Learn­ing through an In­dige­nous lens

Build­ing equal­ity via ed­u­ca­tion in N.L.


As a child on the west coast of New­found­land, Kris­ten Pittman grew up hear­ing fam­ily sto­ries of her great-great-grand­fa­ther John Stevens. Stevens, a Mi’kmaq guide, worked with JP How­ley (noted ge­ol­o­gist, cu­ra­tor, au­thor) sur­vey­ing the colony as part of the Ge­o­log­i­cal Sur­vey of Canada.

“I grew up know­ing I was Mi’kmaq, and I was very, very proud,” says Pittman, who was born in Toronto and raised in Cor­ner Brook. “I was very lucky to have grown up in a fam­ily im­mersed in Mi’kmaq cul­ture and be­liefs. Quite lucky, be­cause that was lost in a lot of fam­i­lies around New­found­land.”

Those rich, childhood ex­pe­ri­ences helped fire Pittman’s pas­sions for Mi’kmaq and First Na­tions cul­ture, and cre­ate a de­sire to help oth­ers in her band reach their full po­ten­tial. Some­thing Pittman now gets to do ev­ery day as Team Lead - Ed­u­ca­tion & Train­ing with Qalipu First Na­tion. And it’s through this role, and a mon­u­men­tal new part­ner­ship be­tween Qalipu and the provin­cial govern­ment, that Pittman has the op­por­tu­nity to help in­di­g­e­nize New­found­land and Labrador’s cur­ricu­lum, im­pact­ing stu­dents across the prov­ince.

“We’re a bit unique with Qalipu First Na­tion be­cause we’re land­less,” says Pittman. “So, in or­der to change or al­ter the cur­ricu­lum for any of our mem­bers, we need to have th­ese part­ner­ships.”

Es­tab­lished in 2011 un­der the In­dian Act, Qalipu First Na­tion is unique in that it’s a Na­tion with­out re­serve land that boasts a mem­ber­ship that hov­ers around 22,000, spread across 67 tra­di­tional New­found­land Mi’kmaq com­mu­ni­ties, mak­ing it one of the largest First Na­tion groups in the country.

When the prov­ince re­leased an ed­u­ca­tion ac­tion plan in June 2018 iden­ti­fy­ing iden­tify in­dige­nous ed­u­ca­tion and the en­hance­ment and un­der­stand­ing of in­dige­nous knowl­edge, his­tory, cul­ture, prac­tices, and ex­pe­ri­ences as one of nine ar­eas of fo­cus, the part­ner­ship seemed an ob­vi­ous fit. Now, deep in the ini­tial stage of the project, Pittman, her team, and their part­ners are pre­par­ing for the big job ahead.

“Our main fo­cus, if we’re go­ing to do this, we want to do this right,” she says. “Be­cause not of­ten do we get the op­por­tu­nity to change the cur­ricu­lum prov­ince-wide. We don’t take that op­por­tu­nity lightly.”

Pittman notes the im­por­tance of build­ing iden­tity, for young peo­ple, es­pe­cially in­dige­nous youth, to their fu­ture suc­cess.

“You know, when we go into the schools, we do see a loss of iden­tity. A loss that has hap­pened through­out gen­er­a­tions in the prov­ince,” she says. “Iden­tity is re­ally es­sen­tial, es­pe­cially with youth try­ing to fig­ure out who they are and where they fit. And hav­ing that an­chor to their com­mu­nity, their cul­ture is re­ally ben­e­fi­cial to self-worth.”

But the changes, when they come, will be ben­e­fi­cial

for stu­dents from all back­grounds by help­ing cre­ate a bet­ter un­der­stand­ing be­tween In­dige­nous and set­tler com­mu­ni­ties.

“To get that In­dige­nous lens strongly on our cur­ricu­lum, so stu­dents grow up ei­ther know­ing their own iden­tity or know­ing and ap­pre­ci­at­ing the iden­tity of oth­ers in their prov­ince and their class­room,” Pittman says.

The project also aims to fix ex­ist­ing his­tor­i­cal in­ac­cu­ra­cies.

“There’s been a lot of mis­in­for­ma­tion in text­books,” Pittman says. “We see that all the time, when in the schools. So we want to have it (the cu­uricu­lum) his­tor­i­cally cor­rect.”

As a mom to a four-yearold girl raised with pride in her Mi’kmaq cul­ture, Pittman’s in­ter­est in decolonizi­ng the ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem hits even closer to home.

“I want her to go to a school where she is rep­re­sented in the text­books and les­sons,” she says. “I don’t want her to feel like she’s an anom­aly. I want her to re­al­ize she is not alone and to have a sense of iden­tity and com­mu­nity within her school.”

Robyn Mcneil is all about her kid, her cat, her peo­ple, good sto­ries, strong tea, yoga, ham­mocks, and hoppy beer.


Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.