, 2007). Such methods of not knowing are embedded in and cultivated through social institutions including the media, the justice system, and especially education, through what is taught and what is omitted from curricula and textbooks (Apple & Christian-Smith, 1991; Calderon, 2014; Kaomea, 2000; Rose, 2007; Tuck & Gaztambide-Fernandez, 2013), through how content is taught (Battiste, 2013; Cannon, 2012; Donald, 2012), and through the mindsets of teachers and teacher educators (Dion, 2007; Higgins, Madden, & Korteweg, 2015; Waldorf, 2014). As many decolonial scholars demonstrate, education in Canada has long played a central role in cultivating modes of rationalization that work to legitimize racism and Indigenous assimilation (Battiste, 2013; Cannon & Sunseri, 2011; Cote-Meek, 2014; Schick & St. Denis, 2005; St. Denis, 2009; Vincent & Arcand, 1979). Consequently, as the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) emphasized in its 2015 final report, ministries of education, schools, colleges, and universities bear particular responsibility to foster in Canadian classrooms the critical historical consciousness and mutual respect upon which nation-to- nation relationships are built (TRC, 2015; see also Dion, 2007; Tupper & Capello, 2008; Tupper, 2013, 2014). The work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission has prompted educational institutions across Canada to enhance their efforts to identify and confront the systemic prejudice embedded in course content, funding priorities, administrative decision making, and the priorities of teachers, teacher educators, faculty and staff (Cote-Meek, 2017; Favel & Stoicheff, 2015; Macdonald, 2016; Trimbee & Kinew, 2015). Yet, as the quantitative results reported here suggest, many Ontario students lack even the most basic understanding of colonialism and Indigenous presence identified by Indigenous educators and community members as necessary for cultivating the ethical relationality central to decolonization (Ermine, 2007; Donald, 2012). …

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