Mokasige: Redeploying a Colonial Institution to Reaffirm and Revitalize Algonquin Culture

By MacLellan, Frances | Canadian Journal of Native Education, January 1, 2013 | Go to article overview

Mokasige: Redeploying a Colonial Institution to Reaffirm and Revitalize Algonquin Culture


MacLellan, Frances, Canadian Journal of Native Education


Historically, Canada's educational policy for Indigenous populations has focused on assimilation, which has had a negative effect on Indigenous cultures and peoples. Today, high school graduation rates for Aboriginals are less than half of the Canadian average (Assembly of First Nations, 2011). Through an examination of existing literature and an ethnography of Kitigan Zibi Kikinamadinan, a modern Native school, I examine the possibilities for the future of Native education. The Indian Control of Indian Education (ICIE) document, released 40 years ago, argued that culturally sensitive education that connects Native students to their heritage can help build feelings of positive self-esteem and identity, giving them the confidence to succeed in life, both within and outside their communities. In turn, this helps combat issues of poverty and culture loss among Natives. This process is exemplified at Kitigan Zibi Kikinamadinan, which has graduation rates on par with Canadian averages. The process is a role model for other Native communities who wish to implement the education system set out by ICIE and redeploy this once-colonial institution to better serve their peoples.

Introduction

Over 40 years ago, the National Indian Brotherhood, later renamed the Assembly of First Nations, released a document entitled Indian Control of Indian Education (1972). It called for an end to assimilative education administered by the government to be replaced by education that would "develop the fundamental attitudes and values which have an honoured place in Indian tradition and culture" (National Indian Brotherhood, 1972, p. 2). What has been the outcome of this declaration? Can education be reclaimed to revitalize Indigenous culture while simultaneously allowing its students equal access to mainstream society? To address these questions, this paper presents the case of Kitigan Zibi Kikinamadinan1.

The schooling of Indigenous populations in Canada has, historically, been problematic and there remains "a major gap between Aboriginals and non-Aboriginals in every level of educational attainment" (Frideres & Gadacz, 2005, p. 118). The Canadian government's initial policy toward Aboriginal students was to force assimilation through the use of residential schools. This policy, along with other methods of colonization and assimilation, has left a legacy of social problems within the Aboriginal population, including poor health, low life expectancy, and inadequate housing, as well as high rates of poverty, unemployment, addiction, and suicide (Steckley & Cummins, 2001). Education is largely touted as key to solving social issues such as these, but in the context of First Nations education, it paradoxically has created even more problems (HookimawWitt, 1998). Indian Control of Indian Education and other publications, however, have suggested that by regaining control of education, First Nations may introduce Indigenous elements into various educational processes, thereby reaffirming and revitalizing their culture (Ball, 2004; Battiste, 2002; Leavitt, 1995; Steckley & Cummins, 2001). This paper explores one community's efforts to reposition an explicitly colonial institution to revitalize its culture under the constraint of provincial curriculum. After the paper is theoretically positioned and relevant terms are defined, the community and my research method will be briefly discussed. The past and present of Aboriginal education will then be reviewed, followed by a detailed description of the school in question. The reflections of community members will be shared, which span six main themes relating to the school. These themes are: (1) cultural education; (2) comparison with provincial schools; (3) racism and culture; (4) giving back to the community; (5) self-determination; and (6) expansion of activity. Finally, the paper will conclude by referring back to Indian Control of Indian Education.

It has been argued that for Native education to improve, one must consider the post-colonial context of Canada (Battiste, 2002). …

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