Working with Aboriginal Students
A guide to begin the process of respectful and honest dialogue
By Doug Dokis
From Communiqué, Volume 4, Number 1
I would like to take this opportunity to introduce myself to the CACUSS community. My name is Doug Dokis and I am the Program Advisor/Instructor for Aboriginal Education at Mount Royal College in Calgary.
On behalf of my colleagues from NASSA (National Aboriginal Student Service Association), I would like to thank all those who gave their support to the petition for NASSA to become a Division of CACUSS. In an effort to better support Aboriginal students within post-secondary institutions, NASSA will continue to move forward with the development and implementation of collaborative and inclusive services within CACUSS. Our goal is to build upon and increase the services that will continue to improve the success of Aboriginal students. With this in mind, the NASSA members at each of our respective institutions welcome your participation in the sharing of strategies, and information to achieve this goal.
With over 600 First Nations communities across Canada, one should not assume a “one way fits all” approach to working with Aboriginal students.
Aboriginal people are a very diverse society with many different linguistic groups, and cultural practices. The foundation of Aboriginal society is based on five basic principles of life. Although ceremonies and protocols may vary from one region to the next, or even within a given community, the qualities that make up a good human being can be demonstrated through kindness, caring, sharing, honesty and respect.
The following list of suggestions for working with Aboriginal students is by no means a template to success. However, it may serve as a guide to begin the process of respectful and honest dialogue between service providers and Aboriginal people:
- Understand the term “Aboriginal” includes all peoples indigenous to North America.
- Present Aboriginal People as appropriate role models to children.
- Aboriginal students should not be singled out and asked to describe their families’ traditions or their peoples’ culture.
- Avoid the assumption there are no Aboriginal students in your class. Research the traditions and histories, oral and written, of Aboriginal peoples before attempting to teach these.
- Present Aboriginal peoples as having unique, separate and distinct cultures, languages, beliefs, traditions and customs.
- Use books and materials which are written and illustrated by Aboriginal people as primary source material: speeches, songs, poems, and writings, which show the linguistic skill of people who have come from an oral tradition.
- Depict Aboriginal peoples, past and present, as heroes who are defending their people, rights, and lands.
- Avoid manipulative phrases and wording such as “massacre”, “victory” which distort facts and history.
- Teach Aboriginal History as a regular part of North American History and discuss what went wrong or right.
- Avoid materials and texts which illustrate Aboriginal heroes as only those who helped Europeans and Euro-Canadians. i.e. Thanksgiving.
- Use materials and texts which outline the continuity of Aboriginal societies from past to present.
- Use materials that show respect and understanding to the sophistication and complexities of Aboriginal societies. Understand and impart that the spiritual beliefs of Aboriginal peoples are integral to the structure of our societies and are not “superstitions” or “heathen.”
- Invite Aboriginal guest speakers/presenters to your class. Offer an honorarium or gift to those who visit your institution.
- Honor and respect the wisdom of the elders, as you would respect the accomplishments of a person with a Ph.D.
- Avoid the assumption that an Aboriginal person knows everything about all Aboriginal peoples.
- Most of all, teach about Aboriginal people in a manner that you would like used to depict your culture and racial/ethnic origin.