Aboriginal Inquiry: Lifting All Learners

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

7.4.3 Case 3

A Vancouver Island middle school infused Aboriginal inquiry into their grade 7 programming. At the heart of the inquiry was raising awareness and understanding of Aboriginal ways of knowing. All grade 7s took a six-week exploratory course designed to expose students to the “big stories” – an overview of Aboriginal peoples in British Columbia and Canada. In the four years the program has been offered, approximately 700 students have taken the exploratory course. Its mandatory nature makes it a unique feature of the educational landscape and it was partly this feature that led a neighbouring school district to seek permission to borrow this approach (having heard about it at a regional Network presentation). The neighbouring district has a significant on-reserve Aboriginal population and suffered some struggles with racism in their schools between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal students. This district has now implemented the course in all of its schools and have extended the model to include Elders and Aboriginal language instructors working with students to help raise awareness and understanding of Aboriginal ways of knowing and to start to eradicate some of the systemic racism apparent in their school district.

The programs described above have helped shift the conception of Aboriginal students and peoples as “deficit” towards a more positive perception. As this AESN member noted:

“The inquiry process lends itself to learning. At times working with Aboriginal kids in the school and district, we often get to the specifics, like ‘why doesn’t Jimmy get to class?’ Sometimes you can’t seem to pull yourself out of the detail, can we focus instead on the positive – ‘what can we do so Jimmy will come?” This viewpoint is echoed by another AESN member: “The deficit approach is often the approach taken by teachers and districts in working with Aboriginal kids, populations. The AESN (inquiry) is a strength based approach, ‘how do we get better, will this help our kids? It’s about moving all of our students, not just picking on Aboriginal students. The level I work at, you are always working with a problem…this is more about making things better, that’s why I latched onto it. School learning, system learning, kids learning…”