Assessing and Addressing the Awareness of Aboriginal Peoples 

Dr. Korteweg is a co-applicant of the research project, which was awarded $272,000 over five years. Other members of the research team include Dr. Anne Godlewska (Principal Investigator, Queen's University), Dr. Heather Castleden (Queen's University), Dr. Cynthia Wesley-Esquimaux (Lakehead University), Dr. Gail Fondahl (University of Northern British Columbia), Dr. Ryan Walker (University of Saskatchewan), and Dr. Lyndsay Morcom (Queen's University).

Our research seeks to improve the quality of education about Aboriginal people in Canada. Our findings to date suggest that young people in most provincial schools and in most Canadian universities learn through omission that Aboriginal people have little to do with Canadian geography, history, the arts, sciences, technology, and indeed Canada itself. Ignorance of Aboriginal peoples is pervasive and profound in our society: for example, few Canadians understand the Indian Act and its implications for Aboriginal people and Canadians. How many Canadians know the name of the reserve closest to their home and can name the people living there? What do they know of the cultures or beliefs of Aboriginal peoples anywhere in Canada? Do they know how many Aboriginal people there are or where they are? What do they know of the status or importance of land claims and resource development, or treaties? With the rise of human rights, the repatriation of the Constitution and important court rulings since the 1970s, Canadians cannot afford such unawareness. But how do Ministries of Education, boards, teachers, universities and professors begin to address the problem when they themselves are part of it?

As most Aboriginal people live off reserve in Canada and many reserve schools make use of provincial curricula, many First Nations, Métis, and Inuit people receive most of their pre-university education through such provincial educational systems. As a result, Aboriginal people do not see themselves reflected in the schooling they receive, with consequences for their retention.

In this research, we seek to: reveal the opportunities for improvement in the curricula; track curricular impact on students who go on to university education; measure the impact of university education on student awareness of Aboriginal cultures, governance, geographies and current events; liaise with Ministries of Education and universities to address the issues created by the state of education in Canada; and better understand how lack of awareness of others within our society has functioned and continues to function to marginalize and exclude. Moving in a stepped process, we will analyze the education being offered across Newfoundland and Labrador, Ontario, Saskatchewan, British Columbia and Quebec. Over the next five years we will:

1)     Analyze provincial school curricula and texts from K-12, or equivalent. Aim: to analyze what pre-university learning is mandated across the study area.

2)     Develop a questionnaire including a test of student knowledge and questions about students’ education, attitudes and demographics for each educational jurisdiction in consultation with specialists of Aboriginal culture, history, law and society. Aim: to develop a respected test of important knowledge and to engage Aboriginal people, administrators, and researchers in the challenge of educating residents of Canada.

3)     Survey all first-year students and three years later all fourth-year students at representative universities. Aim: to measure what students have learned against both the school curriculum and our test and to explore the obstacles to their learning.

4)     Disseminate our research widely through consultations with Aboriginal organizations, Ministries of Education, university administrations and the media. Aim: to influence research and policy in educational institutions and beyond.

This research, through its results and consultations will support and inform individuals and institutions seeking to improve education about Aboriginal people.  Our ultimate goal is to engage universities and Ministries of Education in every province. We believe that educated awareness of Aboriginal cultures, geographies, governance and current events will enrich life for both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people in Canada.

The Tikkun Youth Project

Lisa is leading the Thunder Bay site of this international youth research project. The Tikkun project is a research-action project exploring how young people living in several communities in Canada, South Africa and Kosovo are actively contributing to social healing and change. To learn more about this research project please visit the Tikkun website www.tikkunproject.org.