The Aspect Of Identity: Aboriginal Education

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Leanne Simpson’s poem: How to Steal a Canoe is a short tale story conveyed in a poem about rescuing a canoe from a museum, the goal is to return the canoe to the lake where it was meant to be. The overall message that is being perceived, is the idea of stealing back the precious parts of the indigenous history which has always been theirs such as the education system which has been heavily colonized after the Europeans moved with the rhythm and flow of nature. Indigenization is a process of introducing Indigenous knowledge to transform spaces, places, and hearts. In the context of education, this means bringing Indigenous knowledge and approaches together with western knowledge systems. Aboriginal people had a spiritual connection with mother earth, therefore they had an innate sense of knowing how, when, where, and why their lives were so spiritually connected. The children were cared for, loved, cherished, and regarded as a gift from the creator. The aboriginal family approach was not an individualistic view it was viewed as a group effort, in which the whole community took part in raising a child. This group effort was damaged significantly by the European assimilating strategies called residential schools. Daniel Heath Justice, author of Why Indigenous Literature Matters argues that Indigenous writers must question in part to challenge settler-colonial policies and practices that have targeted Indigenous connections to land, history, family, and self. More importantly, Indigenous writers imaginatively engage the many ways that communities and individuals have sought to nurture these relationships and project them into the future.

In the past Aboriginal people had social organizations, which were divided into categories from child, parent, grandparent, to great-great-grandparents. Each of these categories had a role and responsibility to one another. It consisted of a hierarchical system of societies where they taught valuable life teachings to Aboriginal people. Ceremonies, prayers, and songs were part of these societies and were very important for preserving cultural ways and sustaining a sense of identity for generations to come. “Akiwenzii takes the sage over to the security guard and teaches him how to smudge over the canoe bodies.”(Leanne Simpson) The importance of this quote is to show the distinct difference in maintaining/raising something between the Europeans and indigenous people. Akiwenzii performs this act to teach the security guard these differences. From a psychological perspective, the parenting style taught in the traditional Aboriginal communities in the past is an example of an authoritative parent; consistent guidance, combined with love and affection. Most of the teachings stopped when the missionary schools were built. Children were sent to these schools and later alcohol was introduced to the people, resulting in the loss of cultural teachings, which should have been taught at an early age but were halted due to residential schools. The residential school environment was harsh for a child because of physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual abuse. According to several psychologists, “The environment in which a child grows up can have a powerful impact on development.” The residential experience had a lasting effect on the children and many suffer from lifelong emotional problems. Residential schools seldom gave children a secure sense of connection with caring people. It instilled in the aboriginal children that they are worthless, unloved, and unwanted by abusing them whenever they showed emotions or spoke their language.

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The socialization of children through education shapes all aspects of identity and it is this reason that Aboriginals today are fighting to regain control over the education of their children. Leanne Simpson’s poem How To Steal a Canoe serves as a tool to empower and guide indigenous people to pursue what is righteously theirs; this is shown through the quote “Kwe takes her off the rack, and onto her shoulders… She pulls her out to the middle of the lake sinks her with seven stones”. The seven stones can represent the seven sacred teachings which are love, respect, courage, honesty, wisdom, humility, and truth. These virtues have been slightly lost due to the effects of residential schools and colonial tactics to erase the indigenous identity. Residential Schools can be compared to a total institution where Aboriginal children were introduced to fear, lost their autonomy, and were controlled by the priests and nuns completely. This type of teaching is a form of an authoritarian parent skill, where an authority figure enforces rigid rules and demands strict obedience to authority. Children with this form of parenting skills tend to be emotionally stiff, withdrawn, apprehensive, and self-controlled. They also have a higher rate of violence and drug abuse. This can be seen today with some residential school survivors who were traumatized and feel ashamed to share their experiences. The key to the future of any society lies in the transmission of its culture which is vital for the survival of all aboriginal people. The testimony of a residential survivor, Duane Niatum, stated in a poem called Street Kid, his experience of the horror of being institutionalized, “Holding to the earth and its shield of silence…between the bars…the meadowlark warbling at the end of the fence…set me apart from the rest of the boys…into the darkness reach my soul building a nest against the wall.” This poem demonstrates how Duane sought out solitude to be the only way to survive within the institution. He makes a comparison between himself and the meadowlark to symbolize how he felt alone, fearful, and nervous. Assimilation and residential schools have affected Aboriginal social lifestyle and pulled them away from a strong family foundation, which caused Aboriginals to feel a loss of identity. Aboriginals tend to lose credibility through a “single story”. In Adichie’s Ted talk she summarizes the pondering thought of a “single story”. She explains the great risk of a “single story” because of the dangers associated with knowing only one story. The single story makes stereotypes, and the issue with stereotypes isn’t that they are false but yet there are always more stories than the first one, It’s important to know the other stories rather than the single story.

Sharing circles, group therapy sessions, or one-on-one counseling are some of the forms of treatment used to help reverse bad habits or to help relearn new habits for a healthy lifestyle in the person seeking help. When helping clients to create better parenting skills, it is important to establish a support system for the client and referrals to appropriate agencies of help: such as classes, seminars, group therapy, and many more. The most important aspect of parenting is a commitment to teaching, respect, and proper guidance. It is always good to note that nobody is the same and each person has different parenting skills which are unique according to each parent. Aboriginal parenting should be to provide a good solid foundation for the well-being of the children. The Aboriginal healing journey begins with the testimonies of residential school survivors and this is established once the client comes to an awareness of their life; either through the eyes of others or their own eyes and wanting the help. Another part of the healing journey is moving forward and taking control of their lives by getting an education. Aboriginals have a long history of resilience because they survived the subjugation of the Europeans who only wanted to control and conquer for economic gain.

In conclusion, Aboriginal people face many issues today but the one important component that they lost from residential schools is the parenting skills, “extra care can sometimes reverse the effects of a poor start.” I think this can be done by gaining back total control of Aboriginal education and creating a facility specifically to help families heal from the effects of residential schools; such as a community mental health center, which provides consultation, counseling, and crisis intervention. Taking back control of Aboriginal life endeavors will empower the people by implementing cultural aspects to the environment, teaching traditional beliefs, and examining positive Aboriginal parenting skills by utilizing elder’s in the community. The Elders will then teach important cultural components to the children for the survival of the culture. And to overcome the intergenerational trauma of residential experiences. The fundamental and sacred responsibility of the Aboriginal education children rightfully belongs to Aboriginal people, because they alone know what is best for their children. 

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