Aboriginal Inquiry: Lifting All Learners

An Impact Assessment of the Aboriginal Enhancement Schools Network (AESN)

7.4.1 Case 1

Because AESN inquiries are based in teacher interest they are necessarily context specific and are framed in such a way as to reflect the particular circumstances in which educators find themselves. For example, a small school located in north-central British Columbia based their inquiry on whether working with their local Aboriginal community would improve relationships between the community and the school. In this particular instance the inquiry revolved around building Aboriginal cultural awareness and understanding amongst the largely non-Aboriginal student population, however, it evolved beyond a simple cultural “add on” approach, and instead wove in Aboriginals’ relationship to and stewardship of the land through student involvement in local ecological sustainability projects. Pre-test surveys revealed a high level of student ignorance about Aboriginal peoples and their experiences, yet as their immersion in the local Indigenous context and Aboriginal culture deepened, students understanding, awareness, and appreciation of historical and contemporary Aboriginal ways of knowing and being saw a concomitant shift. A related part of the project created the opportunity to have a local Elder come into the school twice a week to read Stoney Creek Woman (by Bridget Moran and Mary John) to students who were then required to work on projects that showed what they had learned.

The scope of these projects showed a distinct understanding of Aboriginal experience that extended beyond simply “bannock and beads”: students addressed topics such as discrimination, residential schools and traditional versus modern ways of Aboriginal life. The projects culminated in student presentations to local guests, including the Elder who had read the novel to them and her extended family. This form of showcasing learning mimics the AES Network requirements where the results of inquiry is not kept to oneself, but shared in order to move forward the learning of others.

The results of their post test revealed substantive changes in student understanding of Aboriginal ways of knowing and being: “We did see lots of kids change their awareness, it’s not what you see on TV, it’s not Clint Eastwood, these are things people do now. Fishing, smoking, scraping a hide. They ice fish. They still do that. A chance to see that and be a part of it, it opened their eyes. It was an awakening for a lot of them.”